The Adams Center would like to recognize faculty who have exhibited extraordinary teaching, scholarship and service. We want to congratulate faculty members for their hard work, achievements and advancements in their field. This month we are spotlighting Jonathan Camp, who was nominated for his research in introducing genomics to his CORE 210 class.
In my CORE 210: Identity and Community class, my co-teacher Trevor Thompson and I invited a dozen students to participate with us in sending off a vial of DNA to be tested for ethnicity. We got the results a few weeks later, interviewed the students and discussed in class what we learned from this experience. This was a pilot study that we intend to continue with more students, especially as the technology improves.
Why are you doing it?
Contemporary genomics offers an unprecedented glimpse into our past. Sometimes, the story in the DNA doesn’t necessarily match the story that is handed down. How does learning about our deeper ancestry impact how we understand ourselves, and how we communicate who we are? More importantly, as a communication scholar, I’m interested in how the experience of DNA testing can help us question harmful categories of “race” and move toward a more constructive, bridge-building dialogue. Whether you believe we are descended from Adam and Eve or evolved biologically from stardust, genomics research shows that we are all deeply connected.
Why do you think it is important to incorporate this practice into the classroom?
One of our required texts was Deep Ancestry by anthropologist and geneticist Spencer Wells, who led The Genomic Project from 2005-2015. This book introduced students to the science of genomics and gave us a platform for informed conversations about the impact of DNA research for new understandings of our main subjects in the course–the nature of human identity and community. What better way to enliven this subject matter than to participate directly in it? Thus, this integration of content with research created a unique opportunity for engaged learning.
Who is being impacted the most?
Obviously, we who participated in the DNA project were impacted the most, since it was our individual DNA that we sent off for analysis to determine where in the world our ancestors came from. For instance, I learned that I am mostly Irish. I didn’t know that, nor did my parents, although a good friend quipped, “Well, that explains a lot!” A student-participant was astounded to find out how much Native American ancestry was reflected in his DNA, which prompted a desire to learn more about “that side of his family,” as well as the general history of native populations on this continent. Although these personal narratives are inherently interesting and shed an intimate light on course content, we hope the impact spreads beyond the personal, and helps us frame more constructive conversations about how we are connected on this planet.
What hopes do you have for the future when this work is done?
I’m wanting a greater depth of richness in the reporting of research. So, as we move forward with more rounds of study, I’d like to integrate student-produced digital story-telling projects, perhaps to be featured on a blog platform.