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Feb. 21, 2018

Those before us

Feb. 21, 2018

I grew up thinking my ancestry was pretty much 100 percent German. However, it seems as though maybe my long-ago relatives lived in Germany, but weren’t all German. My daughter recently did a DNA test to discover her makeup. Comparing her results to my husband’s sister and nephew showed us what parts of her likely came from me – definitely a fair amount of German, but also some Scandinavian, Balkan and Eastern European. Who knew?

I’ve always been fascinated with the history of how I came to be. One missed chance meeting anywhere along the long ancestry line, and I wouldn’t be me. My aunt and cousin have done a lot of family tree building and I can get lost for hours poring over it and googling. I can easily go down a complicated rabbit hole, especially when I start to try to figure out how my parents share some distant relatives or how my nephew on my husband’s side shares a relative with my cousin on my mom’s side.

I love looking at old photos and figuring out what parts have been passed along to me or other family members. It’s amazing how the shape of a nose, arch of a brow or rise of a cheekbone can be passed down generation to generation and appear like magic in the face of a newborn.

Thirty years ago, MSU scientist Richard Lenski started an experiment with bacteria in some flasks that have created more than 68,000 generations since, which is equivalent to more than a million years of human evolution. The research, which is one of the world’s longest-running science experiments, is a fascinating look at how new lineages begin and deviate. Check out the MSUTODAY FEATURE: The man who bottled evolution, to learn more about his work and how it might lead to understanding, preventing and treating diseases.

Osose Oboh is a first-year student in the College of Human Medicine and is keenly aware of the role her ancestors have played in life. She’s also an incredibly talented photographer. In honor of Black History Month, she posted the first part in a series of portraits that highlights future physicians. Check out the STUDENT VIEW: On the shoulders of our ancestors, Pt. 1, to see her stunningly beautiful images and words that show us the faces of her generation.

Christoph Benning has seen a lot of evolution in the way plant science is studied. He’s an MSU Foundation Professor of plant biology and the director of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory and has seen how partnerships and collaboration can create discovery. He especially notes that letting the “inquisitive minds” of young scientists “do their thing,” can have really cool results. Check out his FACULTY VOICE: Facilitating collaborations, to learn more about his observations.

As Spartans, there are many generations before us. Generations like that of William J. Beal – who began his own long-term experiment with seed germination in 1879 that is still running today. Generations of Spartans who faced challenges and rose to meet them. Generations of Spartans who had “Eureka” moments and changed the world for the better. And there will be many generations who will follow. With each one, there are lessons learned, discoveries found, problems solved and, yes, mistakes made. The only way to change tomorrows is for each generation to step up and fix what’s wrong, chart new courses, work together, offer assistance and leave their mark on this place and the world.

I had a note this week from a former student who had read of former MSU president Cecil Mackey’s passing. He wanted to relay his experience with Mackey as an instructor while here at MSU and how he admired and inspired him. From one generation to the next…Spartans are there for each other. 

This generation is facing perhaps our greatest challenge. There is still so much work to be done, not just in labs and classrooms, but in our community and structure. Spartans continue to address the problems and look for solutions. Deans like Rachel Croson, of the MSU College of Social Science, and Sanjay Gupta, of the Broad College of Business, who are working within their communities. Read their FACULTY VOICES, What we do and The opportunity to be part of the solution, to learn more about their thoughts.

And the youngest generation of Spartans, our incredible students, continue to find ways to support, share, brainstorm, collaborate and improve the Spartan community. Tonight and next week three student groups, Associated Students of Michigan State University, the Council of Graduate Students and the Residence Hall Association, will host student roundtables to look for solutions. As faculty, staff and alumni, it’s important that we support this generation and help them succeed.

I may be German, Scandinavian, Balkan and a GenXer, but none of that matters when I’m part of the Spartan nation. What matters is that Spartans, with all our different backgrounds and ancestry, are now part of something bigger than ourselves. We must learn from the past and make better tomorrows for the generations who will follow. Spartans Will.

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday
twitter bird@LMulcrone

Photo: Historical image of Henry T. Darlington, who was the head of the Beal Botanical Garden, burying one of Beal's bottles with seeds on the MSU campus, overlayed on a current image of the Beal Botanical Garden. 


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