Poodry, Longtime NIGMS Diversity
By Susan Athey
|Dr. Clifton Poodry (r) created this platter out of a maple tree taken down near NIH. He presented it to staff before leaving NIGMS in January. It is inscribed on the back, “For my NIGMS friends.”
Dr. Clifton “Clif” Poodry, who spent almost two decades leading NIGMS and NIH efforts to increase the diversity of the scientific workforce, retired from federal service in January.
Claiming he wasn’t “quite ready to retire—just yet,” he was back at work 3 days later, although down the street a bit. He’s settling into his new position as a senior fellow at Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Following a long-held interest in improving science education, Poodry said his new job at HHMI entails “thinking and helping to shape” educational programs, something he became an expert at throughout his NIH career.
Poodry joined NIGMS in 1994 as first director of its Division of Minority Opportunities in Research. At the time of his arrival, MORE contained only a handful of programs and a small staff. Thanks to Poodry’s leadership and vision, the effort grew into what is now the Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity (TWD). The division houses a variety of research training, career development, diversity and capacity-building activities.
Poodry said the “fun of the job” as TWD director was implementing new activities and working with a “tremendous staff” to get things done. During his tenure, he led the development of a number of NIGMS programs such as the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award, the Native American Research Centers for Health and an R01 program aimed at understanding interventions that promote student interest in and preparedness for careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. He also advised on NIH-wide programs such as the newly announced Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) initiative.
“Clif is a passionate, deep thinker who dedicated his career to building a strong and diverse scientific workforce,” said NIGMS director Dr. Jon Lorsch.
Over the years, Poodry managed portfolios in every program in his division, as well as one in mitochondrial genetics for NIGMS’s Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. He also led an effort to provide cross-divisional grant assignments, giving program directors across the institute experience managing TWD grants, and vice versa.
“These assignments helped staff to learn about the challenges—and the importance—of building a robust biomedical research workforce that better reflects the diversity of the U.S. population,” Lorsch said.
“Clif truly believed that we must value people for the breadth of thought that they bring and how their contributions to the diversity of our collective thinking move us forward,” said Dr. Ernest Marquez, a former MORE branch chief who went on to become president of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) after retiring from NIH.
“I am in total agreement with what Clif taught all he encountered, that the value of diversity goes beyond representation in numbers,” Marquez added.
Prior to joining NIGMS, Poodry was a biology professor and an NIGMS grantee studying Drosophila developmental biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he had worked since 1972. In the early 1980s, he served a 2-year stint at the National Science Foundation. There, Poodry and fellow staff member Jane Peterson (now at NHGRI) created a minority supplement program that later became a model for the NIH diversity supplement program.
A native of the Tonawanda Seneca Indian Reservation in western New York, Poodry earned a B.A. and M.A. in biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Ph.D. in biology from Case Western Reserve University. He received an honorary doctorate of science from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1999.
Poodry was twice elected to the SACNAS board of directors. He was also a board member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. In 1995, he received the society’s highest honor, the Ely S. Parker Award, for lifelong accomplishments in science and contributions to the American Indian community.
Poodry has also been recognized as a long-time contributor to the NIH Blood Bank, having made more than 110 donations.
When asked what he’ll miss most about NIGMS and NIH, Poodry quickly responded, “The people and the interactions we’ve had over the years.” In addition to current staff, Poodry mentioned the relationships he’s maintained with former staff who have gone on to positions in other institutes and agencies and postdoctoral students he mentored along the way.
While spending the early part of his “retirement” working full-time at HHMI, Poodry will continue to pursue his wood turning and archery hobbies and enjoy time with family. You might even see him around campus—either walking past NIH gates as he makes his way to his new job or over at the Blood Bank making another donation.