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Vol. LXI, No. 16
August 7, 2009

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Ambitious Plans in Offing
FAES Marks 50th Year at NIH

On the front page...

As remarkable an invention of the federal government as NIH is—a common descriptor in recent decades has been “the crown jewel of government,” thank you very much—there was a handful of scientists half a century ago who thought the National Institutes of Health was just a few ingredients shy of being a true Elysium.

It had a faculty—many hundreds of doctors—and a leafy, sprawling campus, but no teaching mission and no students, which had been such a source of inspiration and ferment on the campuses from which the scientists hailed. In order to keep the spirit of continuous education alive, a new, complementary entity was needed.

Thus it was that on July 2, 1959, the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, Inc., (FAES) came into being. Twelve prominent scientists, including future Nobel laureate Dr. Christian Anfinsen, drafted eight Articles of Incorporation specifying creation of a nonprofit “association for education purposes.”


Leading the FAES today are Dr. Krishna “Balki” Balakrishnan (l), executive director, and Dr. Edwin “Ted” Becker, president. Collins sings and plays guitar at The Directors performance in honor of outgoing NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni last Oct. 30.
The founding fathers reserved for their organization the ability to acquire real estate and to conduct business ventures in support of a mission “to foster and encourage scientific research and education by…whatever means may be practicable.” The eighth, and final, article stated, “The duration of the corporation shall be perpetual.”

FAES may not yet have reached perpetuity, but at age 50 it has an ambitious portfolio of enterprises under way that may soon restore the organization to a prominence it has not enjoyed since the 1970s when FAES membership, and the organization’s campus profile, peaked.

“We plan to treat [the anniversary] in much the same way that NIH observed its centennial [in 1987]—with a year-long series of events,” said Dr. Krishna “Balki” Balakrishnan, FAES executive director since 2006. He and current FAES president Dr. Ted Becker, an NIH scientist emeritus who has been here since 1955, recently discussed the organization’s timely revitalization.
FAES adopted various logos over its 50 years. Above, a schoolhouse graphic marks one of several logos the organization currently uses. Below, an emblem represents an earlier era.

“FAES does a wide variety of things,” said Becker. “Some think it’s just a graduate school [which began 48 years ago and is still going strong today], or a music series, or a bookstore or an insurance program.” But it’s all of those things, and more.

FAES has two major construction projects on the drawing board. The first is a proposed Student Faculty Academic Center (SFAC), which would be located at the heart of old Bldg. 10 and include a bookstore/coffee bar, grad school office, student and faculty lounges, and classroom space in what used to be the Visitor Information Center.

“[The SFAC] began as an FAES vision to do something nice for NIH,” said Balakrishnan. “We would like to renovate the space in the center of Bldg. 10, but we are awaiting HHS approval before asking the FAES board of directors to commit construction funds.” FAES would contribute $10 million to the project, which would include 9 classrooms for evening courses.

“NIH could use the rooms as conference space during the day,” he said. “The bookstore would be greatly expanded [from its current location on the B1 level] and include a coffee bar.” FAES administrative offices, currently located in the Cloister, would relocate to the SFAC. People who want to enroll in both the grad school and the health insurance program would do so at SFAC. There would also be a career counseling office run by the Office of Intramural Training & Education.

“We would also like to build a faculty dining room in what used to be the Medical Board Room,” said Becker. “It would have room for 40-50 people and offer a better ambiance than the cafeterias. It would be a place you could take a speaker to lunch after a seminar.”

The second big project involves FAES’s valuable real estate holdings. In the early 1960s, FAES acquired parcels of land (one of which Anfinsen owned) opposite NIH on Cedar Ln., near Cypress Ave., with a view toward developing a Faculty Club. FAES issued bonds to raise money to acquire the land (Becker himself remembers buying a $100 bond) and hired an architect for the project, but couldn’t raise sufficient funds to complete the job. Totaling 4 acres, most of the land is currently vacant, but FAES has requested a rezoning of the tract to permit about 30 townhomes accommodating 150 predoctoral and postdoctoral NIH trainees. “There is a lack of affordable close-by housing for graduate students,” said Balakrishnan. Still, “it will be years before anything happens,” Becker noted.

The land currently includes 4 houses. “Two of the houses are rented to families,” Becker explained, “and two are rented to grad students, most of whom participate in the long-standing Oxford-Cambridge Program.” We’ve had 40 students in those 2 houses over the past 5 years,” added Balakrishnan, “and a survey showed that this amenity is highly prized. That gave us a lot of impetus to think bigger.”
A panel on preparedness lessons learned from states and localities includes (from l) Dr. Marcelle Layton of the New York City department of health and mental hygiene, Dr. Damon Arnold of the Illinois department.
Above, an old registration sign for the organization that began in 1959; in the second sidebar below, another logo from FAES’s past

FAES also acquired, in 1975, a house at the corner of Cedar and Old Georgetown Rd. that is colloquially known as FAES House, but is formally titled the Social and Academic Center. Large enough to hold about 40-80 people, the house was briefly popular as an after-work place to unwind, but gradually was felt to be too far afield to become popular. Aside from holiday usage and some nursing conferences, the house is underutilized and loses money (operationally, but remains a good investment), said Balakrishnan.

How does FAES remain robust enough to embark on a development campaign? “We do make a small profit,” said Balakrishnan. In addition to real estate, FAES has invested over the decades in mutual funds, certificates of deposit and money market funds. Becker and Balakrishnan rank the most influential FAES programs this way:

  • The FAES Graduate School: Begun in the fall semester of 1961, the school now enrolls some 1,500 students per year, nearly half of whom are postdocs, but does not grant degrees. The faculty is paid a modest $600/unit stipend, but many turn it down as not worth the ethics-reporting hassle. Becker taught at the school for about 30 years and has taken courses, too. “There are a lot of people here who want to learn,” says Balakrishnan, “also many who like to teach and impart their knowledge. It was important to the founders to create a university-like feeling [see first sidebar below].” At one time, the Graduate Program was FAES’s principal source of income, but today it breaks even. FAES also administers the very successful BioTrac series of laboratory courses taught by R/M Nardone Associates in an FAES laboratory in Bldg. 60.
  • Health Insurance Program: Back in the early 1960s, a number of respected NIH scientists, including Dr. Phil Leder, recognized that NIH’s large cadre of foreign scientists was not covered by the federal government’s health insurance program. “NIH asked FAES to provide some relief for this deficiency,” Balakrishnan explains. “It was a small program at the beginning—a few hundred people. But the program has mushroomed...It’s mostly young people, [ages] 25 to 40,” he said. “The premiums are relatively low in this demographic. And the coverage is comparable [to federal plans] or slightly better.” The insurance program is now FAES’s principal source of income.“It’s not much money per person, but there are 4,000 [people enrolled],” said Balakrishnan.
  • FAES Bookstore: The store, somewhat hidden on the B1 level of Bldg. 10, has lost money for years, said Balakrishnan. However when it relocates to the first floor of Bldg. 10, in the heavily trafficked corridor that will link the South Entry with the CRC’s atrium and front lobby, great expectations are in store. Especially when it begins pumping java.
  • FAES Chamber Music Series: The only serious cultural rival to the serious science done at NIH was epitomized by this august series, organized in 1968 by Dr. Giulio Cantoni and his accomplice Paola Saffiotti, a pianist whose husband was an NCI scientist. Cantoni wrote an FAES monograph, Twenty-Five Years of Chamber Music at NIH, which covered every performance given between 1968 and 1993. The series expired with the death of Saffiotti in 2008, but classical music is again on the FAES menu because the foundation has taken over from Merck & Co., Inc., sponsorship, for at least the next 3 years, of the Manchester String Quartet performances that take place 8 times a year in Masur Auditorium.

As rich and varied an influence as FAES exerts, the foundation still lacks the profile it enjoyed in the 1970s, when more than 1,000 members, both on campus and in chapters throughout the country, paid modest dues to join. When Becker joined FAES in the early 1960s, membership was common among campus scientists, but interest waned over the years.

A Word from FAES’s Sole Surviving Founder

Only one founding member of FAES survives— Dr. Daniel Steinberg, FAES’s first president, who is now scientist emeritus at the University of California, San Diego—but his recollections of the origins of FAES remain acute.

“FAES was established to provide a mechanism for offering formal teaching programs to our postdoctoral fellows,” he recalls. “Some of us, and I, in particular, wanted to take advantage of the remarkable concentration of experts in the biomedical sciences at NIH and let the trainees at various levels learn from them. Also, we missed the traditions and trappings of academia—NIH was intensely focused on research. In fact, when we first proposed introducing formal course work, we were told by [then NIH director Dr.] Jim Shannon that NIH could not endorse or support such a program—he felt it was not part of the mission of NIH. To get around these strictures, Chris Anfinsen, Bob Berliner and I, with administrative advice from Murray Brown, struck a deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They had an okay to operate a night-school program and they agreed to fold our program into their already-up-and-running program. That was around 1953 or 1954. For a number of reasons that arrangement broke down and in 1959 we created a nonprofit corporation, FAES, to take over the operation of the teaching programs at NIH.”

Steinberg, who left NIH in 1968, remembers that FAES tried to set up a joint graduate program with Johns Hopkins University, but “Shannon called me to his office and made it clear that he did not feel this would wash. If NIH were to get into the graduate school business, he said, any and all universities in the United States would have to have equal opportunity to participate. Besides, such a program might dilute the concentration on research, the real mission of NIH. Our arguments that it might actually strengthen the research atmosphere by adding formal training opportunities and bringing young minds into [NIH] failed to convince him.”

There was “another and more substantive reason for expanding the teaching programs under FAES,” Steinberg notes. “We recognized that the flow of outstanding research and clinical associates applying while the doctor-draft was in place might dry up and that NIH would then have to compete on an even playing field with universities. The opportunity for formal training afforded by the FAES programs would then be a considerable asset.”

Asked whether FAES met his expectations as it developed, Steinberg answered, “We were all really happy with how FAES worked. Having a mechanism to do things outside the major mission of NIH, people began to find other uses for it. For example, Giulio Cantoni, a passionate music lover, wanted to run a chamber music series in the Clinical Center auditorium. Well, believe me, that did not fit very comfortably into any congressionally mandated missions of NIH. But FAES could, as a nonprofit organization, handle the funding. The NIH director could—and did—make the space available to FAES as to any private group. It worked beautifully!”

Is Steinberg surprised that FAES has lasted so long? “At my age I find myself participating in a lot of 50th anniversaries [50th for NHLBI; 50th for Journal of Lipid Research] so, no, I’m not that surprised that FAES is doing the same. I know that NIH has been blessed with special status in some respects but it is still a government agency and I’m not at all surprised that the FAES continues to help all of you there do things outside the box. Keep up the good works.”

“It started out with a bang and kind of frittered away,” he remembers. “Not enough attention was paid to [nurturing the organization]. There are not too many members now.” As part of its 50th anniversary, FAES will launch a membership campaign, with yearly fees set at $15.

“It’s not so much for the money,” Becker said, “but to get [people’s] interest.”

Another factor in FAES’s brand-recognition conundrum, apart from its multifarious identity, is confusion with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, which was created not by scientists but by Congress.

“FNIH was originally created to pay higher salaries to scientists,” Becker explained. “But that didn’t materialize. It did, however, win the authority to run a graduate education program and a bookstore. The two foundations almost merged at one point, but we decided just to set up an agreement to let FAES continue running its traditional programs.”

A memorandum of understanding, with no expiration clause, enables FAES to pursue its core functions of the past half century—school and books.

FAES is governed by a 26-member board of directors, most of whom are not employees. The top officers—president, vice president and treasurer—cannot be NIH’ers, due to ethics rules, said Becker, who is starting his second year as president.

Look for more details about the 50th anniversary celebration in upcoming issues of the Record. FAES plans a special event to coincide with its board meeting in April 2010.

What They’re Saying About FAES

It’s a pretty good reflection on the value of FAES when the biggest criticism leveled against it is that it’s not better known.

“Most people don’t know we exist,” said Dr. Robert Adelstein, chief of NHLBI’s Laboratory of Molecular Cardiology, who came to NIH in 1961, was president of FAES in the late 1970s and has served in other leadership capacities. “We need more young people…not enough people know about FAES and what it does.”

Adelstein believes that NIH can’t be a topnotch research institution without a teaching function. By offering the opportunity to teach, FAES helps NIH recruit the most talented postdocs, he says. “The good ones will want to teach, so that they can get jobs and won’t be at a disadvantage,” he explains.

Adelstein became an FAES instructor because “I wanted to learn how to give a seminar. Teaching is difficult. It’s not trivial.” He says the Graduate School is “the most important part of FAES. There are more than 400 postbacs and graduate students here—that’s a very important population at NIH.”

Adelstein began his teaching career with a course on protein chemistry; his co-instructor was Dr. Alan Schechter; both men were protégés of Nobel laureate Dr. Christian Anfinsen, a founder of FAES.

Schechter, now chief of NIDDK’s Molecular Medicine Branch and senior historical consultant to NIH, says Anfinsen “believed strongly in the importance of educational activities for a viable research organization.” He says FAES benefited him by “allowing me early on to get to know personally many of the then current or future leaders of NIH.” As chair of the grad school’s department of biochemistry, Schechter, who has held virtually every leadership position at FAES, also got to know many campus biochemists.

“FAES has made the NIH much more like a research university than is true for almost any other government research laboratory,” he said. “This, in my opinion, is a crucial reason for the continued excellence of the intramural research program (IRP).”

The current head of the IRP, Dr. Michael Gottesman, has been involved with FAES for 30 years, serving terms on the board of directors and as secretary of the board. “For the past 15 years,” he notes, “during the time that I have been deputy director for intramural research, I have enjoyed many formal and informal interactions with the FAES, involving development of joint programs to support the mission of the NIH in research and training…FAES is totally dedicated to the success of the NIH Intramural Research Program.” Gottesman believes that once FAES builds its planned Student Faculty Academic Center in Bldg. 10, it will become better known on campus.

NIAMS scientist emeritus Dr. Henry Metzger taught in the graduate school, served on the FAES board, beginning in 1970, and was twice FAES president. Teaching, he said, helped him communicate and understand science better, and board work refined his leadership ability in various professional associations.

Like Adelstein, Metzger puts the teaching mission at the forefront of FAES’s value to the campus: “With the increasing complexity of both theoretical and practical aspects of contemporary science, the menu of courses permits even those with a strong scientific background to broaden their expertise.”

Current grad school dean and faculty member Dr. Connie Noguchi, who is also chief of NIDDK’s molecular cell biology section, says “teaching a topic is the best way to learn. I continue teaching to learn and as a community service.” She thinks “each new employee should be given a pamphlet explaining the FAES programs and opportunities.” Whether as teachers or students, NIH’ers, she says, “should take advantage of the tremendous expertise around campus beyond one’s own research area.”

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