Clifford Wayne Houston (1949- )

Houston smiling
Clifford W. Houston. n.d.
Courtesy University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Clifford Wayne Houston is a nationally recognized microbiologist and became the first African American president of the American Society of Microbiology. Houston was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on December 3, 1949, to Mae Frances Hanley and Edgar Houston. He attended Gordon Oaks Elementary and John F. Kennedy Junior High School. He developed a profound interest in science after attending a summer science seminar as a teenager. Throughout his matriculation at Douglass and Northeast High School in Oklahoma City, he achieved numerous high honors before graduating in 1968.

Houston enrolled at Oklahoma State University that same year and later pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. In 1972, he earned Bachelor’s of Science degrees in chemistry and microbiology. He earned a master’s degree in biology two years later and then a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 1979. After completing graduate studies, Houston was awarded the James W. McLaughlin Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston.

In 1981, he accepted an assistant professorship at UTMB, where he conducted research on removing adrenal glands from rats. This detection led to a change of behaviors since those glands heightened reactions by producing hormones. He also researched the development of an antigenic assay to detect Salmonella toxins. The project examined the role bacteria toxins play in the pathology of diseases.

In 1994, while teaching at UTMB, Houston completed the management development program at Harvard University. He then served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Education at NASA Headquarters in Houston. From 2003 to 2005, he supervised NASA’s three primary educational sectors, including the informal, elementary, secondary, and higher education divisions. These different divisions developed space science programs and resources for students and faculty while also advancing science education to the general public through museums and science centers.

In 2006, Houston’s growing influence in STEM allowed him to become the first elected African American president of the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), known as the most prominent professional biological science organization with well over 45,000 members. He has since served as the chair of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the ASM education board.

During his four-decade career, Houston has received many honors and prestigious awards, including the presidential award for Mentoring Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering. In 1997, he was elected to the Academy of Microbiology. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius appointed him to the National Advisory Board for Bio Security.

Houston is currently the Herman Barnett Distinguished Professor at UTMB and is the Associate Vice President for Educational Outreach and Diversity. He resides in Galveston, Texas, with his wife and son and continues to be active in the community by mentoring youth in STEM.