By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
As an undergraduate at CSU, Gilbert John (B.S., ’85; Ph.D., ’90) opted for a microbiology major, based on a course he had enjoyed. Immunology professor Dr. Robert Ellis became his mentor, engaging the young student in his research projects. The student eventually became a professor too, as John went on to his own remarkable career.
A member of the Navaho Nation, John began his educational journey when he left the reservation to attend the Marine Military Academy, a college preparatory high school in Texas, aided by a scholarship from the Navaho Code Talkers organization. After completing the Ph.D., he spent the next five years in post-doctoral positions, the first at CSU’s Foothills Campus working with the Center for Disease Control and the second at the University of Arizona. In 1995, he began a tenure-track position at Oklahoma State (OSU); for the next 22 years he taught microbiology and pursued an outstanding research program.
Dr. John is committed to encouraging Native students to consider careers in science. He worked with freshmen and sophomores at OSU, most of whom belonged to one of the 22 tribes in Oklahoma, providing seminars on how to conduct research in microbiology. He also took some of these students with him when doing research in other labs, including one on Long Island, N.Y., where they spent 10 weeks studying infectious disease and bacteria proteins and also finding time to explore Manhattan. For a period, he conducted summer camps for Native junior high students at OSU.
He also spent a year in Washington, D.C. as program director for the National Science Foundation.
As he had enjoyed that and his other administrative roles, when he saw an opening at CSU ̶ assistant dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, he applied and was hired. He returned to his alma mater fall semester of 2016, where he also became the diversity officer for the college, establishing and overseeing a diversity and inclusion committee.
He also continues his own research. One project he has been working on for the last three years focuses on health issues caused by abandoned uranium mines on the Navaho Reservation. Using the “One Health” and “Translational Medicine” approaches of the college, he invited CSU faculty in physical science, social science, and biology disciplines to join him on the project to address human, animal, and environmental concerns.
He and wife Karen John (B.A., ’85), who also holds a masters degree, were married the summer before he began graduate studies in 1995. She is an artist, working in acrylics, water colors, and photography, often with agriculture-related subjects ranging from horses to old tractors. The Johns have two daughters who both are quite accomplished. Natasha, the managing director for the Native American Law and Policy firm, has been a lobbyist and advocates for tribes in Washington. Kelsey, who earned a Ph.D. in Native American Education, is doing a postdoc at the University of Arizona. Clearly, their father has inspired the two of them, as well as many other young people, to achieve great things.