Awards & Grants

2012 NSGC Leadership Award Recipients

2012 Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award Winner: Joan Marks

The Natalie Weissberger Paul Lifetime Achievement Award is the most distinguished honor within the National Society of Genetic Counselors. This award honors one outstanding member who has served NSGC with exemplary national achievements and volunteer activities on behalf of NSGC and the profession.  I am extremely honored to be introducing this year's award winner, Joan Marks. Joan's accomplishments are innumerable and it is difficult to find a place to start.  In April 2006, in recognition of her "enduring contributions to Sarah Lawrence College, and of her legacy as pioneer, educator, mentor, advocate and leader in genetic counseling," the College formally named its human genetics program the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics.

Born in Portland, Maine, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, followed by graduate studies in social work at Simmons College in Boston, where she obtained a master's degree in social work. She then worked as a psychiatric social worker at several major New York teaching hospitals. In 1972, Joan became the director of the genetic-counseling program at Sarah Lawrence College where post-baccalaureate students were taught the scientific principles of human and medical genetics, together with the fundamentals of counseling. Joan attracted faculty members with different academic specialties to teach courses such as human genetics, cytogenetics, clinical medicine, biochemistry, reproductive genetics, embryology, and others. Students were then introduced to families and patients with various genetic diseases in several genetics clinics in the greater New York area, and they obtained a master's degree in a 2-year program. This program, which she developed into the largest program in the country to educate genetic counselors, pioneered the field of genetic counseling and served as a model for similar programs at universities in the U.S. and several others in Canada, Argentina, Australia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, England and Israel. Joan was truly a pioneer and a powerful advocate for our profession.  The era in which the field of genetic counseling was created required tenacity, persistence and determination.  In 1974, Joan delivered a ground breaking presentation at the American Society of Human Genetics conference on the field of genetic counseling and the value of the genetic counselor in the medical team.  Not everyone in the audience was receptive to the idea, but she persevered and the audience left well educated about the new profession and the first stake in the evolution of this health care field had been claimed.  When funding issues threatened the early years of both the Human Genetics Program and the fledgling field, Joan sought and successfully obtained grant funding from the federal Health Resources Administration which secured the graduate program for five years.  In addition, she attracted funding to financially assist her students and expand the opportunities available to them in coursework and resources. She was a forward thinker and strategically worked to meet the needs of the  program, the profession, and the patients. 

Joan also identified the need to create a professional organization to elevate our standing in the medical field.  As a founding member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, she played a pivotal role in the development and incorporation of NSGC.  She was also a catalyst for its growth. Through her work as a program director at Sarah Lawrence College, Joan was a strong advocate not only for membership, but also participation in NSGC-related activities. She instilled the desire to elevate our profession, establish our place in the medical team, and advocate for the needs of our patients in each of her graduates.  As a result, many of her graduates have gone on to hold leadership roles in NSGC.   Over the years, Joan has helped identify speakers and topics for the sessions and helped identify the key themes facing genetic counselors in the coming year.  Additionally, Joan was a founding member of the Genetic Counseling Foundation and a member of its Board of Directors until 2011. Joan Marks has served on a number of advisory boards in medicine such as the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Academy of Physicians and Patients, and the Women's Health Initiative of the National Institutes of Health. She has also chaired the Ethics Committee of the National Neurofibromatosis Association and is a member of their Clinical Care Advisory Board. She is the author of The Genetic Connection: How to Protect Your Family against Genetic Disease and editor of Advocacy in Health Care: The Silent Constituency.  In 2003 Joan Marks became the first woman and first non-M.D. to receive the Excellence in Human Genetics Education Award, presented by the American Society of Human Genetics.  Joan is currently co-director of the New York Breast Cancer Study with Dr. Mary-Claire King, a research project examining the role of breast cancer genes in increasing the incidence of breast cancer in Ashkenazi Jewish women at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. She is also Director Emerita, of the Graduate Programs in Health Care at Sarah Lawrence College.

Joan has been an active participant in activities that promote the mission and vision of NSGC, but the impact of her efforts extends well beyond that statement.  She developed the blue print for our profession.  Genetic counselors are now an important part of the medical team, expert resources for providers, payers and policy makers, and advocates for our patients.  Our roles and influence will continue to expand.  Many of us are indebted to Joan for her guidance, hard work and tenacity in the development of the genetic counseling profession.  Her courage, vision, passion, and tireless efforts have built a legacy for which she and her family should be proud.  Congratulations, Joan.  You are truly deserving of this award.

New Leader Award Winner: Samantha M. Baxter, MS, CGC

After graduating from Lehigh University, Samantha Baxter attended the Boston University School of Medicine Genetic Counseling program. During her training, Sam became an active volunteer for NSGC. She began as a writer for the region 1 perspectives and as a committee member for the 2007 short course. Since graduation, Sam has thrown herself into NSGC involvement and has contributed to the success of the organization at nearly every level. In 2008, she founded and chaired the “New Genetic Counselor/Student SIG” which continues to grow every year. She is also a contributing member of the cardiac and personalized medicine SIGs. She became the vice-chair of the Membership committee after only 2 years in the profession at which time she jumped right in as co-chair of the Professional Status Survey (or PSS).  She was in charge of implementing the new format of the 2010 PSS reports and helped carry that new format through to the 2012 PSS. She has worked on and presented at the new student and first time attendee orientations at previous AECs. She was involved in starting the cultural competency task force (now the Diversity and Cultural Competency subcommittee). This subcommittee is now hosting their second sponsored session at the AEC and is working to educate the membership on all aspects of diversity in the field, from religion and culture to work setting and specialties.  Sam will also be joining the NSGC board of directors in 2013. 

In addition to her many NSGC contributions, Sam has become a recognized expert in the field of cardiogenetics. After graduation she started out at the Partner's Laboratory of Molecular Medicine here in Boston and currently works at GeneDx as a senior genetic counselor in their marketing department. Through these positions she has gained unique expertise through her roles in reporting, designing and marketing multi-gene panels for cardiovascular disease. Through a multitude of publications and presentations it is clear Sam is passionate about educating a variety of healthcare workers about the value of genetic counselors across the healthcare spectrum. Over the past 3 years, Sam has worked on developing Guidelines for Postmortem Genetic Testing and DNA Banking through the Cardiac SIG.  Her work with medical examiners, physicians, laboratories and families has given her the perspective and motivation to participate in this project.  Her experience with lab specimens and logistics has contributed significantly to the guidelines. She is now developing a website through the NSGC for education about postmortem genetic testing for other medical professionals.  Because of her experience and expertise, Sam provides an articulate and thoughtful voice speaking on behalf and in support of genetic counselors across the country.

Sam has a clear desire for getting new genetic counselors involved and seamlessly pulls other new counselors into the sometimes intimidating world of NSGC. Sam is clearly a rising star in our society who participates broadly and contributes significantly to each of her roles in NSGC.  She is enthusiastic about the NSGC and passionate about getting other individuals involved in the NSGC early in their career. In the words of her nominators, “Sam is one of the most deserving people for this award. She is strong and decisive and an example of how everyone should give back to their organization. When I think of the people who I feel are deserving of the new leader award, there are a few. However, none of them embody the award quite like Sam Baxter.”

New Leader Award Winner: Catriona L. Hippman, MSc, CGC

Catriona has been a member of NSGC since 2006, and graduated from the UBC genetic counseling program in 2007. Since then, she has been making significant contributions to NSGC (the first criterion for this award). Specifically, she is currently a member of the abstract committee, the practice guidelines committee, and the Research SIG where she founded the student research grant, and is chair of the committee that administers it. As well she is co-chair of the psychiatric SIG, where - amongst other things - she substantively increased the membership, founded a student research grant and chaired the committee that administered it for two years, and constructed a psychiatric genetic counseling resource package (including a DVD and book) a copy of which was sent to each of the training programs in North America. She also mentors genetic counseling students (the second criterion for this award)– she lectures at the UBC program, has co-supervised research projects for 4 students (which so far have produced 3 papers in peer reviewed journals), and acts as a Mentor in the context of the NSGCs mentor match program.

Catriona has also expanded the reach of genetic counselors within the medical community (the third criterion for this award) – in 2011 she was hired as the first genetic counselor to work at the Womens Health Research Institute in BC where she is now the senior research program manager, and has created a new position which has been filled by one of our recent genetic counselor grads. She has made contributions to education of lay and healthcare communities about genetic counseling (the fourth criterion for this award), specifically, as it relates to psychiatric disorders, co-presenting a workshop with other members of the Psychiatric SIG at the American Psychiatric Association conference in 2009, speaking to support and advocacy groups in BC, and co-authoring the educational booklet for patients about what causes mental illness that can be downloaded free from the NSGC website.
Last, but by no means least, Catriona has made significant contributions to research involving genetic counseling (the fifth criterion for this award), aside from the supervision of students and publications that I already mentioned, she was co-PI for a successful grant application, in which we conducted the first and only RCT of the effect of genetic counseling for people with mental illness. Her abstract based on the data from this study won the 2012 best abstract award from NSGC. She has presented her research related work at NSGC conferences every year since graduating, including not only contributed papers and posters but also she has talked about the importance of research to grow the evidence base for genetic counseling practice in the context of a plenary a couple of years ago, and this year in a preconference symposium. Also relevant to considering Catriona's leadership, she has just been acclaimed as the President Elect of CAGC. I think all of these accomplishments so soon after graduating are quite remarkable, and this award feels very well deserved - I am very excited to see what happens next for Catriona and it gives me great pleasure to present her with the New Leader award.

Outstanding Volunteer Award Winner: Joy Larsen Haidle

After graduating from Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, IA, Joy earned her Master of Science in Human Genetics at Sarah Lawrence College in 1995 and was board certified by ABGC in 1996 and recertified in 2006.  Joy began her career in Iowa City counseling pediatric and adult patients.  In 1998, she developed the cancer genetic counseling services for the state of Iowa.  In 2003, she made the move to the Humphrey Cancer Center at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, MN.  In her current position, Joy does it all from cancer risk assessment to coordination of research efforts to supervision of graduate and undergraduate students interested in the field of genetic counseling.  She is also a clinical preceptor in the Genetic Counseling Program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. 

Joy has been a member of NSGC since 1994 and has held ~20 different volunteer positions in that time.  She has served on the Education committee, Nominations committee, Awards committee, Practice Issues committee, Access committee, Membership committee, and AEC program committee, just to name a few.  Joy was the Co-Chair of the Cancer SIG in 2006-2008 and a Director at Large on the NSGC Board of Directors from 2008-2010.  Joy's experience and involvement with numerous initiatives related to billing and reimbursement has served her well in her current role as chair of the Payer subcommittee where she is leading one of NSGC's most important efforts of becoming recognized providers under Medicare.  

Additionally, Joy is the chair of the Leadership Development Task Force, which is a natural fit given her vast experience in leadership. In addition to all of her volunteer efforts, Joy has produced more than 30 publications and 50 presentations about various aspects of genetic counseling on the local, regional and national levels.  She has obtained approximately $400,000 in grant money between 2006-2011 to expand and optimize genetic counseling services for patients at risk for hereditary cancer. 
A few paraphrased quotes from some of Joy's colleagues who nominated her for this award: “In my experience working directly with Joy, she is a tireless leader with extreme devotion to the mission and strategic initiatives of NSGC.” “What sets Joy apart from others, is that she is not just a member of these committees.  She doesn't just do the work that is assigned to her, but goes above and beyond the call of the office to contribute in ways that are meaningful and truly shape the future of our profession”. “Joy is a delight to work with, cheerfully assumes a work load that frightens me, and is an invaluable resource whose knowledge of genetics shames me.” And one final quote to summarize: “Joy has devoted countless hours to NSGC.  She has always done this selflessly and conscientiously, with a clear vision of benefiting the organization and the profession”

Outstanding Volunteer Award Winner: Leigha Senter-Jamieson, MS, CGC

Many paragraphs could be written to summarize the impressive career of a genetic counselor that has been practicing for less than 10 years without even mentioning her outstanding volunteerism. Leigha Senter-Jamieson graduated college from The Ohio State University with a major in molecular genetics and minor in sociology. She earned her Master's degree in genetic counseling from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduate school, she returned to Ohio State and is currently appointed as an assistant professor in the Division of Human Genetics at Ohio State. Leigha is truly an academic genetic counselor who strikes an impressive balance between clinical care, research, and education. One example of Leigha's dedication to her patients is the critical role she played in establishing cancer genetics services where it previously did not exist at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. Her research productivity is highlighted by her authorship of 20 peer-reviewed journal articles, numerous lectures at national, regional, and local meetings, and her current role as PI and Co-PI of three grant-funded research projects. Lastly, Leigha has remained committed to educating genetic counseling students and other health care professionals. She serves as the coordinator of clinical rotations for her Division and established clinical curriculum for 18 visiting master's level genetic counseling students. Not surprisingly, she's currently involved in the development of the genetic counseling training program at Ohio State and will serve as the program's Director of Clinical Supervision.

Although Leigha's performance as an academic genetic counselor is impressive, NSGC's Outstanding Volunteer award is presented to those who provide exceptional contributions and volunteerism to the NSGC. After joining the NSGC as a full member in 2002, Leigha has shown a pattern of actively serving on multiple committees, going above and beyond the expected duty of her positions, and eventually moving to positions of leadership within the committees. For example, Leigha joined the Familial Cancer Risk SIG in 2002. By 2003, she co-chaired the Cancer SIG's education subcommittee, and in 2007 she co-chaired the research subcommittee. Two years later her peers in the Cancer SIG acknowledged her significant contributions by electing her to co-chair.
Leigha also transitioned from being a member of the Audrey Heimler Special Projects Committee to the chairperson. Similarly, she served as vice chair of the NSGC Education Committee in 2011 and served as chair this year. Leigha has also served as chair of the ABGC Communications Committee, wrote items for the ABGC certification exam, and was a member of the SIG Governance Task Force. Leigha has also managed to volunteer time within her own institution (e.g. member and reviewer on the Biomedical Institutional Review Board), allied health organizations (e.g. executive council member of the Collaborative Group of the Americas-Inherited Colorectal Cancer), and editorial boards (e.g. ad hoc reviewer for the Journal of Genetic Counseling).
The genetic counselor who nominated Leigha had a request for the award committee: “…even while Leigha has achieved multiple successes as a faculty member of the Ohio State Division of Human Genetics, she has found the time to also devote countless hours to NSGC, and it would be wonderful to see her awarded for this dedication and commitment."

Strategic Leader Award Winner: Scott M. Weissman, MS, CGC

The strategic leader award is designed to recognize a NSGC member who has demonstrated strategic thinking and leadership skills through their work with NSGC and has made significant contributions to helping achieve our strategic plan. Part of the current strategic plan is to expand our sphere of influence across the healthcare spectrum and our 2012 awardee has certainly done this!

Since graduating from Northwestern University 10 ½ years ago, Scott Weissman has become a leader in the field of cancer genetics and a tireless advocate for our profession.  Immediately after graduation, Scott joined the Genetic Task Force of Illinois and was instrumental in helping our state achieve licensure for genetic counselors.  A couple of years after graduation he became Co-chair of the Cancer SIG and during this time worked with other SIG members on multiple projects including issues related to Medicare guidelines for hereditary cancer syndrome genetic testing, publishing genetic counseling and testing vignettes in the journal Community Oncology and the United States Preventative Services Task Force BRCA genetic counseling guidelines.  Scott was a member of the NSGC Code of Ethics Review Committee that updated the Code of Ethics in 2004.  In 2007, he became the NSGC's liaison to the Commission on Cancer, which is a multidisciplinary consortium that has accredited over 1500 cancer centers.  As part of his role with the Commission on Cancer, Scott played an integral part in developing the genetics standard for accreditation.  

This standard requires that accredited sites provide risk assessment and pre- and post-test genetic counseling by qualified genetics specialists.  He is currently co-authoring a paper on this standard, which is aimed at educating oncology practice managers about this new standard and NSGC as a resource.  Also through this liaison role, Scott has planned genetics education sessions at the American College of Surgeons' Clinical Congress to help educate surgeons about lesser known hereditary cancer syndromes.  Recently in 2010, Scott also became the NSGC's liaison to the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, where he developed a similar genetics standard, which requires accredited sites to provide risk assessment and genetic counseling for hereditary breast cancer by qualified genetics professionals.  He is also an Executive Council member with the Collaborative Group of the Americans on Inherited Colorectal Cancer and in 2011 was the lead author on the NSGC's and Collaborative Group of the Americans on Inherited Colorectal Cancer's joint practice guideline on Identification of Individuals at Risk for Lynch Syndrome Using Target Evaluations and Genetic Testing. Scott is described as an, “exemplary leader in the field of cancer genetics and serves as an excellent example to both novice and veteran counselors alike”.  I think it is clear that he has helped to move our profession forward and help us to become recognized and valued by other healthcare professionals.  

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