Caroline "Cari" Young, Sc.M., first developed an interest in genetics in her high school AP biology class. "I was drawn to the puzzle of inheritance, and the inherent logic to how traits are passed on," she said. When she was not playing soccer or making pottery, she looked for every opportunity to investigate human origins, on a small scale related to family history, and on a larger, evolutionary scale.
As she moved forward through college and graduate school, she began to appreciate the potential broad impact of genetics and genomics. "I was attracted to the promise of genomics as it relates to human health," she said.
In September, Ms. Young will join the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as the 14th American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)/NHGRI Genetics and Public Policy Fellow. She will spend her first four months with the Policy and Program Analysis Branch (PPAB) within the Division of Policy, Communications and Education (DPCE). She will then transition to work as a staff member in a congressional office for nine months, followed by a three-month rotation at ASHG.
"As a genetic counselor, Cari will bring a valuable lens to her assessment of policy issues," said Laura Lyman Rodriguez, Ph.D., director of DPCE and acting director of PPAB. Ms. Young recently earned her master of science in genetic counseling from The Johns Hopkins University/NHGRI Genetic Counseling Training Program in Baltimore, Maryland.
During her undergraduate studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, Ms. Young interned at the Genetic Alliance, a non-profit health advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
"I developed a deeper understanding of how genetics affects people's health," she said. "I knew after that summer that my interest had expanded, and that I wanted to learn more about the different career options in genomics that would allow me to make a lasting difference."
Ms. Young also spent a semester in Kenya, researching ecology and wildlife management in an effort to inform government policy about conservation. This contributed to her understanding of the intersection of research and policy.
As part of her graduate program, she completed a rotation with PPAB in 2014. "I am eager to return to NHGRI and learn more about how a government agency like NIH develops policies and how its voice is heard in the research community," she said.
Julie Nadel, Ph.D., the second ASHG/NHGRI Genetics and Education Fellow, likes to address scientific questions and think about new disease models from a genetics perspective. Julie received her Ph.D. in biomedical sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, this month.
"Phylogenetic trees and Punnett squares were logical and satisfying puzzles in high school biology," said Dr. Nadel. "Even while studying neuropsychology at the Pennsylvania State University as an undergraduate, I was drawn to topics such as the role of epigenetics in autism."
An early interest in genetics led her to conduct research on RNA, DNA hybrid structures and genome-wide datasets at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Like Ms. Young, Dr. Nadel has also spent time at NHGRI previously. She was a post-baccalaureate intramural trainee under the direction of Dr. Leslie Biesecker, chief of the Medical Genomics and Metabolic Genetics Branch, where she studied the genetic origins of Proteus syndrome.
"Being at NIH was a dream," she said. "I was exposed to an entire discipline dedicated to helping non-scientists understand complex issues regarding their own genes."
Two years ago, Dr. Nadel set her sights on the ASHG/NHGRI Genetics and Education Fellowship. She worked toward achieving the goal by serving in various roles related to science education, including directing an after-school program for students in the Bronx.
"Attending graduate school in the Bronx has dramatically opened my eyes to the vast differences in available resources for public education," she said. "The challenges facing public school systems provide a strong imperative to subsidize traditional classroom instruction with informal education programs."
On October 1, Dr. Nadel will begin addressing these issues head-on when she joins the Education and Community Involvement Branch (ECIB) within DPCE for the first six months of her fellowship. While here, she will help develop programs for a variety of audiences, further developing her passion for genetic and genomic literacy and education.
"My goal is to help improve the understanding of science through education and development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy," she said. Ultimately, Dr. Nadel hopes to develop a national program to advocate for science education and increase STEM literacy.
This is a great opportunity for Julie to gain experience and establish herself in the field of genetic and genomics education," said ECIB Chief Carla Easter, Ph.D. "Because of our national outreach efforts, we're in a position to help her do that, and we feel that it is our responsibility to do so."
After her time at NHGRI, Dr. Nadel will spend six months at ASHG, followed by four months at an organization of her choice.
"Both fellowships provide valuable opportunities for trained geneticists to apply their knowledge for the benefit of society, while experiencing firsthand the complex ways in which genetic science is implemented," said Joseph D. McInerney, M.A., M.S., executive vice president of ASHG. With their diverse experiences and interests, Ms. Young and Dr. Nadel are well qualified for their new positions and we look forward to working with them."
To learn more about the Genetics and Public Policy Fellowship, visit: www.genome.gov/10003979/genetics-and-public-policy-fellowship/
To learn more about the Genetics and Education Fellowship, visit: www.genome.gov/27556152/genetics-and-education-fellowship/
Posted: September 17, 2015