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June 29, 2018
CELI: OER Program Aims to Hone Extramural Leadership Skills

Dr. Maria Brunette, associate professor of public health, UMass-Lowell, presents her team’s TB diagnostic tool at NIBIB.
NIH Extramural Staff Training Officer Rosalina Bray, and below, the 2017 CELI program cohort

Imagine you are the chief of an integrated review group at CSR, anticipating a boatload of applications for review for a new high-profile NIH initiative and you don’t have enough scientific review officers and support staff to handle the onslaught.

As a leader, what would you do under those circumstances?

During last year’s Cement Extramural Leadership Institute (CELI) training program, that is exactly the real-life scenario that one group of participants huddled together to brainstorm. Group members investigated the issue, conducted interviews with key staff and developed strategic recommendations. Their proposal was then reviewed and critiqued by a panel of NIH leaders to determine if it was likely to be effective.

The group’s recommendations to accommodate the rising workload for SROs, given limited hiring? Creative use of staffing resources by calling on recent retirees, detailees, fellows and contractors to pitch in; redistributing some SRO responsibilities to extramural support assistants (ESAs) and in turn handing off some ESA tasks to NIH Pathway Program fellows; increasing and standardizing the number of chartered reviewers on IRGs; increasing use of virtual meetings to decrease time commitment by reviewers, and more.

CELI is designed to expand the leadership and decision-making skills of NIH extramural staff. Piloted in 2017, it is coordinated through the Office of Extramural Research in the Office of the Director. CELI brought in instructors from The Evaluators’ Institute, the University of Maryland and American University to share best and next practices in leadership, business and management. The program also featured discussions by distinguished faculty such as NIH deputy director for management Dr. Alfred Johnson and DPCPSI director Dr. Jim Anderson.

“The goals of the program are to glean knowledge, break down silos, share information across ICs and equip leaders with new strategies and techniques for decision-making,” said Rosalina Bray, extramural staff training officer who coordinates the CELI program and other training activities conducted by OER.

the 2017 CELI program cohort

The pilot was well-received. “This program has enabled me to build better teams within my department, adjust my thinking to anticipate obstacles and plan strategically for impact,” wrote a member of the CELI 2017 cohort.

Self-nomination applications are now being accepted for the 2018 CELI program and should be submitted by Friday, July 27. The competitive program is open to NIH GS-13, 14, 15 or Title 42 extramural federal employees, free of charge. The program itself runs from October to December.

The CELI program meets twice a month for 3 months, with participants essentially spending 6 days in session. In addition, participants are expected to review course materials, engage with fellow members online or offline and complete a group assignment.

Bray hopes the CELI program will expand to engage CELI alumni and offer online leadership courses.

“There is an extraordinary need for advanced leadership opportunities for extramural staff,” she said. “We are dedicated to designing high-impact programs to strengthen the competencies and skills of our talented extramural staff and improve the business needs of NIH.”

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