Awards & Grants

2009 Leadership Award Recipients

2009 Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award Winner: Maureen Smith

To quote one of her nominators, “Maureen Smith has been at the cutting edge of advances in genetic counseling throughout her career.”   She was a founding member of the Online Teratogen Information Service.  She was one of the first cancer genetic counselors and the chair of the very first cancer genetics short course.  She was one of the first genetic counselors to promote having high quality genetic information on the internet in her position as the clinical director of Gene Sage. In her current position, she is again on the cutting edge of genetic counseling practice as Clinical Director of a genomic medicine initiative called the NUgene Project. Maureen's CV boasts a long list of publications and invited presentations and she has been awarded numerous research grants and contracts. As you can tell from her work experience, Maureen has been pivotal in expanding roles for genetic counselors. Not only has Maureen embraced new opportunities personally throughout her career, but along the way she has mentored others, including students, colleagues, and other healthcare professionals.  She has a strong interest in education and has served as an ABGC site visitor leader since 2003.  Maureen holds numerous faculty appointments at Northwestern University  where she has developed a course that teaches genetic counseling students about nonclinical skills, managing their workplace, and alternative roles for genetic counselors.
Maureen seems to have endless energy and, like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going, and going, and going.  As I began to review her CV, I was truly amazed when I imagined the amount of hours she has spent working on activities for our organization throughout the past two decades.  She began to emerge as an NSGC leader in 1990 when she worked as part of the speakers bureau project and the AEC planning committee.  Maureen has since dedicated time to various educational programs, the Education committee, a presidential rotation, a web editor, and various other committees, and task forces.  She was a founding member of the “Familal Cancer Risk Counseling Alliance”, which eventually became the Cancer SIG, and has also been involved in both the Industry SIG and Research SIG.  Most recently, Maureen played a key role in the Membership Committee and tirelessly worked to adapt the Professional Status Survey to the changing paradigm of genetic counseling.  This is where I truly got to know Maureen and appreciate all her valuable experience and unique talents.  I felt so lucky to work with her and was amazed at her never-ending energy.  I learned so much from Maureen during this project and feel lucky to call her a mentor and friend as a result.
Maureen has been described by others as strategic, articulate, intelligent, and focused.  On top of all that, I don't know where Maureen finds the time and energy to do all that she does - I am exhausted simply from summarizing it all.  What I do know, however, is that Maureen's contributions to NSGC and the genetic counseling profession are too many to count and that her efforts are extremely deserving of this most prestigious NSGC award.  Please help me in congratulating the winner of the Natalie Weissberger Paul award for 2009 – Maureen Smith.

International Leader Award Winner: Elizabeth Gettig

It is safe to say that Elizabeth  (Betsy) Gettig is a well-known member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Since matriculating with a Master of Science degree in genetic counseling from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981, Betsy has forged a path for genetic counselors in the United States. She served as president of the NSGC and was a founding member of both the American Board of Genetic Counseling and of the American College of Medical Genetics.  

Betsy consistently strives to move the NSGC and the genetic counseling profession forward, even onto the World Wide Web by launching an online version of the Board Review Course in Medical Genetics and Genetic Counseling along with other interactive, web-based educational opportunities. Over the past 28 years Betsy has directed programs, taught courses, chaired committees, received awards, presented lectures, facilitated discussions, tutored students, mentored fledgling counselors, represented our organization and our profession, supervised residents, edited manuscripts, reviewed grants, and volunteered her time, talent and considerable knowledge with enthusiasm and boundless energy in a multitude of ways. In 2008, Betsy received the Marjorie Guthrie Award, the most prestigious award presented by Huntington Disease Society of America for outstanding service to the HD community.

Now, she's gone international. Between July 2004 and May 2009, Betsy has made several trips to India to conduct workshops and present lectures on subjects including family history taking and evaluation, dysmorphology, risk assessment, psychosocial issues in genetic counseling, principles of research, and ethics, and she continues to supervise fellows in India. As part of two NIH Fogarty awards she has served as a mentor to trainees of these grants. In 2007 Betsy set foot on another continent to deliver a talk on the subject of genetic counseling for psychiatric illness in Melbourne, Australia and more recently she served as a consultant to the Genetic Counselor Consortium of South Africa. Her hope is that her legacy will be the establishment of a genetic counseling training program in India.

In 1999 Betsy was honored for her outstanding contributions to the NSGC when she was awarded the Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award. Ten years later it is time to recognize a genetic counselor who's vision knows no borders, by presenting her with the International Leader Award.

Strategic Leader Award Winner: Kelly Ormond

There are few who work as hard at advancing the profession of genetic counseling as Kelly Ormond.  Her dedication to NSGC has not only increased the visibility of genetic counselors within the health care arena, but it has also increased our value.  

Kelly helped NSGC spearhead the identification of a new management company during a difficult and emotional era of NSGC.  Throughout it all she maintained NSGC's loud, clear messages to the genetics community at-large, policy-makers, and the public.  She provided direction and consistent communication not only to the directors on the board but to the membership at-large, which enabled NSGC to stay on course and continue to tackle the goals and objectives of our strategic plan.  Her broad vision helped lead efforts to assess and change NSGC's governance structure.  

Kelly graduated from The Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling at Northwestern University in 1994 and hit the ground running. Very early on she worked on numerous AEC planning committees, including the workshop committee and abstract restructuring committee, eventually co-chairing our Savannah Conference in 2000.  She has served on our  NSGC board of directors as Education Committee Chair from 2001-2003 and President from 2004-2005.  All the while, Kelly expertly maintained her responsibilities as program director of the Northwestern University Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling.  More recently, Kelly is the inaugural program director at a new graduate program in genetic counseling at Stanford University.  She has been a member of the NSGC Ethics subcommittee, the Finance Committee and the Billing and Reimbursement Task Force.  She is also an active member of the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors, the American Society of Human Genetics, and the American College of Medical Genetics.  
Her passion for our profession is evident in all activities in which she is involved.  Her research addresses not only the ethical issues we as professionals face but has opened the door to thought-provoking discussions regarding our professions impact on client-decision making and the disability community. Kelly is a role-model not only for her many students, but to several of her colleagues. 

New Leader Award Winner: Sarah Pirzadeh

Sara Pirzadeh received her Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University in 2003 and her Master of Science from the University of Minnesota in 2005.  Even before she had graduated from the University of Minnesota, she was very involved with NSGC.  As a student, she presented interview techniques at an AEC educational breakout session.  Then, in the year she graduated, she was selected for an AEC platform presentation, became co-chair of the legislative subcommittee and created the Legislative News Bulletin. The Legislative News Bulletin is a bi-monthly publication addressing current legislative issues and pertinent articles in the general media of concern to the membership.  This bulletin was a significant contribution to the genetic counseling community as it keeps members informed and motivates others to get involved in legislative issues pertaining to genetic counselors.

In the four short years since graduation, Sara has consistently demostrated her enthusiasm for and dedication to the genetic counseling profession.  She has worked to expand the outreach services for her institution and was successful in this endeavor.  She has already published at least 3 articles in peer reviewed journals, given many presentations to professional and lay audiences, created tools for genetic counselors to use, and written multiple newsletter and magazine articles about genetic counseling. In 2008, Sara was awarded a grant from the Cancer SIG to develop quick tools for physicians to recognize syndromes and refer patients to genetic counseling. 

Sara played a major role in educating health care providers and patients in response to the recent Public Awareness/Direct-to-Consumer campaign in Texas.  She has become an active public speaker and author as a result of this experience.  At the AEC in Atlanta she will be sharing her lessons and experiences in a workshop entitled: How to Create a Statewide Genetics Education Campaign.
Sara Pirzadeh has shown strong leadership skills and initative to keep the profession moving with the pace of healthcare.  She has made a positive impact on those around her.  In the words of a colleague, “Sara's dedication to the genetic counseling profession is impressive…She has been a mentor to others and active in so many areas of the genetic counseling community…She consistently makes significant contributions to NSGC, the genetic counseling profession, and the medical community, and she is clearly a very strong new leader in the organization.


New Leader Award Winner: Heather Zierhut

Heather received her Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2004.  She received her Master of Science in Genetic Counseling from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and is currently working on a PhD in Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology and Genetics.  With Heather it is difficult to find the place to begin describing her contributions in such a short time frame since graduation.  As a graduate student, Heather was interested in learning about the knowledgebase of genetics and genetic counseling amongst legislators.  She reached out to the legislators in Minnesota to assess their knowledge of genetics and became a resource to them.  She has testified on the hill in Minnesota and is active in public policy both on the state and national levels.  

Heather has been quite active in NSGC.  She is the co-chair of the Research SIG and has been working to help this SIG contribute to the NSGC and add additional benefits for the SIG members.  She created surveys to elucidate member interests and developed a directory of the members, interests, and areas of expertise to foster communication and networking..  Using this information, she was able to develop a set of SIG goals, projects and a timeline to execute the agenda.

She is also an active member of the Public Policy committee.  She helped to create and implement the Public Policy and genetic counseling EBS in 2007, writes for the NSGC Public policy blog, and works to educate NSGC members and policy makers on imporant NSGC initiatives.  She also spoke at the AEC as part of the Job Hunt EBS in 2007 regarding experiences applying and interviewing for genetic counseling positions.  She served on the planning committee for the 2006 Region IV annual meeting and coordinated a social event titled genetic counseling BINGO to promote membership communication and networking

At the state level, Heather helped organize the efforts to create the Minnesota Genetic Counselor Association and devoted countless hours to the development of the website, bylaws, and foundation of the new NSGC chapter.  She currently serves as the Vice Chair of the MNGCA and chair of the publc policy subcommittee.  She has also served as a judge for the DNA day essay contest from 2006-2009 and is actively involved in the University of Minnesota Genetic Counseling program via running journal clubs, teaching classes, and mentoring students.

Heather is amazing.  In the short time since graduation, Heather has worked tirelessly to promote the NSGC and the genetic counseling profession on both a state and national level.  She is truly deserving of the New Leader award.  Congratulations Heather!

Outstanding Volunteer Award Winner: Sarah Jane Noblin

The Outstanding Volunteer Award is presented to those who've made significant contributions to NSGC over an extended period of time. This includes volunteering on committees and special projects on a national level and making the kind of contributions that go “above and beyond the expected duty” of the position. In a field full of individuals for whom “above and beyond the expected duty” is the norm, this is truly a special recognition. So, it is with great pleasure, admiration and gratitude that I present Sarah Jane Noblin with one of this year's Outstanding Volunteer Awards.

Sarah's current title reads like a list of several jobs, with multiple clinical and academic roles, including serving as a genetic counselor at LBJ General Hospital in Houston, TX and as the Assistant Director of the genetic counseling program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Since joining NSGC in 1997, Sarah has served the organization in many significant capacities. She has been on several Annual Education Conference planning committees and is chair of this year's AEC planning committee.

Other NSGC committee membership has included the Genetic Services Committee, Professional Issues Committee and Billing and Reimbursement Subcommittee. Sarah is also a Continuing Education Unit reviewer and is serving a term on the Ethics Advisory Board. She has also been active in the Prenatal SIG, serving as co-chair from 2003-2005. And Sarah's volunteering isn't limited to NSGC. One of her nominators stated that at her community hospital Sarah “co-chairs the Perinatal Compassionate Care Initiative, is a member of the Breastfeeding Advocacy Committee and serves on the Ethics Committee. In recent years, she has given educational addresses to nurses, midwives and other medical professionals, participated in annual area Health Family Wellness Days, facilitated pregnancy loss support groups and lead teams for the March of Dimes”. And that's just a sample of the work she's done within NSGC and her community. To top it off, her nominators (and there were multiple nominators) noted that Sarah is “a pleasure to work with”, “very gracious to [other] volunteers,” and “an outstanding mentor to newer NSGC members.” Sarah, congratulations on this well deserved award.

Oustanding Volunteer Award Winner: Wendy Uhlmann 

Wendy began her genetic counseling career with a Masters degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1987 and joined NSGC that same year. She has remained in Michigan, holding positions at Wayne State University and currently at the University of Michigan in the medical genetics and cancer genetics clinics.

Wendy's research interests include genetics policy issues, the integration of genetics into healthcare, predictive genetic testing and ethical issues in genetics. She has served as a research mentor and instructor for countless lucky University of Michigan genetic counseling graduate students and medical students.  She has reviewed book proposals and manuscripts, has served as ad hoc reviewer for three journals including our own Journal of Genetic Counseling, and is the author of many peer-reviewed articles.

Wendy's volunteer service began when she was working as a cytogenetics technician prior to graduate school, serving on a genome ethics committee within her institution. She hasn't stopped volunteering since then!  At her institution – the University of Michigan - she is involved in search, steering and planning committees.  At the state level she has been a member of several work groups tackling issues such as informed consent for genetic testing, licensure, and genomics policy.  At the national level, NSGC has been the beneficiary of Wendy's tireless efforts.  Her volunteer activities include membership (and chairmanship) in numerous NSGC committees and subcommittees, from professional issues, AEC planning, education, genetics services, finance and social issues & public policy to name a few.  Wendy is a past member of the NSGC board of directors and was our President from 1999 – 2000. 2000, as many of you may remember, was a busy year.  Wendy was our society's representative for President Clinton's signing of the Executive Order on Genetic Nondiscrimination, was at the White House for the ceremony marking the completion of the working draft of the human genome, and also testified three times to the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing on behalf of NSGC.  She continues to work tirelessly to give NSGC a presence in Washington, serving as the NSGC Liaison to the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research.  Wendy is also active on a national level with the Genetic Alliance.

Wendy is outstanding in many roles – as an educator, mentor, researcher, clinician, and leader – indeed, it is no surprise that she received an NSGC regional leadership award in 1996.  Today, however, we are here to honor her with an award that acknowledges her contributions in yet another role – one of an OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEER.

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