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Vol. LXVII, No. 6
March 13, 2015
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NIH Visitor Center Welcomes Variety of Guests

High school students, foreign health ministers, college professors, industry scientists, potential employees, NIH employee families and congressional staff and leadership are all counted among the thousands of people who visit the NIH campus each year. Many are invited by colleagues or are participating in nearby conferences, some come to NIH to visit the place where their friends and relatives work and others visit NIH as part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. These varied guests, who travel to NIH from across the U.S. and around the world, are led on tours by the NIH Visitor Center (VC) and special events team, members of the OD Office of Communications and Public Liaison.

The VC team, under the leadership of Tara Mowery, includes tour guides Sharon Greenwell, Carol Jabir and Sharon Robinson. Scheduler and welcomer Dominic Lopiano rounds out the team. They act as ambassadors, telling the NIH story while tailoring each visit to a group’s specific interests. Every tour emphasizes the NIH mission, research accomplishments and how NIH research and grant-funding affect public health and the economy. Most visits include a Clinical Center walking tour where guides provide visitors with an overview of the unique setting, focusing on bench-to-bedside medicine and highlighting the special care that is provided to patients who participate in clinical trials. Recently, the VC staff received a request for a walking tour from a former patient who was returning to the Clinical Center with her teenage children to show them where she received treatment (and to celebrate 10 years of being cancer-free).

The NIH Visitor Center staff includes (from l) Carol Jabir, Sharon Greenwell, Sharon Robinson and Tara Mowery.

The NIH Visitor Center staff includes (from l) Carol Jabir, Sharon Greenwell, Sharon Robinson and Tara Mowery.

Photo: Ernie Branson

Some people have wondered what the “special events” part of the VC title means. When there are major visits to campus, such as recent tours and presentations by President Obama, Secretary Burwell, the Dalai Lama, Secretary of State Clinton and Bill Gates, the VC staff works across NIH with the Office of the Director, the institutes and centers and ORS/ORF’s police, fire department, facilities managers, AV and transportation experts on ensuring that every aspect of the experience and logistics of these events makes the best possible impression of NIH and its people.

Building special connections is a key part of the VC team’s success. Through networking with researchers and administrative staff, the team is able to provide the most useful and enlightening experience for a particular group’s needs. For example, recently, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the U.S. Bockari Kortu Stevens, accompanied by delegations from Sierra Leone and Liberia, visited NIH as an educational stop arranged by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Region African affairs committee. VC team members took the basic tour request and arranged a meeting with NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Fogarty International Center acting deputy director Dr. Ken Bridbord and his staff. These meetings and a tour of the CC’s special clinical studies unit provided an important opportunity for sharing knowledge on Ebola research.

The VC team often hosts student groups who are encouraged to consider returning to NIH in an internship or fellowship program. One recurring group is first-year college students in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who visit the campus every summer and experience NIH through speakers and tours. The program focuses on students who aspire to become research scientists and engineers. Each group comes excited and leaves inspired.

Following another program designed for visiting students from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Management, Dr. Krishna Balakrishnan, senior technology transfer manager for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences—who presented to the group—sent the VC team a complimentary email: “I found your presentation, including the video clips, most inspiring—I am sure it left a strong mark on the young minds and may spur the best among them to make NIH a part of their future career or scientific life. It is also nice to know through this visit of the great service that the NIH Visitor Center provides to society at large.”

A recent VC tour included (from l) Madina Rahman, deputy minister of health, Sierra Leone; Bockari Kortu Stevens, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States; Lydia Daniels of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area; VC staffer Dominic Lopiano; Mowery; Stacy Wallick, Fogarty Center program director for Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East; Obinna Okinna, UNA intern from Howard University; Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia delegate, business sector; Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf, deputy minister for administration, Liberia; Pasco Temple, information attaché, Embassy of Sierra Leone.

A recent VC tour included (from l) Madina Rahman, deputy minister of health, Sierra Leone; Bockari Kortu Stevens, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States; Lydia Daniels of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area; VC staffer Dominic Lopiano; Mowery; Stacy Wallick, Fogarty Center program director for Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East; Obinna Okinna, UNA intern from Howard University; Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia delegate, business sector; Elizabeth Johnson Sirleaf, deputy minister for administration, Liberia; Pasco Temple, information attaché, Embassy of Sierra Leone.

Some visitors have ties to NIH-supported Nobel laureates. One visiting scientist came to see the Bldg. 45 Nobel Wall display to locate the plaque honoring Dr. Michael S. Brown, who had been his mentor. Brown, along with Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, was awarded the 1985 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for elucidating the process of cholesterol metabolism in the human body. On another occasion, a physicist came for a visit with his son. Guide Carol Jabir recalled, “When I mentioned that there are currently 145 NIH-supported Nobel laureates, the gentleman’s face lit up and he told me that he had been a childhood classmate of Kary Mullis.” Mullis, a 1993 NIH-supported Nobel laureate, invented polymerase chain reaction, a technique for amplifying small quantities of DNA that revolutionized the field of molecular biology.

The VC team finds that all visitors are overwhelmed by the richness of the science that goes on at NIH as well as the sheer size of the campus. When they realize that this campus represents a small percentage, yet significant part, of the research enterprise supported by NIH, they are amazed. They are given a sense of scale as well as an understanding of how research teams function and come to appreciate the individual passion and commitment of those engaged in biomedical research.

Every year, the VC team fields an increasing number of requests to visit and learn about NIH. They attribute the rise in tour requests to the increasing visibility of NIH’s work, excitement about new research and breakthroughs and the enthusiasm with which visitors continue to share the NIH story with coworkers, family and friends.

Visitors unable to visit NIH in person are encouraged to visit the “Explore NIH” web site for a virtual tour experience: www.nih.gov/about/explore/index.htm.


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