Extramural Associates Hold Biennial Conference
By Gerri Adams-Simmons
NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander set the tone for the future at the 2002 Extramural Associates Program biennial update conference. "At the Clinical Center, in the Visitor Information Center," he began, "there is a Nobel laureates' wall that has pictures and stories of the research accomplishments of NIH grantees and our own scientists who are Nobel prize winners. It's quite dramatic that virtually all who are on this wall are white and male. That needs to be changed. We need diversity on that wall, just as there is diversity in the halls of fame, and you, the Extramural Associates Program, are one of the ways we hope to achieve that."
The program began, as it did 24 years ago, with the entrance of three new EAs interviewed by Dr. Matthew Kinnard, EA program director. As a neophyte health scientist administrator at the National Institute of Dental Research in 1977, Kinnard interviewed three EAs during an MBRS/MARC symposium: one from Chicago State University, one from Paine College in Augusta, Ga., and another from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. all are still employed at their respective schools and continue to have an impact on university programs.
Two activities distinguish the EA program from other NIH targeted programs: the annual regional technical assistance workshops for recruitment, and the biennial conference that familiarizes EA alumni with emerging EA-related research and training opportunities, and updates knowledge of NIH grants management and administration policies.
The program made a giant leap forward in the early 1990s when the advisory board convinced the administration of Alabama A&M State University to award $40,000 to Dr. Jeanette Jones, who had recently returned from EA residency training. The award was to help her involve A&M faculty and students in research and training activities. That grant, coupled with an experimental HHS initiative the 4-year "Capacity Building" award given to four historically black colleges and universities ultimately resulted in the launching of the Extramural Associates Research Development Award (EARDA) in 1994.
The EARDA is a grant given to EAs returning from NIH residency training to help them achieve long- and short-term program goals more effectively. Since 1994, 58 people have been trained and received the EARDA grant. Other notable changes instituted by the program since then include: a two-model EA residency training experience and two versions of the EARDA; a mid-semester sabbatical from the 5-month residency training; inclusion of selected community colleges as eligible EA participants; and organized participation in non-federal, but related organizations.
Ironically, Alexander, the only IC director to have served on the advisory board, was a board member when the EARDA grant was added. Because the program was under the NIH Office of the Director at the time, it like all OD components had no grant management, review or award authority, nor was there a mechanism for secondary peer (council) review. Alexander came to the rescue, volunteering the necessary grant support and NICHD advisory council services to maintain the EARDA. Those services have continued undiminished and in June 2000 the program was officially transferred from OER/OD to NICHD.
The 80 participants at the conference also heard from Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NIH acting deputy director and NICHD deputy director. "We began early on when Dr. Ruth Kirschstein 2 years ago proposed that we would have trans-NIH initiatives to address the President's health disparities initiative," she recalled. "I was pleased to be able to share responsibility for planning this initiative with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the allergy institute. Dr. Kirschstein made it clear to me then that she wanted to see programs such as the EA program, the MARC program, the MBRS program the programs that have been working for years with special populations to be the focus or pivotal point for the health disparities initiative."
Alexander's closing remarks held special meaning for the EAs: "If it takes a village to raise a child," he said, "it takes a diverse population to overcome health disparities. Providing that diversity is what the Extramural Associates Program is all about."
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