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How Can One Person Make a Difference?

Dear colleagues,

How can one person make a difference? This is the question the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) is posing next month (November 10) as they engage in a discussion about the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with the author Rebecca Skloot.

As described on the CEHD website:
The featured book... tells the story of Henrietta Lacks (known by scientists as HeLa). Lacks grew up in a poor tobacco farming community in Clover, Virginia. In 1951 doctors at Johns Hopkins took cancerous cells from her body without her knowledge. HeLa cells have played a major role in important scientific and medical advancements. Henrietta Lacks died at the age of 31 and her family has received no compensation despite the billions of dollars that the HeLa cells have generated in the medical industry. Skloot's book raises critical questions about race, ethics and scientific discovery.

The book tells the story that all of us who work in and for research institutions should know and remember. For us in the Center for Family Development, research and evaluation efforts reflect real people. Therefore, thoughtful and careful needs assessment, program development, and evaluation need to respect our participants. While our participants make a difference in their contributions to our understanding of what works, WE also make a difference each day by our thoughtful and respectful implementation of education across Minnesota.

Besides the discussion with the author, the University's Center for Bioethics is hosting a conversation with the Lacks family and Dr. Ruth Faden on November 11 (it's free). I also recommend engaging in your own learning about Henrietta Lacks' story via this RadioLab podcast with the author. Or you might want to organize a book discussion in your office. Be bold — yes, you can and do make a difference.

Trish Olson
Interim Associate Dean -- Extension Center for Family Development

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