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Johnson-Thompson Retires

By Eddy Ball
October 2008

One of the things young people have heard at programs organized by Johnson-Thompson at NIEHS and elsewhere is an admonition to follow their dreams. "Do what you love," she says, "and the money will follow." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On September 30, microbiologist Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., began a well-deserved hiatus from her work as a researcher, science educator, mentor, and advocate for women and minorities in science when she retired from the NIEHS after 16 years of service (see related story ( Her immediate plans include enjoying time with her family and pursuing other interests as she decides where next to put her talents and energy to work.

During her career at NIEHS, Johnson-Thompson served as director of Education and Biomedical Research Development in the Office of the Director. In that role, she was responsible for identifying the environmental health research and training needs of underserved populations and organizing programs and partnerships to address them. She was particularly interested in the unique biomedical research needs of women of color and the potential they have for reducing health disparities.

As the Institute's lead person for science education collaborations with schools, universities and organizations on the local and national levels, Johnson-Thompson developed programs that included the Bridging Education, Science and Technology (BEST) Program, the extramural K-12 Environmental Health Science Education program and the Advanced Research Cooperation in Environmental Health (ARCH) program. In the course of these efforts and with individual mentoring, she helped thousands of young people discover the joy and magic of science and pursue scientific careers in high schools, colleges and universities, graduate schools and professional programs throughout the United States.

Johnson-Thompson also chaired the NIEHS Institutional Review Board for protection of human subjects. At the national level, she served as a member of the NIH Human Subjects Research Advisory Committee and the Trans-NIH Human Microbiome Working Group.

Prior to joining NIEHS in 1992, Johnson-Thompson was Professor of Biology at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology at Georgetown University Medical School. A Florida native, she received her post-secondary education in Washington, D.C., at Howard University, where she earned a B.S. and M.S. in microbiology, and Georgetown University, where she received a Ph.D. in molecular virology. Currently a professor emerita of Biology and Environmental Science at UDC, Johnson-Thompson also holds an appointment as adjunct professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health in the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in Chapel Hill.

Johnson-Thompson's research at Georgetown and UDC addressed the molecular basis of multi-drug resistance in breast cancer cells. In recognition of her contributions in microbiology, she was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 1998 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2004.

An active and life member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc,. she maintains her affioiation with the Federal City Alumnae Chapter in Washington, D.C., but also works locally with the Durham Alumnae Chapter ( Exit NIEHS. Johnson-Thompson is involved with several boards and organizations, and she has been honored many times for her contributions to science education, including being named Myerhoff Mentor of the Year by the Myerhoff Scholars at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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