Bursenos Retires as FIC Deputy Director
Stephanie Bursenos, deputy director of the Fogarty International Center since 1994, recently retired after more than 41 years of government service.
She came to NIH in 1983 after a rise through the ranks that began at age 15 with her first job as a GS-2 bookkeeper for the D.C. public school cafeterias and culminated in the position of deputy director of FIC. Forced to leave high school at the age of 15 for family reasons, she began to work full-time at the D.C. Board of Education. While she learned bookkeeping on the job, she helped support her family and, all the while, attended night school to earn her high school diploma. Her decision to take the Civil Service Examination opened the door to her career in the federal government and a position at the Department of Defense. After a stint with a government contractor working on the Polaris nuclear submarine program, she returned to the government in a position with PHS, and never looked back.
The PHS that Bursenos joined in 1963 was in a small, 6-story building on Eastern Ave. in Silver Spring. It was here that she first developed an interest in public health issues. Beginning in statistics and reports with the Division of Hospitals of the Bureau of Medical Services this was a time when the PHS ran hospitals and clinics throughout the United States she went on to the Bureau of Health Services and its successor organizations working on issues related to food and drugs, environmental health and community environmental management as then organized within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Intent on continuing her education, Bursenos enrolled at the University of Maryland in 1971 as a part-time student. While continuing to work full time at DHEW, and raising her daughter Joanna, she earned a B.S. in political science and economics, graduating summa cum laude in 1979.
Her last stop before coming to NIH was the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, where she started in 1973 as a program management officer and ended as deputy director of the Office of Extramural Coordination and Special Projects. At NIOSH she first became involved with international programs when she undertook the coordination of its international activities, in addition to her duties as deputy director of OECSP and chief of NIOSH regional operations. When NIOSH became part of the CDC and moved to Atlanta in 1983, Bursenos, a native Washingtonian, elected to stay in the area and joined FIC.
Her tenure at FIC followed the successful pattern set over her entire career. Hired as program officer for Europe in the then International Coordination and Liaison Branch, she soon took on additional responsibilities for Japan, the USSR, China and Taiwan. In 1988, she became special assistant to the FIC director and then associate director for program coordination. In 1994, she was named deputy director of the center. With her in-depth knowledge of FIC and how its efforts fit into the larger U.S. international health and foreign relations efforts, Bursenos was instrumental in guiding numerous changes in the center's activities, including services to the NIH intramural program, bilateral programs, and the change in emphasis from fellowships to research capacity building in developing countries and emerging democracies.
Bursenos received the NIH Director's Award as well as many special act or service awards. FIC director Dr. Gerald Keusch, voicing his gratitude for all Bursenos had done for FIC over her tenure, and in particular for delaying her retirement to assist him in his transition to NIH and the FIC directorship, praised "her uncommon ability, her dedication, and her untiring efforts to improve global health. There is no crisis Stephanie can't deal with," he said, "and no challenge that is too great for her. She has been a tremendous asset to the center and will be sorely missed."
While Bursenos may be retiring from the government, her energy and intellectual curiosity will certainly lead her in many new directions. "For one thing, I always loved being in an academic environment given the opportunity," she said recently, "and I plan to take some courses to develop new areas that are of interest to me." Local politics also present a tempting challenge, she indicated. Not least among her many activities, she will continue involvement in the lives of her grandchildren, Maria and Constantine.
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