Environmental Factor, January 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Collman named extramural director
By Thaddeus Schug
Collman leads a division that is organized into seven branches and centers, composed of 60 full-time federal employees. Each year, the extramural program is responsible for awarding approximately 874 research grants for a total of approximately $388 million. (Photo courtesy of Amy Collman)
NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., reached another milestone in her quest to build a quality leadership team with the appointment of longtime NIEHS epidemiologist and scientific program administrator Gwen Collman, Ph.D., as director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT). The selection of Collman, who served for the past two years as acting director, was announced Dec. 2 in a message from Birnbaum to employees of NIEHS and NTP.
"I am pleased to appoint Gwen to a full-time seat on our leadership team," wrote Birnbaum. "Gwen has done a tremendous job advancing the institute's research priorities during her tenure as interim director of DERT. Her leadership skills were critical to implementation of NIEHS' portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), while also guiding management and review of over 1000 grants per year."
Collman plans to draw on her vast scientific and leadership experience to build on the many successful extramural programs initiated during her tenure and to work with NIEHS leadership to strategically identify new directions and opportunities in environmental health science. "The challenge for the NIEHS extramural division is to continue to work effectively with our grantees, business partners, community members, and federal partners so that we are funding the most meaningful science, " said Collman.
"We have a very talented and committed team of scientists, grants management experts, program evaluators, and support staff in DERT, and I am excited to work with them to meet the challenges of the future," said Collman "It is important for our division to anticipate scientific opportunities and challenges, to build strong relationships with scientists, and to provide comprehensive information on our research priorities and the procedures to obtain funding for our many stakeholders."
A productive 26-year career at NIEHS
Collman joined NIEHS as an epidemiologist in the Institute's Epidemiology Branch, following completion of her doctorate in environmental epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Public Health in 1984. In 1992, she moved to DERT as a scientific program administrator charged with building a strong portfolio in epidemiology.
In 2003, Collman became chief of the DERT Susceptibility and Population Health Branch, a post she held until being named acting director of the division in 2008. She has been recognized many times for her work and has to her credit an impressive list of NIH Merit and Director Awards and other honors, scientific and policy publications, and presentations to a wide variety of audiences. She is recognized internationally for her work creating opportunities in public health, especially in environmental epidemiology, and has served as a councilor for the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology.
In addition to building a grant portfolio in environmental and molecular epidemiology, Collman developed and managed several complex multidisciplinary research programs that include involvement of communities in partnerships with researchers. These include the NIEHS Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers Program and the NIEHS/EPA Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention and the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative.
Collman, is a longtime advocate of environmental justice and community-based participatory research. Under her leadership, DERT is entering the first phase of its new Partnerships for Environmental Public Health initiative - an umbrella program for advancing the impact of environmental public health research at local, regional, and national levels.
Looking toward the future
Earlier this year, Collman was honored by her alma mater with the 2009 H.A. Tyroler Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by the UNC-CH Epidemiology Chapter of the General Alumni Association (see story). Her talk focused on a theme she has emphasized during her career at NIEHS and one that continue to play a critical role in the future, community engagement in environmental epidemiology.
During her interview lecture Aug. 16 at NIEHS, Collman expanded on yet another theme that will surely mark her leadership of DERT, "The Power of the NIEHS Extramural Program." In her presentation, Collman pointed to the program's extensive grantee base, its impact on the direction of scientific research, and its network of partners worldwide as tools for influencing the future of public health domestically and globally.
(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor. He is currently on detail as a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)