Faculty visit National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

November 13, 2014

UMass Amherst visitors at the NIEHS. From left:  Krystal Pollitt, Yeonhwa Park,  Alicia
Timme-Laragy, Laura Vandenberg, Rick Pilsner, Katherine Reeves, David Sela, Guodong Zhang, Michele Markstein,  Alexander Suvorov, Mary Fechner.
(Photo Courtesy Joe Balintfy, NIEHS)

A group of UMass Amherst faculty traveled to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina in September, visiting the headquarters of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). One of 27 institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIEHS has a mission, according to the NIH, of “discovering how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives.” The UMass group, among them one Epidemiology and five Environmental Health Sciences faculty, were visiting the NIEHS to discuss the process of obtaining funding for grants and make connections with program officers there.

The UMass Office of Research Development (ORD) organized and sponsored the visit to NIEHS after a campus visit last spring by Jerry Heindel, Health Science Administrator in the Population Health Branch of the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) at NIEHS.

“He had visited as a part of Alicia Timme-Laragy's Mellon Mentoring Grant, which was awarded to help building mentoring networks for the Environmental Health Sciences junior faculty,” noted Laura Vandenberg, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences.

“During Heindel’s visit here on campus, he met with Michael Malone, Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, and their discussions led to this faculty visit,” she added.

“Faculty who were selected to participate in this opportunity have research programs that align with NIEHS’s mission and research priorities,” notes Mary J. Fechner, Ph.D., a Proposal Development Specialist with UMass Amherst’s Office of Research Development who led the group.

The UMass faculty took a tour of the NIEHS buildings and the laboratories within, taking in the vast array of technology and researchers in the labs there. They also met with NIEHS officials, including Deputy Director Dr. Richard Woychik, and Director of Extramural Research & Training Dr. Gwen Collman. After meeting Woychik and Collman, each faculty member consulted with two program officials that could provide advice based on that researcher’s interests and the kinds of grants they hope to receive. 

The SPHHS faculty were very appreciative of the time and effort made by the NIEHS.

“It was an awesome opportunity - really, a first of its kind - and we feel that it will be instrumental to our future success,” said Vandenberg.

“For junior scientists, one of the most daunting parts of our job is obtaining funding. The trip allowed us to put names and faces onto the program officials who can be the most helpful to us. These individuals can support us from idea conception all the way through submission, making a daunting task seem do-able,” she adds.

Read more about the visit in the NIEHS newsletter.