Following GPS to Genetic Counseling

Avery Howard, Genetic Counseling graduateAvery Howard, Class of 2023, found out about the genetic counseling profession in a lecture given by a genetics professor. As an undergraduate at Youngstown State University, hearing genetic counselors combining their knowledge of genetics and genomics with psychosocial counseling inspired a pivot in Howard’s undergraduate career. He decided to add a minor in psychology and start gaining exposure to genetic counseling. This exposure included a summer of shadowing experience at the Cleveland Clinic, which introduced him to the genetic counseling specialties of cancer, cardiogenetics, medical genetics and pediatrics. His experience at Cleveland Clinic solidified Howard’s conviction that genetic counseling was what he wanted to pursue in graduate school and as a future career. To further strengthen his application to graduate school, he joined his university’s genetic counseling club and started doing volunteer work in advocacy. 

Howard found The Ohio State University Genetic Counseling Graduate Program (OSU GCGP) in an initial search for training programs, and narrowed his search by prioritizing geographically and culturally. “Where would I as a black, gay man feel comfortable, and how would that affect my learning experience and outcomes?” Ohio State was a definite consideration, but Howard had to balance that with his desire to see more of the world and experience new things. Ultimately, though, his interest honed back in on Ohio State after a friend referred him to the Graduate/Professional Student Recruitment Initiative, otherwise known as GPS, through the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. This full-day experience provided him with workshops about attending graduate school, a roundtable discussion where he could hear first-hand from Ohio State students about their experiences, and a departmental visit with the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program, where he met leadership, faculty, alumni and students. This gave him the opportunity to have personalized time with the program, get a real feel for its people and culture, and have his deep-dive questions answered. 

“When I was accepted to the GPS program, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to make an impression, but also for the opportunity for the program to make an impact on me. Podcasts about searching for schools encourage you to make pros and cons lists when helping you decide where to go, but the GPS program helped me flesh that out even more,” Howard says. “The experience gave me the ability to meet leadership and get a real sense of what the graduate program’s mission statement means. ‘We train our graduates to be knowledgeable, compassionate and scholarly genetic counselors’ sounds great, but I wanted to know the how and why. Meeting everyone, I could sense how they truly embody those values through their interactions with me. I could see they really encourage their students to become a genetic counselor in a way that they can make it their own. Having a program that backs you and supports you to do that is so different from any other program I’ve seen.”

Now that Howard is enrolled in the OSU GCGP, he feels like he made the right decision when he applied. He describes all of the opportunities for growth, saying, “There’s never a point where I feel like I’ve conquered a topic, concept or subject. That sounds scary but I think that is good when you’re entering a field where things are constantly evolving like genetics. Ohio State puts you in a position where you’re learning and growing, and this helps you become a lifelong learner.

“Even when or if there are hiccups, I know I’ll be able to overcome it because I have multiple support systems in place. If I’m struggling, I feel like someone’s there to help me without hesitation or reservation.”

Howard adds that as he grows as an individual in the program, he sees more and more opportunities for advocacy because he has been empowered to advocate. “Being here, I have found there are multiple individuals that advocate for themselves and others with such compassion and authenticity. This has allowed me to grow in my own activism, and I see myself continuing to do that during the rest of my time in the program and when I graduate and enter the field.”

Howard recently decided that his thesis will focus on expanding genetic counseling services to underserved populations. He similarly looks forward to working on his thesis while in the OSU GCGP, and continuing his research as a future genetic counseling professional paving the way in advocacy and inclusion.