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Harrell, historic CALS alumna and Duke microbiology professor, retires

Dr. Lizzie J. Harrell, the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in microbiology from N.C. State, recently retired after 33 years of service at Duke University Medical Center, where she was associate director of Clinical Microbiology and Research Professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, and Pathology.  

Harrell was the first full-time African-American faculty member in the Basic Science departments at Duke. This past December, the Duke University Board of Trustees granted her Emeritus status. She is now Research Professor Emerita of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. She will maintain an office at Duke while she continues her professional activities.

Harrell earned her 1978 Ph.D. in microbiology from N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where her major professor was the late Dr. James B. Evans. She received her master’s degree in bacteriology and immunology from UNC-CH and her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from N.C. Central University. 

Before coming to Duke in 1978, Harrell worked at the DuPont Co. in Delaware, UNC-CH and the V.A. Hospital in Washington, D.C. At Duke she moved through the ranks to become associate director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory and full professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, and Pathology.  

Her areas of expertise and research interests include emerging antimicrobial resistance, anaerobic microbiology and the use of molecular methods to detect infectious diseases. She has also taught in the medical school and mentored undergraduate, graduate and medical students. Over the years, Harrell has done numerous seminars, research presentations and invited lectures. 

Certified as a specialist in Public Health and Medical Microbiology, Harrell is Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology which qualifies her to direct a public health or hospital laboratory. She is also one of the few African-Americans elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific arm of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). Election is highly selective and recognizes excellence, originality, scholarly achievement, leadership and high ethical standards that have advanced microbiology. ASM is the largest single life science society, composed of more than 39,000 scientists and health professionals.     

Harrell is a native of Shallotte and the oldest of 13 children. She is married to Dr. Sampson E. Harrell, a family physician. They enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. She is active in the community and church.  

Although she is looking forward to a slower pace, she hastens to say that she will remain active professionally by continuing her service on several committees, mentoring students and attending meetings.

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