By Thao Do, PhD., 23andMe’s Education and Academia Program Manager
This year, 23andMe has organized and participated in dozens of educational events to connect with thousands of students and educators across the United States. We want to meet the students and professors in person, visit their schools, explore available resources, and experience first-hand the challenges that they face. These experiences help us develop the strategy for 23andMe’s Education Program.
Our most recent community outreach effort was an education, speaking, and listening tour through Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. with an international athlete, Jonathon “JP” Prince.
To raise awareness of 23andMe’s Education Program we sponsored JP as over the last four months as he ran from California to New York City “Forest Gump” style. Throughout his route, he visited local universities, sharing his own personal DNA story, and handing out free DNA kits.
JP’s love for his mother inspired him to make this North America DNA Vol. RUN #TheHumanRace./For most of her life, JP’s mom, who was adopted, didn’t feel as if she belonged anywhere. After using the 23andMe she discovered DNA relatives, and experienced a connection she never had before, JP said. So touched by her emotional reaction, JP dedicates his cross-country run to her with a mission to “champion unity, hope, respect and love for Americans and its global neighbors. “
I joined JP on one segment of this journey. We visited ten campuses: Hampton University, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Washington University, Northern Virginia Community College, Howard University, Georgetown University, University of Maryland, George Mason University, Virginia Tech, Radford University, in three states and seven cities in seven days.
We traveled in a colorful 23-chromosomes/DNA-wrapped sprinter van and delivered DNA talks in classes and auditoriums in front of hundreds of students, administrators, professors, department heads, and deans. We facilitated impromptu group discussions about genetics and diversity and inclusion. We shared lots of hugs, fist bumps, selfies, and connected with students, heart-to-heart.
Our stories complement each other marking two sides of any DNA journey — my story was about how genetics could influence the future of science and research, while JP shared his mother’s emotional human story. I wasn’t the only one from 23andMe who got to journey alongside JP, a few months earlier, Jacquie Haggarty, 23andMe’s associate counsel also joined in on the fun. She flew to Alabama, ran several miles along I-85 with JP, and gave DNA kits and talked to students at Auburn University.
JP’s journey along with many of our other community outreach events has inspired a new Genetics Club campaign. Students can apply to the Genetics Club to let us know that they are starting a club at their school. To make it all a little funner, 23andMe will send each club a jumbo box of T-shirts and stickers. We are also sharing a magazine, written by students, for students and all about genetics called the DNA Decoder.