FIC's Funk Retires After More Than 20 Years
By Irene Edwards
Foreign scientists who come to work or train in an NIH laboratory under the NIH Visiting Program all are familiar with the small white frame house on the hill near Stone House. There, FIC's International Services Branch (ISB) deftly navigates through the intricacies of immigration and visa questions, interprets the rules and regulations governing J1, B1, H1B and O1 visa status, and clarifies the mysteries of the form IAP-66. Visa applications, extensions, waivers, lost forms, deadlines and an astounding variety of crises are handled skillfully by a staff that is expert in the technicalities and complexities of immigration rules and regulations.
Sylvia Funk led the ISB from 1995 until her retirement in December. She began her NIH career in 1979 as a clerk-typist at NCI. In 1981, she was accepted into the STRIDE Program and began working in FIC's International Coordination and Liaison Branch. While getting on-the-job training at FIC, she completed her undergraduate education at American University, majoring in history with a concentration in immigration studies. In 1985, with a newly earned B.A. in hand, she joined the Office of Research Services in OD where she conducted studies on a variety of NIH-wide management issues. Her first love, however, was international affairs, particularly immigration issues, and she returned to FIC in 1989 as a management analyst in the then International Services and Communication Branch, later to become ISB. It was here that she started to work with NIH Visiting Program participants and increased her knowledge of immigration law, particularly the regulations governing the status of foreign scientists who come to the United States to train and work in their fields. In May 1995, Funk assumed the dual roles of ISB branch chief and NIH immigration officer.
At a farewell reception celebrating her service and heralding her retirement, Dr. Gerald Keusch, FIC director, praised Funk for her contributions to international scientific cooperation, calling her "a pillar of the FIC." Dr. Philip Chen, senior advisor to the deputy director for intramural research, thanked her on behalf of the NIH intramural community that she served so well and for her instincts that were always "on target." He also acknowledged her dedication, hard work and knowledge of the field. Funk, in turn, spoke of her gratitude for having been given the chance to work with the foreign scientists who are such an important part of NIH, an experience she called "a culmination of everything I wanted to be and do." She also appreciated the opportunity to "help bring so many talented foreign scientists to this great institution."
An immigrant herself, Funk always brought to her work a sensitivity that came from her own experience. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and immigrated to the United States on her own at the age of 19. One of her first jobs in the U.S. was at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, where she worked on a Public Health Service project to foster better care for a group of aged New Yorkers, mostly immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, who lived in the area served by the settlement. She still recalls with emotion the ceremony at which she herself became a U.S. citizen.
And now Funk is emigrating again, this time from the Washington area to Ann Arbor, Mich., where she and her husband, Sherman, plan to join their children and grandchildren in the vibrant community that is home to the University of Michigan. All Funk's colleagues at FIC and in the NIH intramural community wish her bon voyage and all the best for a rich and fulfilling retirement.
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