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NIH Record

OER's Kinnard Extends Legacy Of Achievement

By Myra Northcutt

When Matthew A. Kinnard's parents were struggling in the 1940's to send him to
classes at Beechville Elementary, a 1-room school in rural Tennessee, little did they realize their son would go on to lead a program at one of the top health agencies in the world. The Kinnards understood the importance of a good education, and even though money was almost nonexistent at times, they managed to send all nine of their children to college.

Tennessee State University President James A. Hefner (l) presents Dr. Matthew Kinnard with a certificate honoring his dedication to higher education. Kinnard and each of his eight siblings earned bachelor's degrees from TSU.

Today, Matthew Kinnard serves as health science administrator and director of the Extramural Associates Program in NIH's Office of Extramural Research. He holds a bachelor's degree with honors in biology and a master's degree with honors in zoology from Tennessee State University in Nashville. He earned his Ph.D. with honors in neurophysiology from Georgetown University.

Because of their dedication to higher education, Kinnard and his siblings were honored recently at Tennessee State University, where all nine earned their bachelor's degrees. As the sons and daughters of a sharecropper and tenant farmer, the Kinnards' achievements have been called nothing short of amazing. For 21 years, from 1948 until 1969, at least one of the Kinnard siblings was attending classes at TSU. Five Kinnards earned master's degrees from TSU and three earned Ph.D.s from other institutions.

"The Kinnard legacy seems to be that education is the key to succeeding," said NIH's Kinnard. "Our parents often told us that if we would get an education, we would be better off than they were. That was the guiding principle we lived by and that's what we've instilled in our children."

His daughter Mary earned her Ph.D. in organizational communication from Howard University and his daughter Lisa is currently pursuing a doctorate in electrical engineering from Howard.

Even though education was of the utmost importance to the Kinnards, getting one often took perseverance and ingenuity. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur H. Kinnard Sr., now deceased, lived most of their lives on a farm in rural Tennessee. When their children were small, the Kinnards lived so far from the local grade school that the children could not walk to and from school in a day's time. Mr. Kinnard would take some of the children to their grandmother's home on Sunday nights and return for them on Fridays. The children would attend school during the week from the grandmother's home.

For 21 years, from 1948 until 1969, at least one of the nine Kinnard brothers and sisters was attending classes at TSU.

Several of the Kinnards were also in the same class. Matthew, who attended class with his older brother, says he remembers his mother saying she pushed some of the younger children to get in classes with their older siblings because the family could not afford to buy two sets of books. During segregation, the parents had to buy most of the elementary school books, he said.

"We were so poor, but I never really considered life a struggle," he recalls. "I was probably in my thirties before I realized that our accomplishments were considered special. I thought all families were educated similarly."

When Kinnard entered college at TSU, he wanted to study horticulture.
In his sophomore year, a beloved teacher suggested biology, and he decided to give it a try.

"I've loved biology ever since. I guess that's what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to be a scientist," he said.

Since that time, Kinnard has distinguished himself as a research biologist with Walter Reed Army Medical Center; a biologist for the National Institute of Mental Health; assistant professor of biology at the District of Columbia Teachers College; at OER, and more.

Kinnard says he believes he is making his greatest contribution to his profession in his current position with the Extramural Associates Program at NIH. His mission is to train faculty and administrators from racial minority and female institutions to serve as advocates of state-of-the-art biomedical and behavioral research at their institutions by being more aggressive in obtaining grant funding.

"Research is important, not only from the standpoint of the breakthroughs it provides for each of us as citizens, but also because it enriches the teaching and learning experience," Kinnard said. "I believe we need to support research at our colleges and universities."

During his career, Kinnard has made his own strides in research. While at NIMH, he developed a metal microelectrode for recording the neuronal activity of single brain cells. This technique was hailed as a landmark achievement and was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 1966.

Kinnard's advice to others who wish to be successful in their careers is to get a good academic foundation and learn to be a good communicator.

"I am truly thankful for the educational and career opportunities I have been able to take advantage of," he said. "I hope that I can continue to open the doors for others in the area of research and to provide new avenues for garnering the funding to support it. As long as I am working and helping others, I will consider myself successful."

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