Nationally renowned microbiologist Clifford Wayne Houston was elected as the first African American president of the American Society of Microbiology. Mae Frances Hanley and Edgar Houston welcomed Houston into the world on December 3, 1949 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Both Gordon Oaks Elementary and John F. Kennedy Junior High School were places he attended. After attending a summer scientific session as a teenager, he became intensely interested in science. He earned multiple high accolades while attending Douglass and Northeast High Schools in Oklahoma City before graduating in 1968.
The following year, Houston enrolled at Oklahoma State University and pledged to the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. In chemistry and microbiology, he received Bachelor of Science degrees in 1972. Two years later, he received a master’s degree in biology, and in 1979, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center awarded him a doctorate in microbiology and immunology. Houston received the James W. McLaughlin Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston after finishing his graduate studies.
He obtained a position as an assistant professor at UTMB in 1981, where he worked on studies involving the removal of rats’ adrenal glands. The discovery caused a change in behavior since those glands produced hormones that intensified reactions. Additionally, he did research on the creation of an antigenic assay to identify Salmonella toxins. The initiative investigated how bacteria’s toxins contribute to disease pathogenesis.
Houston finished the management development program at Harvard University in 1994 while working as a professor at UTMB. At NASA’s Houston headquarters, he then worked as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Education. He oversaw NASA’s three main educational sectors, which included the informal, elementary, secondary, and higher education divisions, from 2003 to 2005. Through museums and scientific centers, these various departments advanced science education for the general public while also creating space science programs and resources for students and teachers.
Houston’s growing stature in STEM enabled him to be elected as the first African American president of the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), the largest professional organization for biological scientists with more than 45,000 members, in 2006. Since then, he has chaired the ASM education board as well as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
Houston has won numerous honors and distinguished prizes throughout the course of his four-decade career, including the presidential award for mentoring excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering. He was chosen to join the Academy of Microbiology in 1997. He joined the National Advisory Board for Bio Security in 2011 after being appointed by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
At the moment, Houston holds the positions of Herman Barnett Distinguished Professor and Associate Vice President for Educational Outreach and Diversity at UTMB. He lives in Galveston, Texas, with his wife and kid, and he still participates in community activities by mentoring young people in STEM.