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Vol. LXV, No. 2
January 18, 2013
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New FAES Executive Director Focuses on Building

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FAES Executive Director Christina Farias

FAES Executive Director Christina Farias

Nearly 12 months into her new job as executive director of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences and Christina Farias could sum up her first year here in one word: “building”—as in constructing new digs, forming new partnerships and framing new directions.

For a long while, much of what Farias knew about NIH was hearsay. Her neighbors—both NIH employees—were unofficial ambassadors for the agency. “One is a scientist and one is a lab manager,” Farias explained, “and I’d heard from them such glowing talk about the NIH community that I admired NIH from a distance for some time. I’ve always leaned toward working for non-profits and organizations with missions that involve helping people. So when the FAES job was advertised, it just seemed like a perfect fit.”

Before taking her new position, Farias did a fair amount of research on FAES and its history of supporting the nation’s medical research agency. She arrived with a plan.

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“I want FAES to build new relationships, provide new wonderful services, find new ways to be supportive and spur innovation and creativity,” said Farias, “and be a place where people can talk about wonderful ideas over cookies.”

With a current staff of about 18, FAES recently marked 53 years as the non-profit organization created by NIH scientists to administer what started as a “Graduate Evening Program” of advanced classes to supplement lab training. The program was immediately popular and grew rapidly. FAES’s graduate school now offers almost 200 courses every year, ranging from “Immunofluorescence and Confocal Microscopy” to “Argentine Tango: Learn About It and Dance,” with nearly every biological science and general subject in between.

“I’ve been quite amazed at everything we do with so few people,” Farias said. “NIH has more of a collegial feel than some higher education places I’ve been to. I work with such incredible people. It’s a joy coming to work every day.”

This spring, FAES staff—currently working in several sites on and off the NIH campus—will reunite in the Clinical Center. A newly constructed 20,000-square-foot facility in the heart of Bldg. 10 will contain eight classrooms, a bookstore, coffee bar, grad student lounge and a suite of administrative offices.

Underwritten by FAES, the “$10 million construction project is donated entirely to NIH,” Farias noted. Funded by revenue generated from its bookstore and graduate school, and the health insurance program it offers to NIH’s visiting international scientists, the foundation is financially self-sustaining.

“I can’t wait until we get everyone working under one roof again,” said Farias, whose office is in Bldg. 60. “Our new space will allow us to offer webcasting, online as well as traditional courses, distance learning and a lot more. We’ll be able to do a wide range of things, from small conveniences—like providing snacks for lectures—to hosting high-profile speakers and instructors from such places as NASA, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown. We’re looking to evolve to fit the needs of the community.”

Located on two floors under a skylight known for years by CC denizens as “the donut hole,” FAES’s new home represents a collaboration between the foundation and NIH. FAES will be sharing the space with NIH’s Office of Intramural Training and Education, Office of Research Services, Events Management and the Clinical Center during the day, with FAES courses being held primarily in the evening.

The student population and faculty from across campus—OITE’s fellows committee, Felcom, in particular—are working closely with Farias and her team, making suggestions on ways to enhance the student experience here. The new classrooms and new bookstore were designed to strengthen the collegial feel of the campus by hosting courses and seminars across disciplines and offering a wide retail selection and gourmet coffee just steps away from Masur Auditorium.

No stranger herself to the campus lifestyle, Farias, a southern California transplant who’s lived in the D.C. metropolitan area for about 12 years, has an undergraduate degree in business management from Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School and a master of science degree in management and internal auditing from the University of Maryland Smith School of Business. She’s currently pursuing an M.B.A. at the Smith School.

“My experience focuses primarily on non-profit business functions—the majority in higher education in the areas of finance, business, property and lease agreements, academic programs, student and auxiliary services,” she said. “My specialties are operational, financial and human capital management.” Her higher education experiences have been with Georgetown University Law Center and the main GU campus, JHU’s Montgomery County campus and the University of California, Riverside.

“There was a tiny bit of culture shock when I got here,” Farias admitted, describing both the charm and the challenges of working in Bldg. 60, a 90-year-old structure built as a convent. “We just got [wireless capability] not too long ago and that was a huge accomplishment.”

But the rich history of NIH and the foundation are a large part of what drew her here and Farias believes there is a lot of benefit in combining old and new.

“I want to help FAES move into the 21st century,” she concluded. “I want us to modernize without losing sight of our core mission, which is helping NIH further advance research in human health for the benefit of everyone.”


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