Alumnus Wes Unseld Jr., Washington Wizards

Wes Unseld Jr. talking with two Washington Wizards basketall team members
G. Fiume/Getty Images

Washington Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. talks to his players during a timeout.


1997 Bachelor’s degree, economics, Johns Hopkins University 

Work History 

  • 1997–2005 Scout, Washington Wizards  
  • 2005–11 Assistant coach, Washington Wizards  
  • 2011–12 Assistant coach, Golden State Warriors  
  • 2012–14 Assistant coach, Orlando Magic  
  • 2015–21 Assistant coach then associate head coach, Denver Nuggets 
  • 2021–present Head coach, Washington Wizards  


  • Son of NBA legend Wes Unseld Sr., he played high school basketball at Loyola Blakefield in Maryland. 
  • At Hopkins, he was a two-time captain of the basketball team and helped Hopkins to 57 wins and the 1997 ECAC Championship. 
  • When he graduated from Hopkins, he ranked 15th in school history in points (875), 10th in free throws made (211) and minutes played (2,045), 13th in rebounds (427), and 15th in steals (69). He currently ranks 11th in career field-goal percentage (.551) and 15th in blocks (60).  
  • During his tenure in Denver, he helped turn around a weak defense and has been credited with playing a significant role in the development of players Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. as a part of head coach Michael Malone’s staff. 
  • During his initial six seasons with the Wizards, he was instrumental in game planning and player development and was largely credited with the success of the Wizards’ offensive game plans, with the team posting four consecutive playoff appearances (2005–08) and three straight top 10 offensive finishes (2004–07). 
  • With the Orlando Magic, he worked with players Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Victor Oladipo during their early careers and did the same with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Golden State Warriors. 

In His Own Words 

It was good. It’s always a great opportunity to get home. I give our guys a lot of credit: After a 1-hour 10-minute bus ride, we still got something out of it. That’s kind of our thought process with anything and everything we do.… These are enjoyable things—you get an opportunity to reach out to the community, give back to some degree.” 

The Washington Post, October 20, 2021, Regarding the Wizards’ open-to-fans practice in Baltimore at Morgan State University. 

I was around great coaches where it wasn’t necessarily just about winning. It was about building habits and well-rounded human beings. As the Jesuits would say, ‘Men for others.’ You carry some of these tidbits with you, and as I take a step back, that is our goal. Yes, we want to win. This is a results-driven business. But it’s also part of the journey, and when you have great people around you, that journey is that much more special.”  

The Baltimore Sun, July 20, 2021. Crediting his upbringing in Baltimore with shaping him as an individual and a coach. 

I look forward to walking through these halls throughout the season to see not only the bust of my father, but to take a peek up in the rafters and see his retired jersey. Our home opener will be a special night for a number of reasons, but this makes it that much more special.”, October 22, 2021. Regarding the Washington Wizards’ unveiling of the bust of franchise legend and NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld Sr. at Capital One Arena. 

Traveling, Writing, and Finding a Career in Digital Media

People picture travel as this really expensive thing you do once a year, maybe for a week if you’re lucky; but it’s more of an attitude, a way of living, of always looking for something new to discover, says Rachel Schnalzer ’15

Rachel Schnalzer outdoors in front of building in Germany
courtesy of Rachel Schnalzer

Schnalzer should know. The audience engagement editor at the Los Angeles Times, where she writes the Escapes travel newsletter, lives in Germany and works remotely. Her career so far has happened almost entirely in the digital realm, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.  

A double major in English and political science, Schnalzer says her education in the humanities gave her “the ability to problem solve, think outside the box, and find hidden connections.” Schnalzer’s first job out of college was at Snapchat, a multi-media instant messaging app and service. From there she moved to BuzzFeed, an internet news company with a focus on digital media. Then came the opportunity at the Los Angeles Times.  

BuzzFeed to the Los Angeles Times 

While she was primarily a researcher at BuzzFeed, Schnalzer challenged herself to expand her skills, and as a result was able to produce, direct, and edit a video story about the way surfers see the effects of climate change before anyone else. She interviewed professional big wave surfer and environmental activist Greg Long for the piece and now counts it as one of her career highlights. “All of the little opportunities that seem random in the moment usually end up being important moments of professional development,” Schnalzer says. 

Schnalzer also has a more recent favorite project: “I had the privilege of going up to the Santa Ynez Valley and interviewing Iris Rideau, who’s widely celebrated as the first Black woman to own and run a vineyard in the United States. I got to spend the day with her and tell her story to the LA Times. When sources trust you to tell their story, it’s such an honor.” 

It was a study-abroad trip to Ireland, and a trip to the Kyoto mountains with her roommate a year later, that solidified what Schnalzer expects to be a lifelong love of travel. She also applied her philosophy of openness and engaged discovery to her time in Baltimore. 

I learned as much from Baltimore as I did from Hopkins.”

—Rachel Schnalzer ’15 

“I loved to ride the JHMI Shuttle or Charm City Circulator and find new neighborhoods and restaurants. I even made a point to take internships outside of walking distance from Hopkins,” she says.

Internships and Experiences

Schnalzer took on a wide range of professional opportunities while attending Hopkins that helped her prepare for careers in the digital realm, including as an intern for Baltimore magazine; as a marketing intern for the Walters Art Museum; and as a marketing assistant for Johns Hopkins University Press, where she was able to familiarize herself with social media and digital strategy.  

Along with encouraging young professionals to say yes to new opportunities and new responsibilities, Schnalzer also stresses the importance of a professional community. “I’m lucky enough to be a part of a collective of women at different media outlets who bounce ideas off one another and learn from one another.” Schnalzer believes that “there’s room for everyone at the table” and hopes that the future includes an understanding “that we’re all here to help each other be better and do better work.”    

Working to Make America a ‘Weather Ready Nation’

The work performed at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—a key nexus of science and public policy housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce—has an impact on Americans’ lives every day. NOAA’s broad responsibilities are for how climate intersects with industry influences. From the health of the fish we eat, the quality of the air we breathe, to even the accuracy of the weather report we consult each day.   

Richard Spinrad ’75
Courtesy NOAA

But in mid-February, NOAA made headlines for a forecast of a different kind. A study concluding that a rapidly warming planet will cause sea levels along the nation’s coastline to rise an additional 10 to 12 inches by 2050. 

NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad ’75 sees that projection as a wake-up call for Americans to create what the agency calls a “Weather-Ready Nation.” Yet as many citizens increasingly dismiss scientific expertise, Spinrad believes it is scientists who must “build trust” and intensify public outreach.    

“Just because I went to a meeting of the American Geophysical Union and gave a speech,” he observes, “maybe that family in Topeka might not be reading or listening. So how do I engage more?”  

Research and public policy

Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as NOAA Administrator in June 2021, Spinrad has forged a career at the intersection of research and public policy. He’s worked in academia as a professor of oceanography and vice president of research at Oregon State University. In that time he also held an array of administrative positions, including as NOAA’s chief scientist during the Obama administration.  

Spinrad says his approach to leading NOAA is not turning the agency “as they say in nautical terms, ‘right full rudder.’” He is focused on “what drives a bureaucracy? What makes it move? How do you motivate a workforce of 12,000 people around something like…Weather-Ready Nation?” 

Oceans continue to fascinate Spinrad. “There is so much we don’t know,” he says. “It’s exciting to think that with every [research] cruise, and every investment that we make…there’s going to be discoveries made all the time.” His keen interest dates back to childhood: “I decided I was going to be an oceanographer in eighth grade. I was laser locked into that.”  

Environmental education at Hopkins

Enrolling at Johns Hopkins helped fulfill his aspirations through a “broad environmental education.” It also gave him a chance to work with the legendary Chesapeake Bay Institute in the 1970s as an undergraduate.  

If I had to put it on a bumper sticker: Hopkins taught me how to think.” 

—Richard Spinrad ’75

Spinrad points to work with Hopkins faculty as a spark to his own growth. This included oceanography professor Donald Pritchard, and Jerry Schubel, an assistant professor who subsequently led the Aquarium of the Pacific. “I was rubbing elbows with extraordinary people,” he recalls. “I was learning oceanography from day one.”  

Classes with the late engineering professor Leslie Kovasznay were also a highlight. “He’d start out by saying, ‘All right, if you wanted to create a life form that would live on Mars, how would you do it?’ We thought we knew everything and he would tear apart all our arguments,” he remembers. “It taught me how to think about a problem.”   

Spinrad also indulged a passion for lacrosse by playing in an intramural league. But training his intellect was his foremost pursuit as an undergraduate.

Alumnus Leads Health Systems During the Pandemic

Selwyn Vickers, MD
UAB/Steve Wood

Selwyn Vickers ’82 has witnessed the havoc wreaked on health institutions by the COVID-19 pandemic from the front lines.   

“It’s brought myriad challenges related to every aspect of our mission,” says Vickers, who is the CEO of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System and the UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance. “We’ve had to shut down our research enterprise. At times, we’ve had to morph our educational platform. And we’ve had to completely turn our health care paradigm upside down to take care of this vast number of patients with COVID disease.” 

Vickers’ more than three decades of work as a distinguished pancreatic cancer surgeon and an administrator at UAB and the University of Minnesota prepared him to lead in tough times. Part of that leadership has come in addressing how the pandemic has exacerbated vast and highly visible health disparities across American society. As a leading voice in researching and tackling this problem, Vickers believes that the social influences perpetuating inequity are underestimated by the medical community. 

Whether you show up in our emergency room because you didn’t have a refrigerator for your insulin,” Vickers observes, “or because you ran out of your hypertension medicine and didn’t have someone to actually go get it for you, all of these social things play out—financially, medically—on what happens in our hospitals.” 

—Selwyn Vickers ’82

Responding to health inequity

Academic medical centers must organize a response to health inequity, even if it pushes them out of their comfort zone, Vickers believes. “They know it makes financial sense, even though it may require some investment. And they know they have the influence and the spectrum of vision to do it…. We try to step in those spaces that have been so painfully left alone and not addressed over the years.” 

As dean of UAB’s Heersink School of Medicine, Vickers has also witnessed how COVID-19 will be defining new paths for young doctors. “Their expectations of the experience are going to be different than my generation,” he admits. “They want it to be sustainable. It’s not just about that I get the outcome of taking care of somebody. I want how I take care of them to be meaningful.”  

The pandemic also has placed deepening student familiarity with equity issues on a par with leveraging new technologies at UAB. “I think it will now really force us to no longer continually ignore health disparities, [and] we will start within the educational process.” 

A new way of thinking

Vickers grew up in Huntsville—Alabama’s largest city and a key hub for U.S. aerospace and tech companies. But his arrival on the Homewood campus in the late 1970s, he says, was an “eye-opening” experience that “brought a level of appreciation of diversity that challenged my mindset.” His Hopkins experience, he says, taught him that his “way of thinking may not be the only way of thinking.” 

He also acquired resilience, which sustained his “willingness to compete” successfully with numerous Hopkins peers who also wanted to pursue careers in medicine.  

“The resilience built up,” he observes. “Friendships develop. Yes, it was competitive, but not in any bad way. It was just people all wanting to [work in] this space of being a doctor.”  

Vickers credits the late Levi Watkins Jr.—a fellow Alabaman, renowned heart surgeon, and longtime associate dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine—as a mentor and friend.  

“Our pathways were very similar,” he recalls. “Our parents were college educators. And we were both from Alabama. So we knew that history.” In an era when many Hopkins pre-med graduates left Baltimore, Watkins enlisted Vickers “to be a part of the vision of transforming Johns Hopkins [and its medical school] into a diverse community.” Vickers went on to earn his MD (1986) and complete his residency training and a fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Hospital.  

‘Hopkins trained me to lead’

His professional connection with both Hopkins and Alabama is a strong and continuing one. Vickers chose to work at UAB immediately after leaving Hopkins, and he returned there from Minnesota in 2013. “Hopkins trained me to lead,” he says. “UAB gave me the opportunity to lead… That’s in part why I came. And that’s in part why I came back.” 

That public trust in medicine is fraying when front line health professionals and scientists have won so many victories over the pandemic is an irony not lost on Vickers. But he insists that “we can’t just rely on the confidence that we know what we do works. We have to really work at the business of being humble enough to realize we have to earn the privilege for our science to be accepted.”  

Gilman Hall, Then and Now


During Gilman Hall’s three-year renovation—completed in 2010—crews deconstructed the bridge, a vending machine-filled hallway connecting the Hutzler Reading Room and Memorial Hall. Below was the roof of the old bookstore in Gilman’s basement. 


The dramatic centerpiece of Gilman Hall’s 2007-10 renovation is the three-story glass-topped central atrium that replaces the bridge between the Hutzler Reading Room and Memorial Hall. The enclosed courtyard features nine large sculptural pieces titled Vessel Field by artist Kendall Buster. Suspended by steel wires, the sculptures reference the extensive collection of jars and other containers in the university’s Archaeological Museum, which replaced the bookstore below the atrium. 

Spring 2022 Alumni to Watch

Alumni Kudos 

  • Zach Baylin ’02 received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for King Richard, starring Will Smith. 
  • Kathy Young Karsting ’80 received the 2021 Title V Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, for outstanding contributions to the field of maternal and child health over a sustained period. Karsting has worked in the Nebraska DHHS Title V Maternal and Child Health Program since 2006.  
  • Don Mankin ’68 PhD won first place for travel articles in a 2020 competition sponsored by the North American Mature Publishers Association.  
  • Titian’s Icons: Charisma, Tradition, and Devotion in Renaissance Italy, by Chris Nygren ’11 PhD, won the Renaissance Society of America’s 2022 Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize for the best book in Renaissance studies.  
  • Naoyuki Yoshino ’79 PhD received the International Green Finance Lifetime Achievement Scientific Award from the Central Bank of Hungary in recognition of his breakthrough achievements and transformative career in the field of green finance. Yoshino is Professor Emeritus at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan, and the director of the Financial Research Center at Financial Services Agency, Government of Japan.  

Alumni to Watch 

  • Samuel Cheney ’19 MFA was awarded Gilman School’s Tickner Writing Fellowship, awarded to an emerging poet, playwright, or writer of fiction or creative nonfiction. 
  • Deirdre Danklin ’19 MFA won an Independent Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council and the 2021 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press.  
  • Hannah Friedman ’16 PhD won the Renaissance Society of America’s William Nelson Prize for the best article published in Renaissance Quarterly in 2021.  
  • Aleyna Rentz ’19 MFA was named a 2021 St. Lawrence Book Award finalist for The Land of Uz, a short story collection.  
  • Annalee Wu ’21, an illustrator and conceptual artist, was named a winner in the annual L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest. 

From the Dean’s Desk

At Johns Hopkins, we have been working to craft new ways to bring undergraduate students into our intellectual community, excite their interest in diverse topics and problems, and strengthen the foundation of their academic experience. 

The current landscape makes this a pivotal moment for reimagining undergraduate education.”

—Christopher S. Celenza, James B. Knapp Dean  

While enrollment has remained steady, our selectivity has increased even as our student body has become more diverse. Over the last five years, the number of underrepresented students in each incoming class has grown substantially, as has the number of first-generation, limited-income students. Such changes warrant a new model for undergraduate education. 

Enter CUE2—short for the university’s Second Commission on Undergraduate Education, an effort shaped over the past four years to reimagine the learning experience for undergrads for years to come. Significant changes include giving students greater flexibility in pursuit of their major, as well as in their intellectual exploration of newly defined foundational abilities; providing greater undergraduate access to and engagement with faculty and the greater Hopkins community, including the professional schools; and creating more robust and multilayered academic advising and mentoring. 

Emphasizing the first-year experience

While these efforts will affect all undergraduates, particular emphasis is being placed on the first-year experience. It’s important that—from the day they set foot on campus—our first-year students understand that they are entering one of the world’s greatest research universities. From that point on they are part of a vast community of curious thinkers and learners. 

Last semester, we began to offer what we are calling First-Year Seminars—small, one-semester courses taught by some of our most dynamic faculty members from across the university. The seminars provide a unique common experience, giving students the opportunity to bond with one another, develop meaningful connections with faculty, and hone the core practices of scholarship: reading, writing, and speaking. Our faculty members have been involved from the ground up, providing valuable input and advice that will ensure the success of the seminars. 

With provocative titles such as The Nature of Nature; The Science Behind the Fiction; Rough Magic: Shakespeare on Power; Monumental Memorials: Shaping Historical Memory; and The Science of Color, the seminars provide a small group setting where students can explore fascinating topics they’ve perhaps never considered before and share their curiosity with one another.  

The First-Year Seminars are just one component of our vision for a reimagined undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins, but they are an important one. Today’s new students are tomorrow’s scholars, scientists, and Johns Hopkins alumni. We want them to know from Day One that they are a valued asset to our rich and diverse community of learners.  

I sense a new energy around our efforts to reinvigorate undergraduate education. Stay tuned to these pages as additional efforts take shape. 


Christopher S. Celenza  

James B. Knapp Dean  

The Neural Links Between Voice and Thought  

Jessica Dure ’23
Will Kirk

Descartes famously remarked, “I think, therefore I am.” He still would have been onto something, however, if he’d alternatively suggested, “I speak, therefore I am.” The evolution of speech, the most complex form of communication among all animals, is a distinguishing feature of our species. Yet the connections between the development of our sophisticated vocalizations and our higher-order cognition remain poorly understood.   

Junior behavioral biology major Jessica Dure has started a project to better reveal how communicative capabilities affect brain organization and evolution toward more advanced thinking. She is studying these linkages in Melopsittacus parrots, formally known as budgerigars and nicknamed budgies or parakeets. Popular as pets, these fetchingly colored birds exhibit a rich vocal range and can mimic human speech.   

Do face muscles impact how your brain evolves?

Dure’s work has focused on characterizing the elaborate musculature used by these parrots to form their vocalizations. Additional stages of her project involve mapping the musculature of birds with other kinds of vocalization skills. For example, non-parrot songbirds, which have lesser motor control and more limited vocal manipulation abilities than parrots. Yet they possess rich song repertoires nonetheless.   

We’re seeing how communication affects the brain and how musculature affects the evolution of different areas of the brain.”

—Jessica Dure, behavioral biology major

Dure came up with the project with her advisor, Amy Balanoff, an assistant research professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Balanoff had access to computerized tomography scans of parrots’ skulls that show the hyoid bone. The bone is a key structure in the neck supporting the tongue and other muscles involved in sound generation.   

“My advisor gave me the freedom to come up with an idea of what we could do with these scans, and we decided to label the musculature around the hyoid bone,” says Dure.    

Monitoring the data

The labeling work is time-consuming and intricate as it requires poring over dozens of grayscale scans. Each scan represents a thin slice of the parrot’s anatomy. Overall, the research is building a detailed, three-dimensional view of the area where avian vocalizations are largely produced. It’s is also a critical area for human speech.  

The eventual goal is to compare the musculature maps to brain structure. One expectation, Dure says, is that there could be differences in the hypoglossal nucleus, the part of the brainstem that controls tongue movement.   

Other students are now continuing Dure’s work as she prepares to go to veterinary school. Veterinary medicine is ideal, Dure says. Not only because of her lifelong interest in animal welfare, but also for the chance to collaborate with her fellow Homo sapien. Just like she did on her undergraduate research project. 

Spring 2022 Faculty Awards

Charles L. Bennett, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Gilman Scholar, received the Rumford Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Immigrant Incorporation in East Asian Democracies by Erin Aeran Chung, Charles D. Miller Associate Professor of East Asian Politics, Political Science, received the 2021 Research Excellence Award from the Korea Ministry of Education and the National Research Foundation of Korea.  

Karen Fleming, Professor, Biophysics, was named a Fellow of the Biophysical Society.  

Stephen Fried, Assistant Professor, Chemistry, won a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) and two Scialog awards from the RCSA and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.  

David Goldberg, Professor, Chemistry, was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

Taekjip Ha, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Biophysics, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.  

Niloofar Haeri, Professor, Anthropology, received the 2021 Middle East Studies Association’s Fatema Mernissi Book Award for Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer, and Poetry in Iran. 

Landscape History of Hadramawt: The Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia Project 1998–2008, co-edited by Michael Harrower, Associate Professor of Archaeology, Near Eastern Studies, received the 2022 Anna Marguerite McCann Award for Fieldwork Reports from the Archaeological Institute of America.  

Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World by Jessica Marie Johnson, Assistant Professor, History, won the Lora Romero First Book Prize from the American Studies Association and the Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history from the American Historical Association and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.   

Martha S. Jones, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History, Professor at the SNF Agora Institute, was named one of The Baltimore Sun’s 25 Black Marylanders to Watch.  

Kishore Kuchibhotla, Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, received an NSF CAREER award. 

The Origin and Character of God: Ancient Israelite Religion through the Lens of Divinity by Theodore J. Lewis, Blum-Iwry Professor of Near Eastern Studies, received the 2021 Best Book Relating to the Hebrew Bible award from the Biblical Archaeology Society. 

MFA candidate Gabriella Fee and Dora Malech, Associate Professor, The Writing Seminars, won the Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize from Saturnalia Books for their co-translation of Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto’s debut collection, Dolore Minimo.  

The Spanish Disquiet: The Biblical Natural Philosophy of Benito Arias Montano by María M. Portuondo, Professor, History of Science and Technology, won the History of Science Society’s 2021 Pfizer Award.  

Brenda Rapp, Professor, Cognitive Science, was elected to the Society of Experimental Psychologists. 

Emily Riehl, Associate Professor, Mathematics, was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. 

Shannon Robinson, Lecturer, The Writing Seminars, won an Independent Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council. 

Modernism and the Meaning of Corporate Persons by Lisa Siraganian, Associate Professor and J. R. Herbert Boone Chair in Humanities, Comparative Thought and Literature, won the Modern Language Association of America’s Matei Calinescu Prize and the Modernist Studies Association’s Book Prize.  

Danielle Speller, Assistant Professor, Physics and Astronomy, received a 2022 Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  

Alexander S. Szalay, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor, Physics and Astronomy, with Kimmel Cancer Center’s Janis Taube received a 2021 Life Sciences Award at the Falling Walls Science Summit.  

Revolution in Development: Mexico and the Governance of the Global Economy by Christy Thornton, Assistant Professor, Sociology, won the 2022 Luciano Tomassini Latin American International Relations Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association and was selected as one of the Best Scholarly Books of 2021 by The Chronicle of Higher Education.  

Building the SNF Agora  Institute

Development of the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins took a major step on November 15. That was when its first cohort of endowed professors was formally installed. This happened against the backdrop of progress on the building that the institute will eventually call home. Construction fencing has been erected, heavy-duty vehicles and machinery are in position, and site excavation has commenced. 

The event, Join the Agora: A Celebration of Faculty and Facilities,” recognized that progress and the eight endowed SNF Agora Institute Professors. An enthusiastic group of faculty, donors, and supporters gathered at Mason Hall to witness the installation of the professors, recognize the philanthropy that helped establish the SNF Institute, and raise a toast to what will be a gleaming new space. 

“We could not be more pleased to have this extraordinary group of scholars with us at Hopkins to shape the SNF Agora, to sharpen our shared understanding of the challenges facing democracy, and to advance bold, evidence-based solutions that can begin to remedy those challenges,” said Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels.  

In addition to Daniels, participants in the event included Christopher S. Celenza, James B. Knapp Dean, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; Hahrie Han, inaugural director of the SNF Agora Institute, and professor in the Department of Political Science; and Andreas Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and a member of the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees. 

Discovery, design, and dialogue

“At the core of the SNF Agora Institute are three driving elements: discovery, design, and dialogue,” Celenza said as he formally presented the SNF Agora Institute professors to the university. “Our scholars discover new avenues to understanding democracy; they collaborate with others to design ways to translate and apply academic research in ways that can make a real-world impact; and they initiate productive dialogue to bridge divides and share new knowledge with students and the broader public.” 

SNF Agora, founded in 2017 with a visionary $150 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is an academic and public forum dedicated to strengthening global democracy through powerful civic engagement and informed, inclusive dialogue.  

Guests were invited to join the SNF Agora community by signing stones inscribed with the phrase “I am the agora.” The phrase is a creative nod to the similarly inscribed boundary stones that demarcated the ancient Athenian agora. Then, members of Johns Hopkins and community leaders also signed stones. The stones are intended for an art installation in the new building. 

Each stone, and each signature, signifies our individual and collective civic engagement in the community and our shared belief that inclusive dialogue is the cornerstone of a robust global democracy.”

—Christopher S. Celenza, James B. Knapp Dean

Scholarship by the inaugural professors spans a wide range of topics, including political polarization; civil discourse and civic engagement; the changing politics of information flows in our globalized world; race and inequality; the role of science in society; the ability of people to work across difference; political violence; and voting rights reform.  

Johns Hopkins Scientists Contribute to First Sequence of Human Genome

A group of Johns Hopkins University scientists collaborated with more than 100 researchers around the world to assemble and analyze the first complete sequence of a human genome, two decades after the Human Genome Project produced the first draft. 

The work is part of the Telomere to Telomere (T2T) consortium. It’s led by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI); University of California, Santa Cruz; and University of Washington, Seattle. 

Johns Hopkins contributed key research to the effort to decipher our DNA—which has remained a mystery despite the initial progress 20 years ago. The revelations are expected to open new lines of molecular and genetic exploration while providing scientists with a clearer picture of how DNA affects the risks of diseases, and how genes are expressed and regulated. 

A package of six papers reporting the achievement appears in the March 31 issue of Science, along with companion papers in several other journals. 

The impact of the genome

Opening up these new parts of the genome, we think there will be genetic variation contributing to many different traits and disease risk.”

—Rajiv McCoy, assistant professor

Rajiv McCoy is assistant professor in the Department of Biology, whose research focuses on human genetics and evolution. “There’s an aspect of this that’s like, we don’t know yet what we don’t know.” 

McCoy and 12 Johns Hopkins researchers worked on different aspects of the international initiative. They contributed to the main genome assembly project and to several companion works analyzing what can be learned about patterns of genetic and epigenetic variation from person to person through the newly sequenced sections of the genome. 

The study found that because the previous model, known as the reference genome, was a composite of multiple individuals’ genomes essentially “stitched together,” it created artificial “seams” where the model switches from the genome of one person to another. The new, complete version eliminates those seams and is more representative of what an individual’s actual genome looks like. 

Using the new human genome model, the Johns Hopkins contributors also quantified how frequently different versions of the same gene occur in diverse human populations. That serves as an evolutionary record of both random fluctuations and potential natural selection affecting certain parts of the genome. 

Adapting to the new genome mapping

One immediate challenge McCoy identified is that clinical labs will need to transition from the previous genome mapping to the new complete version, no small undertaking, requiring that they adjust the information they have about the links between genes and diseases. 

“There are all sorts of databases and resources that have been built around the previous version, and it can be hard to get people to shift over,” he said. “So one goal of our work now is to encourage these important resources to move over to the new mapping to really empower the community.” 

group of seven genome research scientists
Research group (l-r) Alaina Shumate, Steven Salzberg, Samantha Zarate, Paul Hook, Michael Schatz, Winston Timp, Roham Razaghi, Rajiv McCoy, Dylan Taylor, and Ariel Gershman.

Investor Bill Miller Gives $50 Million to Department of Physics and Astronomy

Bill Miller

Legendary investor and philanthropist William H. “Bill” Miller III has made a lead gift of $50 million in a combined $75 million philanthropic effort to support the Krieger School’s Department of Physics and Astronomy

Miller’s gift will fund endowed professorships, postdoctoral fellowships, and graduate research, and will provide ongoing support for research infrastructure. His gift also served as the impetus for two anonymous donors to support the department as well. This expands to $75 million the funding to advance key areas of physics research. 

The gift will propel one of the nation’s most storied departments of physics to new heights—expanding research into emerging subfields of study and attracting promising young researchers, says Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels

An historic gift

“The support Bill Miller has shown Johns Hopkins is historic,” Daniels says. “Four years ago, Mr. Miller committed what is believed to be the largest ever gift to a university philosophy program, and now he has made an equally impressive gift to the study of physics and astronomy. We are endlessly grateful for his generosity that is driving our scholars to explore everything from the human condition to our understanding of the universe and our place in it. A philanthropic investment of this magnitude will be a standard-bearer for how a robust physics and astronomy department can broaden its research, engage in collaborative exploration, and advance to the front lines of emerging areas.” 

At the center of Miller’s gift is funding for young scientists. Support for these future leaders in physics and astronomy includes the creation of 10 postdoctoral fellowships and 10 endowed graduate research fellowships. The gift will also support the establishment of three endowed professorships, a cohort of senior and junior level faculty lines, and funding for research infrastructure such as laboratory equipment and instrumentation. In all, this new philanthropic support will enable the department to grow from its current 33 faculty to 46 over the next five years. 

“The visionary research currently underway in our physics and astronomy department will be enhanced by this gift in vital ways that could potentially change our view of the universe,” says Christopher S. Celenza, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School.  

The department’s expertise

The Department of Physics and Astronomy has a notable history dating back to 1876, when it became the first physics department in the United States dedicated to research.  

Today, the department’s expertise is distributed in three primary areas: astronomy, condensed matter physics, and particle physics. Its experimental and theoretical faculty members are renowned for their work in areas such as astrophysics, cosmology, big data, quantum materials, extra-galactic astronomy, particle-theory model building, and dark matter detection. 

“Physics seeks to understand reality at its most fundamental level,” says Miller. “It is the bedrock on which the other sciences rest. I am delighted to be able to make a gift to Johns Hopkins physics that will enable it to add new resources and continue to build on its distinguished history.” 

In recognition of Miller’s gift, the department has been renamed the William H. Miller III Department of Physics and Astronomy. The department had carried an honorific naming in recognition of the department’s first chair, Henry A. Rowland, who was known as one of the most significant physicists of the 19th century for his work in electricity, heat, and astronomical spectroscopy. The department chair’s position will now be named for Rowland, and the university will seek additional opportunities to honor his legacy. 

Miller is the founder and chairman of Miller Value Partners and formerly the longtime manager of the Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust. Miller serves on the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees. He majored in economics and European history at Washington and Lee University, graduating with honors in 1972. He later served as a military intelligence officer overseas and studied philosophy at Johns Hopkins before turning to his career in investments.