Awards & Grants

2013 NSGC Leadership Award Recipients

2013 Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award: Robert G. Resta, MS, CGC        

The Natalie Weissberger Paul Lifetime Achievement Award is the most distinguished honor within the National Society of Genetic Counselors.  Natalie Weissberger Paul retired in 1993 after a long career with the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. A long-time advocate for genetic counselors and the NSGC, she was instrumental in promoting the profession and securing financial support for projects and publications. The NSGC established this award in 1994. Ms. Weissberger passed away in 1996. This award honors one outstanding member who has served the NSGC with exemplary national achievements and volunteer activities on behalf of the NSGC and the profession.  It is with great pleasure that I am introducing this year's well-deserving award recipient, Robert (or Bob) Resta.

After obtaining bachelor and master degrees in Anthropology, Bob graduated from the University of California, Irvine genetic counseling graduate program in 1983. Since then, he has made so many contributions to the NSGC and our profession that I can't possibly tell you about all of them, but I will do my best to summarize, with the help of words from his many nominators. 
Bob has worked at Swedish Medical Center Seattle for 30 years as a director and instructor in first prenatal and now cancer genetics in a busy clinical practice. According to one of his co-workers, he has excellent templates and facilitates work that is efficient, thorough, and compassionate. He has actively educated health care providers and the community, and he has built a respected practice.  He has received three distinguished awards for service and excellence in patient care from his institution, and he was even mentioned in Top Doctors of Seattle in 2008. 

Bob's impact expands far beyond his local community. Bob's expertise in genetic counseling is recognized internationally as he has presented talks in New Zealand and, in 2000, as the Galton award recipient, in London. He has also given a number of talks and poster presentations at many national and local conferences, including NSGC AECs. For example, you all have the opportunity to hear him speak in one of tomorrow's plenary sessions!  He has been the organizer for 10 genetic counseling conferences, including serving as chair for the Region VI 1992 conference and co-chair for the NSGC's 1996 annual education conference (which I understand he did while the airlines still had his luggage).  He was the invited speaker for the Northwestern University genetic counseling convocation in 2011. He is a tireless educator for the profession.

Bob is also a gifted writer who artfully uses humor to reach his audience. He was very active in establishing the Journal of Genetic Counseling for which he served on the Editorial Board for 10 years and as Editor-in-Chief for 6 years. His early leadership with the Journal of Genetic Counseling was instrumental in transforming the quality of the journal to the outstanding quality that we see today and solidifying our profession as one with our own literature. Bob has also served on the Editorial Boards of the American Journal of Medical Genetics for the past 18 years and on an international listserv. Bob has been author or co-author of more than 60 published papers, and his work has contributed significantly to our understanding of the history of genetic counseling and the origin of different concepts and approaches to our work.  He has been co-author of several papers that directly concern the mission and vision of the NSGC.  He was co-author for the NSGC's practice guidelines on consanguinity. In addition, Bob edited Psyche and Helix, the book on Dr. Seymour Kessler's essays, preserving these important articles on genetic counseling for future generations.  Of note, Bob has also worked to increase genetic counselors' involvement in research and publishing, and co-chaired an NSGC Short Course on this topic. His impressive writing and visionary skills and historical knowledge about genetic counseling have significantly benefited the NSGC. 

Bob has significantly contributed to establishing basic tenets of our profession, including serving as Co-Chair of the task force that developed the NSGC's revised definition of genetic counseling, and he was an integral contributor to the development of standardized pedigree nomenclature. He has even developed a website to provide multilingual preconceptional and pregnancy educational materials for patients. He has served on committees for both the Pacific Northwest Regional Genetics Group and the American Board of Genetic Counseling. He is remembered by some for his words of encouragement during a board exam review course with his battle cry to ‘study-on' as the exam will be a challenge, but one that could be met with diligent preparation.

Beyond his many accomplishments, what separates Bob from others in our profession is this ability to tackle challenges and help others do so as well. He is one of the most active and unique members of our profession with his astute and sage perspective, and quick and gentle wit. He has influenced and taught students in a way that excites them and encourages them to look at the profession from different angles. Bob has served as a gracious mentor not only to students but to many colleagues as well. He is generous with his time, supports activities that promote professional recognition for peers, is curious about others' ideas, and is kind and caring towards his colleagues. He encourages other genetic counselors to participate in NSGC activities, ensuring its continued existence. He has brought an inquisitive, questioning perspective to how genetic counselors view themselves, their professional duties and obligations, and their clients.  
Bob was instrumental in initiating The DNA Exchange, a public blog that raises awareness of matters in and beyond our profession and allows genetic counselors to explore, discuss, and become engaged in current issues critical to the profession, including the social, ethical, and emotional implications of our work. His frequent postings in this blog, and via other open forums, have included a variety of thought-provoking topics, insightful questions, advice, and challenges to push us to think precisely, think outside the box, examine ourselves and grow while considering historical and societal implications. Plus, many of his humorous postings make us all smile. All of these contributions have been critical for the growth and recognition of our profession.

Bob's commitment to the NSGC has been exceptional.  As the NSGC speaks for the profession, Bob often speaks for the NSGC. He is not afraid to challenge old paradigms, encourage strategic yet alternate ways of thinking about the future of the profession, and inspire us to improve and move forward in an effective manner. Bob is an engaged member of the NSGC who always attends the business meetings and steps up to the microphone with questions or concerns. When Bob talks, people listen. They may not always agree but as an agent for progress he is unsurpassed. Bob is committed to promote the profession, educate students, and foster the professionalism of genetic counselors. 

His contributions have been, and continue to be, those of a true leader in the field.  Bob was previously recognized for his leadership in the NSGC with a Regional Leadership Award in 1994, but as a widely considered leader in the field, he is truly deserving of a national lifetime achievement award as his contributions, passion, and dedication to the field are immeasurable.  Despite all of this, when I informed Bob that he was this year's award recipient, he was so humble that, believe it or not, Robert G. Resta was speechless! I understand that Bob has made special efforts to celebrate previous recipients of this award, but now, Bob, it's your turn for us to celebrate you! I feel completely honored and privileged to have the opportunity to present this award to such a deserving genetic counselor, professional, and human. Congratulations, Bob!

2013 New Leader Award: Sharanya Kumaravel, MS, LCGC

Shar graduated from the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program in 2010.  In her first genetic counseling position, she served as the sole genetic counselor in the Cancer Risk and Prevention Center at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.  During her time there, in addition to her clinical responsibilities, Shar educated primary care physicians and second year residents and was also the lead project manager in developing a standardized MSI/IHC screening protocol.  In late 2011, Shar joined the staff of Kaiser Permanente and sees patients in a wide variety of settings including cancer, prenatal, pediatric, and cardiovascular.

Shar's dedication to the profession has been clear in her many leadership roles in the past few years.  Shar first joined NSGC as a student in 2009 and began volunteering with the Student/New Member SIG while still in graduate school.  She served as chair of this committee in 2010 (the same year she graduated and began her first job).  During this time, she participated in and spoke at the Welcome to the AEC sessions and participated in the student outreach activities at the AEC.  She also was a member of the SIG's EBS task force.  

During this same time, Shar identified a need to strengthen information on NSGC's website for prospective genetic counseling students and as a result of her work in this area was invited to join the Communications Committee in 2010 to help with the website redesign.  As part of this committee, Shar also worked on the publication review and renewal project.  She continues to be a member of revamped Marketing and Communications Workgroup and will be Chair of this group in 2014. In 2012, Shar joined the Membership Committee and co-chaired the Welcome the AEC event.  She continues to serve on this committee and is currently the chair of the Professional Status Survey sub-committee which will be launching the new survey in 2014.

 Shar's nominators point out that she has a particular interest in recruiting students to the genetic counseling profession. In addition to her work on NSGC's website, Shar has given many presentations on genetic counseling to students both in her area and around the country. In 2010, she gave a platform presentation on her thesis research on “Increasing the number of students introduced to the genetic counseling pipeline:  A study of high school professional school counselors”.  She also serves as a mentor in the NSGC Mentor program. Shar was also a founding member and served on the editorial board of G2C2 Genetics/Genomics Competency Center which is a tool to provide a centralized repository for health professional education resources for use in genetics/genomics education. Shar is described over and over as an enthusiastic leader who is passionate about the field.  She has done so much to provide leadership in the field in such a short time and we are all excited to see what she does next.  

2013 Strategic Leader Award: Elizabeth Kearney, MS, CGC, MBA

The strategic leader award is bestowed upon NSGC members who promote the genetic counseling profession as a recognized and integral part of health care delivery. Recipients demonstrate strategic thinking and leadership through their work with NSGC and make significant contributions to achieving goals within NSGC's strategic plan. This year's recipient is the epitome of a strategic leader.

I am delighted and honored to award this year's strategic leader award to Liz Kearney. Liz has been an active leader in our profession for many years and was the 2010 NSGC President. During her Board tenure, our society underwent a successful re-branding initiative which resulted in a greatly improved and updated website presence, a new logo, and a new brand positioning statement aligned with NSGC's strategic plan and target audiences. During Liz's presidency, public relations placements increased by 300% despite a 50% reduction in PR budget. Liz was also very involved with federal legislative efforts which laid the foundation for the recent traction gained around this effort.  

More recently Liz has been steadfastly working on creating a leadership development program for NSGC to grow our pipeline of upcoming leaders. I could go on and on about Liz's professional accomplishments but I will stop with this already ample list of strategic leadership examples and invite her to the podium to accept this years Strategic Leader award.

2013 Outstanding Volunteer Award: Mary E. Freivogel, MS, CGC 

Mary has had an exciting career in the field of cancer genetics, ranging from Account Executive and Product Manager roles at Myriad to her current role as Genetic Counselor and Manager at a large breast cancer risk assessment and prevention program in Colorado.  While I am sure that Mary has excelled in each of these positions, she is being recognized today for her exceptional contribution and volunteerism to NSGC. You see, Mary doesn't just promote genetic counseling locally through her 9 to 5 (though I have a feeling that Mary doesn't exactly keep those kind of hours)  – she works tirelessly to promote our field on a national level through her activities within NSGC.

Mary received her Masters degree from the University of Colorado in 2001 and almost immediately became involved in NSGC.  She has been a member of the Cancer SIG since 2001, and volunteered on the Communication Subcommittee of the Cancer SIG from 2002-2009. She was also an active member of the Industry SIG from 2002-2009, and served a 2 year term as chair of the Industry SIG from 2002-2004. She presented at NSGC conferences in 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2009. In 2008, she became vice chair of the Membership Committee and chair of the Professional Status Survey (PSS). She continued to assist with the 2010 and 2012 PSSs even though her term as chair had ended. Mary then served on the Board of Directors from 2011-2012 as a Member at Large.

But more important than an impressive list of Mary's volunteer activities, is the impact she has made through her efforts.  One of her nominators wrote that Mary “provides a positive image of genetic counselors and NSGC to fellow organizations.” A second nominator wrote “I have confidence that her example inspires other members to volunteer for NSGC. She is open-minded and can truly see the “big picture” of our profession and potential future directions. She has been an incredible mentor.”

2013 Cultural Competency Award: Nancy Steinberg Warren, MS, CGC

Nancy's genetic counseling career spans more than three decades during which she has been a true leader in cultural competency. Nancy has provided genetic counseling services in many different capacities including pediatrics, prenatal, and public health. She was also instrumental in establishing the University of Cincinnati's Genetic Counseling training program in 1982 for which she was director for more than 20 years. She started a nursing-genetics training program there as well. Nancy is a charter member and has been a Board member for the American Board of Genetic Counseling, the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors. Nancy has written a number of publications for the Journal of Genetic Counseling and other journals. She has lectured to lay and professional audiences promoting the field of genetic counseling, and she has won several awards for her teaching and contributions to the field. 

Even with her many impressive contributions and accolades for her work, Nancy has been driven to do more. She has pursued her passion of championing the cause for educating genetic counselors and others about the importance of diversity and cultural competence in the genetic counseling profession. This has truly been a labor of love for Nancy. Throughout much of Nancy's career, she has been a leader in promoting actions to increase diversity and minority recruitment in the genetic counseling field. She has contributed to or led many projects in the NSGC Membership Committee and previously in the NSGC Diversity SIG, through the Association of Genetic Counseling Program Directors (including a retreat she held to discuss cultural competency issues with the Midwest Program Directors in 2004), student thesis projects (mine included), and pertinent community outreach events. 

In 2009, Nancy was awarded the prestigious Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship Grant award which allowed her to turn her passion and dedication into a tangible reality. Nancy developed a very dynamic and extraordinary online curriculum, the Genetic Counseling Cultural Competence Toolkit, to educate genetic counselors and other medical professionals about the importance of cultural norms and taking cues from their patients. Nancy continues to fund this labor of love, with her hard work and independent resources to this day. Nancy has dedicated herself to keeping this passion on OUR professional radar screens, and she is determined to continue to see it flourish. She is a vital member to the Cultural Competency working group, as part of the NSGC Membership committee, in which we continue to work to improve awareness and the importance of diversity and cultural competence to the field of genetic counseling. 

Nancy's motto is that ALL our clients are culturally diverse, and if we use that as the guiding rule, being culturally competent cannot simply be an “add-on” or an occasionally used skill. It is fundamentally part of what we should do, all the time.  Her article in the latest issue of Perspectives in Genetic Counseling lays this out for us! I can't think of cultural competency in genetic counseling without thinking about Nancy, so it seems quite fitting that she is the first recipient of this award. Congratulations, Nancy!

2013 International Leader Award: Jehannine C. Austin PhD CGC/CCGC

Dr. Jehannine Austin is a certified genetic counselor and an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, where she is also Graduate Advisor for the Genetic Counseling MSc program. She completed her Bachelor's degree in biochemistry at the University of Bath in the UK, her PhD in neuropsychiatric genetics at the University of Wales, and her Master of Science in genetic counseling at the University of British Columbia.  

Dr. Austin's clinical, teaching and research interests relate to using a clinical genetics perspective to develop new and improved interventions to achieve better outcomes for people with mental illness and their families. Much of her work has been about advancing the genetic counseling profession in the area of genetic counseling for psychiatric disorders.  As one of her nominators said: “Dr. Austin firmly believes that encouraging and supporting the development of high quality, evidence-based genetic counseling research is essential to the growth of the genetic counseling profession.”  With this in mind, she has secured over 5.5 million dollars to fund her research and support her team, which currently includes 5 genetic counselors, and recently received one of the most prestigious research awards available in Canada, a Canada Research Chair.  Dr. Austin has published widely, including more than 40 papers in peer reviewed journals and based on data generated by her research group she established the world's first specialist psychiatric genetic counseling clinic in Vancouver, BC Canada in 2012, which has already provided service to well over 250 people.  She is currently collaborating with groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Romania who are interested in establishing similar specialty genetic counseling clinics in these countries.   

Dr. Austin's international recognition in the area of psychiatric genetic counseling is illustrated by the fact that she has been invited to give more than 70 presentations about this topic.  To date, she has given presentations in Canada, the US, Australia, Ireland, Wales, England, Sweden and Hong Kong. In 2011, a commissioned book entitled “How to talk with families about genetics and psychiatric illness” that she co-authored with Holly Peay was published. 

Dr. Austin provides mentorship to genetic counselors at her institution and through the Mentor match program. She offers clinical internships for genetic counseling students to gain exposure to the specialty of genetic counseling for psychiatric disorders, and short elective rotations with her research group so that genetic counseling students can be exposed to career options outside of clinical service delivery.  Dr. Austin has held many roles within NSGC including co-chair of the Abstract Committee, co-chair of the nomination committee for the Jane Engelberg Memorial Fellowship Advisory group, Co-Chair of the Psychiatric Genetics and Research Special Interest Groups, and most recently, membership on the NSGC Board of Directors.  

Dr. Jehannine Austin is a positive role model and dedicates tremendous energy towards being an embassador for genetic counseling around the world.  It is with great pleasure that we present her with this award.  

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