20 Oct 2022

Kelly East Takes the Educational Reins

When the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology opened in 2008, Kelly East was a new microbiology grad from Auburn University. She joined HudsonAlpha’s educational outreach team in an effort to gain valuable experience before pursuing graduate work in genetic counseling. Fourteen years later, East is now leading education efforts at the Institute as its newly named Vice President for Educational Outreach. 

East’s deep experience at the Institute gives her intimate knowledge of its history, successes and future opportunities. In her new role, East replaces Neil Lamb, PhD, who was recently named President of HudsonAlpha. “Kelly was actually one of the first hires I made here at HudsonAlpha,” Lamb said. “We have worked together at each different stage of both her and my careers. I could not be happier for Kelly and also for us for having her in this new role.”

East was formerly the director of clinical education at HudsonAlpha as well as the director of HudsonAlpha’s Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine, where she supported multiple mission areas to expand the application of genomics through research, STEM education and patient care. With years of experience at the Institute, East is ready to lead educational outreach efforts into the future.  

“I’m thrilled to step into this role, and I’m looking forward to continuing the work we’ve been doing as well as identifying new opportunities, broadening our reach and finding ways to reach more learners in new ways,” East said. 

Building on Experience

While pursuing a Master of Science in Genetic Counseling from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, she continued to work remotely for the Institute on a part-time basis. 

Upon returning to Huntsville in 2010, East rejoined HudsonAlpha in-person as its first genetic counselor. At the time, there were limited clinical activities on the HudsonAlpha campus and  East’s work focused on the development of STEM education programs for teachers and students. Over time, as the Institute has increased its involvement in both clinical genomics research projects and the practice of genomic medicine, the need for genetic counseling has grown. Most recently, East led a team of five genetic counselors, and she believes the team’s roles in research and clinical care drive stronger educational programs.

“Our genetic counselors have a unique role,” East said. “While we work closely with HudsonAlpha’s research teams and clinical entities to provide genetic counseling, our home has always been in educational outreach. This has both allowed our genetic counselors to grow in their educational skills and provided clinical expertise for our educational programs. Our genetic counselors are better educators to our patients, research participants, and the public because we get to work alongside professional educators.” 

Planning for the Future

Looking ahead, East will harness her experience as a genetic counselor and an educator to further build HudsonAlpha’s STEM educational outreach programs, which target all ages across the life-span, including K-12 students, college students, educators, clinicians and lifelong learners. 

HudsonAlpha’s educational outreach department is organized around two guiding principles, East said. The first is to create a more genetically literate society, helping people understand complicated genetic concepts and why those concepts matter in the context of our lives. The second is to help equip and inspire tomorrow’s biotechnology workforce. 

East and her team will continue to provide the educational opportunities for which HudsonAlpha has become known. At the same time, East aims to expand programmatic offerings to reach new audiences and deliver education in new ways. 

“We want to really leverage the work of the Institute to further our educational mission and make a difference in our community and in the fields of biotechnology and genetics,” East said. “I’m looking forward to working closely with HudsonAlpha’s other mission areas of research and economic development, and helping tell the Institute’s stories of discovery and innovation to our learners.”