Changing Planet

L.A. High Schoolers Dig in to the Genographic Project

Spencer Wells, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and director of the Genographic Project, spoke to a sold-out audience during an NG Live! public lecture at the Broad Theater in Santa Monica last Thursday. The following morning he spoke to over 500 L.A. high school students about what being a “real-life” Explorer means today and how exploration has changed over the years.

Dr. Wells talked about both his work tracing human migrations through analyzing genes, and the work of other NG Explorers like Albert Lin, who uses remote imaging and crowd-sourcing to get people everywhere to help locate long-sought-for archaeological sites and more. The students for their part asked lots of questions about many topics, ranging from great ape evolution to preserving cultural diversity. For the majority of the students, this was their first visit to the Broad Theater.

Following the lecture, Spencer sat down for a pizza party discussion with students from Olympic High School.  Their teacher, Mr. Anthony Fuller has taught about the Genographic Project in his classroom for the past several years by showing the documentary “Journey of Man” while discussing genetics with his students. Fuller had swabbed his cheek and sent in his sample to join the Geneographic Project and discover his own deep genetic ancestry prior to the lecture, so Spencer used Mr. Fuller’s results to illustrate to the class what we can learn about ancestry through genetic analysis. The students then shared what they currently know about their own ancestry and why it’s useful to know more about where we come from. In the end one of the students even chose to swab and take part in the project as well.

While it’s perennially popular to think of the current generation of high-schoolers as unengaged or uninterested in learning, the students at Olympic High School demonstrated just how wrong that perception can be. Eager to learn more about science, history, and themselves, and ready to participate in debates and conversations about meaningful topics, they show that when allowed and encouraged to explore, kids today will be great grownups tomorrow.



Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.

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