Dr. Alfred Johnson is not new to recruiting researchers and trainees
to NIH. Nor is he new to encouraging students — particularly
underrepresented minorities — to pursue science careers.
Nevertheless, his recent keynote address at the Florida-Georgia
Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation was a milestone
28 years in the making.
This year's conference was hosted by Albany State University,
a small, historically black college in rural Georgia, where Johnson
received his B.S. in 1979. Johnson, the 12th in a family of 14
children, grew up near Selma, Alabama, where he attended a segregated
high school. "If a cotton-picking, cornbread-eating country boy
from rural Alabama can do this," he said, referring to his career
in research, "there is no one in this audience who can't."
|Dr. Alfred Johnson (c) shares
research results with UGSP scholars Isaac Darko and Edna Chavez.
Referring to a popular MTV show that transforms jalopies into
hip, stylish, super-accessorized cars, Johnson challenged students
to "PIMP their ride" on the road to careers in science.
"On this road, the P in PIMP is for proactive, perseverance, patience,
practice and striving for perfection," he said. "On this road,
the I is for intelligence and insight. The M is for mentoring,
and the last P is for praise — praise for those who mentor
you, teach you, brought you to this conference, raised you and
praise to higher powers."
Johnson warned students that the road to a science career would
have many obstacles — curves (failures), loops (confusion),
flats (bad jobs) and red lights (bad influences) — but he
promised, "If you PIMP your ride, you will have an engine called
perseverance, a transmission called motivation, a spare called
determination, brakes called patience, shocks called a mentor,
a horn called praise, insurance called faith, and a driver called
the Almighty, and you will make it to the place called success."
The recent conference is one of nearly 30 Louis Stokes Alliances,
which were established to increase the quantity and quality of
underrepresented students in science fields. The alliances were
named in honor of Rep. Louis Stokes, who represented Ohio from
1968 to 1998 and was a strong supporter of research and training.
NIH dedicated Bldg. 50 in his honor in 2001.
Johnson is an adjunct investigator in NCI's Laboratory of Molecular
Biology and has directed the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program
(UGSP) since 2000. Since 2004, he has served as acting director
of the Office of Loan Repayment and Scholarship in the Office of
Intramural Research, and last year he became an assistant director
The UGSP provides scholarships of up to $20,000 per year to disadvantaged
students who are committed to careers in biomedical, behavioral
and social science research. The participants commit to two service
obligations at NIH — a 10-week summer internship and a yearlong
internship after graduation.
Last year, an independent, non-partisan firm completed a formal
evaluation of the UGSP. It offered a strong, positive assessment
of the program and showed that its students are successfully meeting
numerous benchmarks within the research training pipeline.