|Vol. LXIX, No. 3|
NIGMS recently added three new program directors to its scientific staff.
Dr. Kenneth Gibbs joins the Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity, where he will handle fellowships, training grants and the Coordination and Evaluation Center, a component of the NIH Diversity Program Consortium. He will also manage research grants in the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. Additionally, he will interact directly with trainees through the Postdoctoral Research Associate Program.
Gibbs was previously a program analyst in the institute’s Office of Program Planning, Analysis and Evaluation. Before joining NIGMS, he was a cancer prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute. Gibbs earned a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a master of public health from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in immunology from Stanford University, where he also conducted postdoctoral research.
Dr. Irina Krasnova joins the Center for Research Capacity Building. She manages Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence and Support of Competitive Research grants.
Before coming to NIGMS, Krasnova was a staff scientist in the Molecular Neuropsychiatry Research Branch at NIDA. Formerly, she was a research scientist in the department of molecular neurobiology at the Institute of the Human Brain in Russia. Krasnova earned a B.S. in analytical chemistry and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from St. Petersburg State University in Russia.
Dr. Amanda Melillo joins the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. She administers research grants on cell growth and differentiation and the cell cycle. Melillo comes to NIGMS from NIDCR, where she was a program director in the Integrative Biology and Infectious Diseases Branch.
Formerly, she was a technology transfer coordinator assistant at the Food and Drug Administration, where she also conducted postdoctoral research. Melillo earned a B.S. in biology and biochemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a Ph.D. in microbial disease from Albany Medical College in New York.
Dr. Delia Olufokunbi Sam has been named chief of the population sciences and epidemiology integrated review group at the Center for Scientific Review. She had been scientific review officer for CSR’s health disparities and equity promotion review panel.
Olufokunbi Sam will oversee nine study sections and many special emphasis panels that review NIH grant applications related to the distribution of health conditions and health behaviors in many different human populations and socioeconomic contexts; the determinants of diseases, disease transmission and prevention; and the development and improvement of research designs and methodologies addressing epidemiologic and demographic questions in public health and clinical medicine.
During her tenure at CSR, Olufokunbi Sam has served as coordinator of SRO training workshops and as coordinator of CSR’s Patient Centered Outcome Research Institute. She also represents CSR on the NIH extramural staff training advisory committee and has managed multiple, high profile special reviews for NIH.
She earned a Ph.D. in clinical and health psychology from the University of Florida and received postdoctoral training in mental health services research and policy at the University of South Florida department of mental health law and policy.
Before joining CSR, she was deputy director of the Center for Integrated Behavioral Health Policy at George Washington University, where she managed a diverse portfolio of behavioral health research and policy. She was also an assistant professor of health policy in the department of health policy at GW.
Her research has focused on behavioral health services and policy, substance abuse prevention and treatment, minority health and child welfare.
Donna A. Brooks, executive officer at NIMHD, retired recently after four decades of service.
“I have had an incredible journey at the National Institutes of Health with many great people for almost 43 years and now I’m embracing the opportunity to start a new phase of my life,” she said.
Brooks started at NIH in 1973 as a summer aide for the Personnel Staffing Branch, Office of the Director (later the Recruitment and Employee Benefits Branch). She continued with the branch as a clerk-typist in the Stay-In-School Program and joined NHLBI as a personnel assistant in 1977.
After 1 year at the National Library of Medicine as a personnel assistant, she returned to NHLBI in 1980 to serve as a personnel management specialist until 1989. Brooks went on to serve as a supervisory personnel management specialist at NIDCD for 9 years before joining the predecessor of NIMHD, the Office of Research on Minority Health, as a program coordinator in 1998.
As ORMH continued to grow, becoming the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities in 2001 and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in 2010, Brooks played a key role as part of the leadership team providing administrative management.
She served as acting executive officer (2007-2010), deputy ethics counselor (2007-2009) and executive officer (2010-2016).
“Donna Brooks was totally dedicated to the mission of NIMHD and she nurtured its development from office to institute at NIH alongside the leadership of Dr. John Ruffin,” said NIMHD director Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable. “We are all proud of Donna’s accomplishments and commitment and wish her nothing but the best in this new phase of her life.”
During her career, Brooks received the Outstanding Summer Employee Award, the NHLBI EEO Achievement Award, the NIH Director’s Award, NIH Merit awards and NIMHD Merit awards.
As one of its longest-tenured employees, Brooks served as a passionate, loyal and dedicated ambassador of NIMHD and advocate of its mission. With each transition, she provided strong and steady leadership and vision.
Each year, Brooks rallied institute employees to give generously during the Combined Federal Campaign and helped make NIMHD a consistent leader in donations among NIH ICs. She was instrumental in planning NIH’s first Science of Eliminating Health Disparities Summit, hosted by NCMHD in 2008, which attracted 4,000 attendees. She also led coordination of Take Your Child to Work Day at the institute, helping to ensure a fun and educational experience for all involved. With her trademark smile, congeniality and infectious enthusiasm, Brooks brought joy and dedication to her work at the institute and NIH.
She credited many people at NIH who were her role models and provided encouragement and wisdom in pursuit of her career goals. In return, Brooks served as a catalyst in helping others advance in their careers as a mentor and a frequent speaker on career enhancement, diversity and employment opportunities at NIH-wide events.
A native of Washington, D.C., Brooks attended Woodrow Wilson High School then went to Hampton Institute and Howard University. During her retirement, she plans to remain active in her church, where she teaches Sunday school and works with the music ministry, spend more time with her family and do some traveling and reading, among other pursuits. Brooks was known for wearing colorful butterfly pins on her shoulder. She said it represented the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, which symbolizes beauty, hope and change—a fitting symbol as she takes flight for new adventures in life.
As Dr. Christopher Platt—who joined NIDCD as a program director in 2003 and retired at the end of December—will tell you, all species of fish do not navigate through their liquid habitat in the same way. Flounders can swim tilted on one side, catfish graze along the water surface while inverted and other fish can point their nose either upward or downward. Fascinated since youth by the range of balancing acts, Platt applied his scientific mind toward explaining how the vestibular system in the inner ear functions for maintaining posture and balance.
Platt’s passion for fish and biology in general began during his boyhood in a University of Chicago faculty neighborhood. He visited the aquarium and zoo, dipped his toe into marine biology on the East Coast on summer breaks and majored in zoology in college. In 1967, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., he discovered neuroscience and applied it to behavioral biology, especially spatial orientation and navigation in fish.
“Fish don’t have necks or legs,” said Platt, an NIDCD extramural program director. “The way they tilt is a reflection of what their ears are telling them. The vestibular sense, which has been called a sixth sense, is not well studied in comparison to sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It is so critical to overall health that it is an important specific mission area for NIDCD.”
After earning a Ph.D. in marine biology from Scripps and becoming an assistant professor at the University of Southern California and later a research assistant professor at Georgetown University, Platt continued to focus on how fish use their inner ears for hearing and balance. He transitioned into research administration at the National Science Foundation by first becoming a “rotator” program officer, later the sensory systems program director and ultimately the neuroscience cluster director within the biological sciences directorate.
When Platt decided to join the NIDCD Division of Scientific Programs, he had been with NSF for 19 years and already had attended several advisory council meetings at NEI, NIDCD, NIMH and NINDS as a federal official.
“I came here after NSF and was simply stunned,” said Platt of the NIH investments in research grants. “The scale of activity is hugely different.”
Platt is highly regarded and has earned recognition and awards for his collaborative spirit, not just within the institute but in trans-NIH activities such as the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research and NIH Academic Research Enhancement Award Program.
Platt also earned recognition beyond NIH. On his desk, he displayed an award from Advances and Perspectives in Auditory Neuroscience “for his steadfast support and significant impact on auditory neuroscience and hearing research.”
Recently, coworkers, friends and his three adult children gathered to celebrate his more than 30 years of federal service.
“Christopher’s light-hearted nature, keen intellect, honesty and openness have made us better people and the institute a better place,” said Dr. Judith Cooper, NIDCD deputy director and director of the Division of Scientific Programs. “Christopher has been an invaluable colleague to us in the institute and an equally invaluable resource to the hearing and balance/vestibular research community.”
During retirement, Platt said he would certainly continue his daily practice of donning his helmet and yellow vest to ride his bike, even on days when most others wouldn’t want to be outside, let alone on a bike. And he might volunteer with some local scientific or natural resource institutions or pursue research collaborations. Platt also plans to attend national meetings on neuroscience, as well as talks on the NIH campus.
“It’s exciting to be part of this world at NIH,” he concluded. “But it’s really time to give new people a chance.”
Lois Whidden Kochanski, 93, who served for many years as executive director of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences, Inc., died Jan. 12 in Bethesda.
She was born in San Angelo, Tex., and earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1945. She moved to Washington, D.C., to work in military intelligence and began her job at the Pentagon on VE Day. She was an intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Kochanski then worked as assistant to the vice president for academic affairs at George Washington University, 1964-1967. In 1970, she began a 35-year career at FAES, where she served as executive director until 2005, leading graduate education and cultural programs funded privately for the NIH community.
“During Mrs. Kochanski’s 35 years as executive director of FAES, she oversaw— initially from a single room in the bowels of Bldg. 31 that doubled as a textbook repository—its conversion from a small organization offering several courses for NIH staff to its present form with many diverse programs essential for NIH and its community to function as much like a university as possible,” said Dr. Alan Schechter, chief of NIDDK’s Molecular Medicine Branch and a former member of the FAES board.
“Everyone on campus interacted with her, from NIH directors, to institute directors, to scientific and clinical directors, to scientists and trainees,” said Dr. Susan Leitman, FAES president. “She cheerfully, competently and efficiently enabled hundreds of collaborations between NIH scientific staff and non-NIH sponsors, managed a health insurance program for tens of thousands of fellows, ran a graduate school program taught by NIH senior scientists and managed the NIH Bookstore. She was liked and admired by all who interacted with her.”
Said NHLBI’s Dr. Robert Adelstein, a former FAES president, “For 35 years, Lois was the heart and soul of the FAES.”
Kochanski belonged to Concord-St. Andrews United Methodist Church, the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the American Association of University Women, the NIH Camera Club and the National Genealogical Society. Her hobbies included photography, tennis, genealogy, bridge and piano. She was author of The Mullican Family of Warren County, Tennessee, 1991.
She married Joseph T. Kochanski in 1949 in Arlington, Va. They were married for 47 years when he died in 1996.
Survivors include her sister, Mary Bess Whidden of Albuquerque, N.Mex.; daughter Mary Ann Daly of Bethesda; son James Kochanski of Austin, Tex.; daughter Constance Wetterer of Colorado Springs, Col.; and seven grandchildren.
Church funeral services and burial at Arlington National Cemetery will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018 or the charity of your choice.