Lewis Wheaton: Success Comes with Responsibility

Associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences reflects on Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a special time set aside to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans. The College of Sciences joins the celebration by inviting the perspectives of African-American colleagues through a two-part Q&A.

Lewis Wheaton is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech with an adjunct appointmen in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Wheaton strives to improve the lives of upper-limb amputees through a deeper understanding of the relationship between the neurophysiology of motor learning and prosthesis adaptation. Since joining Georgia Tech in 2008, he has been directing the Cognitive Motor Control Lab, which aims to understand the neurophysiological processes associated with motor control of the upper limbs.

In the state of Georgia, Wheaton is a Governor-appointed member of the State Rehabilitation Council. Mandated by the U.S. Congress, this council oversees the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. In this capacity, Wheaton helps shape rehabilitation policy and management in the state of Georgia.

Wheaton is co-director of Georgia Tech’s working group on Race and Racism in Contemporary Biomedicine

What is the accomplishment that you are proudest of so far?
I am proudest of my ability to serve as a mentor and an example.  

My parents instilled in me at an early age that success – at any level -- comes with responsibility. For me, success means having the privilege and responsibility to be the best I can be daily to those around me. I have taken my parents’ advice seriously, proudly serving as mentor or example for others – including students in classes, research associates in my lab, and colleagues across various professional networks.  

For example, I have been collaborating with colleagues in CEISMC [Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing] on enhancing STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education in middle and high schools, particularly one in Fulton County.  It has been humbling to hear teachers say that they see me as an example for students and themselves.  

I never aspired to be a mentor or example for others or thought that I could be one. The fact that I have become one reflects my parent’s advice about responsibility to one’s community that comes with success.  I am both proud and humbled to play these roles, which drive me daily to do better and do more.

What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is an empowering and sober period of reflection for me. It is easy to get used to passing reflections of some of the central figures of the Civil Rights era. One can become desensitized to the fact that our country experienced a tragic period when people of color suffered not only because of bias against them but also because they were prohibited legal access to facilities, services, and opportunities. 

That period has become a past so distant it seems unimaginable. In reality, it is very much a part of our recent history, one that we still struggle with today. People lived it, felt it, and died fighting it.  

That reality compels me to action. Black History Month presents the opportunity to understand more broadly the work that still needs to be done, the education that ought to continue, and the responsibility I have to be involved in shaping a better future for all of humanity.

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A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.
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College of Sciences