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Speakers Bureau Volunteers Recognized at Ceremony

By Margaret Warker

NIH employees take their work seriously. So seriously in fact, that some are reaching out to the community to share their love of science and enhance public understanding of health and medical research. These individuals, who are members of the NIH Speakers Bureau, were recognized for their outstanding contributions at an awards ceremony and reception on June 12 in Wilson Hall.

The NIH Speakers Bureau, sponsored by the Office of Research on Women's Health and administered by the Office of Science Education, is a network of researchers, health professionals, administrators and technical experts who volunteer their time and talent to talk about their careers and share their expert knowledge with diverse audiences throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The bureau seeks to promote scientific literacy and stimulate career interest in medical research and other health professions by bringing the excitement of NIH research to students of all ages.

In her opening remarks, NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein thanked the NIH Speakers Bureau volunteers for their commitment to NIH's public outreach and science education activities, recognizing that the efforts of these individuals are integral to the overall NIH mission.

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein (l), NIH acting director, and Dr. Vivian Pinn (r), NIH associate director for research on women's health, congratulate Dr. Alison Wichman, deputy director of the Office of Human Subjects Research, for serving on the NIH Speakers Bureau.

ORWH director Dr. Vivian Pinn commended the volunteers for their outstanding contributions and dedication. She explained that the NIH Speakers Bureau was established by ORWH to enhance the visibility of women in science and medical research. While the bureau continues to meet its original objective — as evidenced by the 33 women who are currently serving as volunteers — this program has proven to be a valuable resource for the entire community.

From the volunteer's perspective, the NIH Speakers Bureau offers a sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Dr. John F. Finerty, program director, Cancer Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, volunteers to speak on such topics as immunology, infectious diseases and cancer research. He "enjoys teaching and helping local NIH communities to understand science and medical research. People want to know the implications of new research on their health and when they'll be able to benefit from medical findings. I try to target discussions to each audience and explore how discoveries will benefit that audience."

Volunteer Dr. Hameed Khan, a health science administrator in the Division of Scientific Review, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, talks about cutting-edge research, therapeutic approaches for cancer and ethical issues related to new scientific discoveries. Khan believes he has a "moral obligation to communicate science to the public. The education goes both ways — the speech is the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge comes during the question and answer period. The questions make me think and refresh my memory. I have to be on top of everything."

Representatives of local schools have expressed their appreciation for the NIH Speakers Bureau and its positive impact on science education. Julie Ghent-Paolucci, a biology and anatomy teacher at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, says the bureau "provides a first-hand look at what researchers are doing. The speakers are enthusiastic about their work and that carries over to the students. I think the speakers gain from the enthusiasm of the students as well." Barry Mensh, a biology teacher at George C. Marshall High School, Falls Church, Va., is grateful for the bureau, noting that the volunteers "bring science to life and help motivate the students to reach their dreams. You get somebody who is on the cutting edge doing the things we're learning about, and the kids are just mesmerized. Speakers who ask the kids questions get them to think and problem-solve."

The activities of the NIH Speakers Bureau go beyond the classroom setting. Volunteers have been asked to speak in a variety of fora, including local community groups and nonprofit organizations.

Kandy Hutman, senior adult program director of the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, routinely submits requests for volunteers to speak at JCC's semiannual science and technology adult education classes. Hutman says the bureau "is wonderful because it provides experts who are able to convey technical information to the lay person. The speakers put a human face on the research being done at NIH...NIH isn't just that building down the street — it's a resource...The latest discoveries become accessible. The value of this service is incalculable. There is a geometric explosion that doesn't stop with the lecture. The speakers address the seniors, who talk to their children and grandchildren."

For more information about the NIH Speakers Bureau, visit OSE's web site at: http://science-education.nih.gov/speakers. If you have further questions about the program or are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Anne Baur by email at: baura@od.nih.gov; or phone 496-1871.


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