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New NIMH Office Helps Improve Worklife

By Sophia Glezos Voit

John G. Miers, an NIH employee for the past 31 years and still going strong at NIMH, is proof that you can turn a personal interest into a new job without having to retire.

Until late February, Miers had been working with NIMH research staff in developing program announcements and requests for applications. While he enjoyed and was committed to his job, working on behalf of people with disabilities was equally important. So, in addition to volunteer work on his own, he sometimes spent nearly as much time on NIH and HHS disabilities-related committees as he did in the office.

Largely because of Miers' expanding capabilities and growing list of accomplishments in this area, NIMH director Dr. Steve Hyman offered Miers (a Cornell graduate with an M.B.A. in organizational theory) directorship of the new NIMH Office of Diversity and Employee Advocacy Programs. Hyman created ODEAP in place of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity. Miers accepted, with little hesitation.

NIMH's John Miers stands alongside Paul Junior High students (from l) Marsha Miller, Natalie McDonald and Floyd Davis.

While ODEAP will continue to stress the institute's commitment to affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Miers says people tend to associate traditional EEO offices only with grievances. The ODEAP, though, will emphasize the "positive side of the coin," he says, "while still actively addressing EEO issues."

The positive side includes "promoting an excellent work environment," says Hyman, which he hopes to accomplish through ODEAP's focus on support of workforce diversity and quality of worklife activities. "A diverse and high-quality work environment helps people function better in many areas of their lives, including on the job, which is why this office is so important."

ODEAP staff have begun generating ideas and making plans to make NIMH an increasingly "family friendly" workplace, from highlighting the availability of alternate work schedules for employees who would benefit, to offering exercise classes. From Miers' perspective, "as long as you have to work, it may as well be as rewarding and as much fun as possible." Another function of the office will be community outreach. "We want to stimulate interest in NIMH research not only within the broader community, but particularly among members of minority groups who have limited opportunities," said Miers. "The more diverse we are as a community and as an organization — in terms of abilities, gender, race, sexual orientation and cultural background — the richer we are."

One recent outreach effort that Miers helped organize was a research training program on Saturday mornings in April for science students from Paul Junior High, which NIMH "adopted" 2 years ago to benefit minority youth in Washington, D.C. With the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences as the cosponsor, the "Saturday Science Academy" aimed to stimulate students' interest in biomedical research.

Through lectures, class discussion, lab work and homework assignments, the students — who wore NIMH lab coats with their names embossed — attended biotechnology training classes in the Lasker Center, where they learned the properties of bacteria and their use as experimental organisms. Qualified students will participate in the program again this month.

In a recent email Miers sent to all NIMH employees, he promised that ODEAP will be "the catalyst in a partnership" between employees and the director's office. To help catalyze the relationship, the office is establishing the NIMH employee advisory committee, which will focus on recruiting minority staff, as well as advising Hyman on affirmative action issues, policies and practices. The committee will meet monthly and be composed of a "diagonal slice" of 12 employees, Miers says, from GS-5 clerical staff to GS-15 program representatives.

"I expect to make this office one of the leaders among the NIH institutes," he says. "I think the ODEAP approach is the way to go in making work more than just a job."

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