Ray Gavin

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Ph.D., Zoology, The University of Iowa, 1968
B.S., Zoology, Howard University, 1962
Course Certificate, Invertebrate Zoology, Marine Biological Laboratory, 1961


Joseph Frankel

Current Location

Brooklyn, NY

Where am I now?

In September 2014, Gavin retired after 43 years of teaching at Brooklyn College.


Ray Gavin knows that one often requires the help of others to improve bleak circumstances. A Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa (UI) from 1962 to 1968, he found this support with his adviser, Dr. Joe Frankel, who retired in 2013 after serving over 50 years in the Department of Biology.

“Joe Frankel was indeed a supportive and nurturing mentor and a good friend through some very dark days because life in Iowa City for an African-American student was far less than ideal in 1962,” says Gavin. “With Dr. Frankel’s continuing support I stayed the course, graduated, and enjoyed a successful career in academia.”

Gavin first considered the UI after meeting Dr. James Case while taking an Invertebrate Zoology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Case invited Gavin to study with him but moved to UC Santa Barbara before Gavin completed his studies at Howard University. Still, knowing that the UI “was at the forefront of equal opportunity long before it became a government action,” Gavin applied and became Frankel’s first graduate student, working with Tetrahymena thermophila, a single-celled freshwater organism used as a model for molecular research. Gavin also became friends with Dr. Eleanor Slifer, often sharing meals and conversations in one of the dining halls. “She shared her rough road to advancement in the Department of Zoology (now Biology), and I shared my difficulty living in Iowa City,” said Gavin.

After graduating with a Ph.D. in Zoology in 1968, Gavin was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. In 1971, he accepted a position at Brooklyn College, where he remained for 43 years until he retired in September 2014. During his time there, he achieved the rank of professor, published several articles, edited two books, received NSF research grants, and served as the Department of Biology chairman for 17 years. Gavin considers one of his greatest accomplishments to be his mentorship of more than 90 undergraduates, many from groups underrepresented in science and from disadvantaged backgrounds and says, “we are life-long friends.”