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Patrick Henry / Virginia Tech Grad Named Pew Scholar

Felicia Dare Goodrum
Felicia Dare Goodrum

Sometimes good news about the Roanoke city school system can get lost in discussions over graduation rates and school closings.

Felicia Goodrum is good news.

Goodrum, a 1988 graduate of Patrick Henry High School, is known by her middle name, Dare, to her family and friends. And she’s one Patriot who’s made the most of her public school education.

Goodrum is an assistant professor in the Department of Immunobiology at the University of Arizona. She was named a Pew Scholar in 2008 by the Pew Charitable Trust, an honor given to just 20 of the top scientists in the U.S. every year.

And if that weren’t enough, in July she received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. One of just 100 scholars to receive the award every year, she’ll attend a ceremony in Washington this fall and get to meet President Obama.

“I’m not surprised. That’s all she does is work,” said Goodrum’s mother, June Camper.

Although many of Goodrum’s friends attended Roanoke County’s private North Cross School, Camper made the decision to keep Goodrum in the public school system.

“I wanted her to be with all walks of life,” said Camper of Goodrum attending Patrick Henry, a school in which more than 40% of the students are minorities, and the same percentage are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. “I didn’t want her to be protected or sheltered.”

Goodrum excelled in the Roanoke city school system.

“I had really strong science teachers. I found that very inspiring,” she said. “Patrick Henry is a large school and you can really find your niche there. It’s okay to be a smart kid.” Goodrum also attended the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School and the City School. “It was the highlight of my public school education,” said Goodrum.

Goodrum took her love for science with her to Virginia Tech and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1992. After completing her Ph.D. in molecular genetics at Wake Forest, she did post-doctoral work at Princeton University and came to Arizona in April of 2006. Her research into how viruses survive in the human body quickly impressed university officials, who nominated her for the Pew Scholar award, placing her in a field of about 120 applicants from across the country.

Goodrum’s Pew award comes with nearly $250,000 of unrestricted research funding. But Goodrum’s not in it for the money.

“It’s significant for the recognition that comes with it. It really validates the work that I’m doing,” she said.

When Goodrum was contacted about the Presidential Early Career Award by the White House, she didn’t believe it.

“I started getting these e-mails from the office of the President requesting information. I thought it was some sort of phishing scam,” she said with a laugh. “I ignored them for quite a while until they started calling on the phone.”

As part of the award, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease will extend Goodrum’s current research grant for five years.

Goodrum’s achievements at an early stage in her career are impressive—even more so when you consider she’s a mom, with two kids of her own in public schools.

“I definitely believe in public school education,” she said. “I think it does start you out with a very broad view of diversity and society.” She encourages young woman in science to take on the challenge of having a career and a family.

“You can do it. There are more doors open now than ever,” she said. “The sciences are a really wonderful place to work and be a woman.”

Her advice to the next Dare Goodrum, plugging away in the halls of Patrick Henry High School? “There’s never any room for making excuses for what your school system can or cannot provide. Take advantage of every opportunity you’re offered.”

She knows the payoff is worth it.

“I have the perfect job, working with bright, young minds and doing the research that I want to do,” she said.

By David Perry
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