Awards & Grants

2014 Leadership Award Recipients

2014 Natalie Weissberger Paul National Acievement Award-Barbara Bowles Biesecker, PhD, 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, Barbara Bowles Biesecker. 

 I am delighted and honored to award this year's Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award to Barbara Bowles Biesecker. Barb has been a genetic counselor for more than 30 years and her list of contributions and accomplishments is long and impressive. Of course we don't have time to go through all that Barb has done, but I will attempt to summarize a few of her greatest achievements. First, Barb has dedicated herself to training future genetic counselors by founding and serving as the Program Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute/Johns Hopkins Genetic Counseling Program. I understand that 66 of our colleagues began their careers in this program and a remarkable 6 of them have won the NSGC Best Student Abstract Award. Barb is an active researcher, having authored an astonishing 59 publications in the last ten years alone. She has a particular interest in evidence-based practice for genetic counselors and according to one of her nominators has pushed the profession to carefully and critically evaluate the value of our services.  The importance of this type of research is reflected in the fact that it's now part of NSGC's strategic plan. And if all of that weren't enough, Barb has also been nominated for her clinical work as a “Master Genetic Counselor” by her colleagues in conjunction with a Jane Engelberg Awarded Project.

But more than any long list of accomplishments, I was particularly struck by how Barb's nominators described her work, her influence on the field and on their own careers. They (and there were many) said: “Few counselors have the breadth, depth, and vision of Barb Biesecker…” “Barb is the genetic counselor I hope to be when I grow up…” “Barb is a fierce advocate… a thought leader” “she is a shiny star, a genetic counselor to emulate, a colleague and a friend.  The field could not possibly be the same without her!”

Please join me in congratulating Barbara Bowles Biesecker – this year's winner of the Natalie Weissberger Paul National Achievement Award.

2014 Outstanding Volunteer Award - Kami Schneider, MS, CGC

The outstanding volunteer award is given to a NSGC member who demonstrates exceptional volunteerism and makes many contributions to NSGC.  It is my honor and privilege to present this year's outstanding volunteer award to my friend and classmate, Kami Wolfe Schneider.

Kami's interest and devotion to NSGC started when we were students at the University of Cincinnati. Even before graduation, she attended the Membership Committee meeting at the annual conference to volunteer to help with mentorship and diversity activities. Upon graduating in 2005, she immediately became involved in leadership activities.  She has been a member of and volunteer for the Cancer SIG for many years and recently created a pediatric subcommittee within the SIG.  She has served seven terms as an appointed member of the membership committee.  Her numerous contributions during these terms include being the 2013 chair, leading the 2009 and 2010 student cultural competency scholarships and AEC orientations, leading the 2013 Leadership Awards working group and creating a couple of working groups.  Kami has also spent countless hours working on the professional status survey since 2008 and was chair or co-chair for the last 3 surveys.  She also served on the Practice Guidelines subcommittee in 2011.

Kami is actively interested in supporting new genetic counselors and fostering their development.  She has participated as a mentor in NSGC's mentor program for many years, and often has had more than one mentee at the same time.

Kami recently joined the Journal of Genetic Counseling Editorial Board and will serve on this board through 2017.

As the person who nominated Kami for this award stated: “what has most impressed me about Kami is that she doesn't just volunteer – she listens. She works to incorporate member feedback into each of her projects and acts as a true representative for her peers and colleagues.”

Kami's contributions to NSGC are too many to all be mentioned here today.  She has been nominated for leadership awards in five different years which shows her long term service to our organization.  Please help me congratulate Kami Wolfe Schneider on her outstanding volunteer award.

So, on behalf of NSGC and our profession, let me say - Thank you,  Kami Wolfe Schneider,  for your time and dedication to our profession. You are truly an outstanding volunteer.

2014 Outstanding Volunteer Award - Heather Zierhut, PhD, MS, CGC

Outstanding Volunteer Awards are presented to NSGC members who have made exceptional contributions through volunteerism to NSGC and go above and beyond what is expected of them.   

I am honored to present one of this year's Outstanding Volunteer awards to Heather Zierhut, who fits this description perfectly.  Heather has been active in NSGC since the beginning of her career and has been recognized by her peers as a recipient of the NSGC New Leader Award in 2009.  She served as Co-Chair of the Research SIG from 2009-2011 and received the Audrey Heimler Special Projects Award in 2013.  She was a member of the Public Policy committee for 8 years and is currently on the abstract review subcommittee.  Heather also co-founded the Minnesota chapter of NSGC.  Most recently, Heather has spent countless hours leading the Access and Service Delivery subcommittee and the Genetic Counseling Outcomes Working Group for NSGC –a couple of initiatives poised to have huge impact on our society and profession.  In her spare time she is the assistant program director at the University of Minnesota's genetic counseling training program and a clinical genetic counselor in the Department of Pediatrics.  One of her nominators said “Heather is both a leader and a doer.  She is an outstanding example of someone who is doing a lot of heavy lifting to further the field of genetic counseling,” and I have to agree. 

So, on behalf of NSGC and our profession, let me say - Thank you, Heather Zierhut, for your time and dedication to our profession. You are truly an outstanding volunteer.

2014 Strategic Leader Award - Monica Marvin, MS, CGC

The Strategic Leader award is bestowed upon NSGC members who promote the genetic counseling profession as a recognized andintegral 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 Monica Marvin.

As Board Liaison to the Payer Subcommittee I have witnessed firsthand Monica's instinctive leadership style and strategic vision. As 2014 Chair of the Payer Subcommittee, Monica has kept a constant eye on the horizon while tweaking a longer term plan that aligns with the Society's strategic initiatives.

More than 20 years ago, Monica began carving a path that would lead her to lead others within NSGC.  Her earliest accomplishments include helping to establish the Cancer Sig as a member of the SIG's initial Steering Committee.  She also served as an author on one of NSGC's first Position Statements in 1997: Predisposition genetic testing for late-onset disorders in adults.  Monica was the Inaugural President of the Michigan Association of Genetic Counselors, the first state chapter of NSGC, and one that thanks to Monica's leadership and vision continues to serve as a model for other state organizations. She is Associate Program Director for the University of Michigan Program and has served as the 2011 Chair of the Access and Service Delivery Committee. More locally, Monica has worked tirelessly to achieve licensure in the state of Michigan, a task that continues today.

In each of these roles, Monica has promoted the profession of genetic counseling, demonstrated her commitment to the continued growth and development of the genetic counselor workforce, improved access to genetic counseling services and helped payer and providers recognize the unique and diverse skills and value of genetic counselors. Thanks to Monica our advocacy efforts send a stronger and more meaningful message to a broader audience. Please join me in congratulating Monica as this year's recipient of the Strategic Leader Award.

2014 New Leader Award - Melanie Hardy, MS, MS, CGC

The New Leader Award is bestowed upon NSGC members who have graduated within the last 5 years and have shown significant initiative in her/his contributions to NSGC and to the profession. Recipients are recognized for their significant contribution to a committee, SIG, or task force and their noteworthy participation in mentoring genetic counseling students.  This year's new leader embodies this award in every way.

I am delighted and honored to present this year's new leader award to Melanie Hardy . Melanie's leadership efforts started in 2010 as a second year student when she joined the Student/New Member SIG and immediately jumped into action.  She remains an active leader within this SIG and has served on many of its task forces including Outreach, AEC Outreach, and Education and Certification. Her leadership and commitment to all of these projects paved the road for her involvement with NSGC's Membership Committee, where she serves as chair for the Welcome to the AEC Orientation and co-chair for the Mentor Program. Melanie is an advocate for our profession as she helps others learn about and succeed in genetic counseling. I see first-hand that Melanie is the ideal role model for any new genetic counselor as she is an engaged member and a graceful leader.  Her positive approach to challenges is contagious and her accomplishments are inspiring.

Please join me in congratulating Melanie Hardy as the 2014 recipient of the New Leader Award.

On behalf of the NSGC, it is an honor to award Melanie Hardy as a New Leader. I would now like to invite Melanie to the stage to accept this award.  

2014 International Leader Award - Alexandra J. Obregon-Tito, PhD, MS, CGC 

The International Leader Award is bestowed upon an NSGC member whose contributions to the profession have reached an international scope. 

I am delighted and honored to announce that Alexandra Obregon-Tito is the recipient of this year's International Leader Award.  She holds two Masters degrees and recently completed her PhD in Health and Human Biology.  Her dissertation was related to metagenomics and social inclusion in Peru.  She serves as a research genetic counselor and project coordinator in the Molecular Anthropology Laboratory at the University of Oklahoma.  She has investigated genetics, genomics and metagenomics of native people from North and South America. These projects, funded by NIH, NSF and the Wener Gren foundation, have enabled her to train in parallel in the biological and ethical, legal, and social implications of this type of research.  She has performed roles in the bench as well as in the field and she is an advocate for inclusion of diverse populations, especially those from developing nations, which are largely underrepresented in post-genomic biomedical research.

She was a postdoctoral fellow at City of Hope, where the dissemination and implementation of clinical genetic services in countries in Latin America, where genetic counseling is not a career, became her focus.  She has combined research, clinical, and educational activities to promote genetic counseling services in Peru and Colombia where she provides courses and lectures to promote genetic counseling in various venues, including the Peruvian Society of Medical Genetics and most recently, a course sponsored by the Colombian Society of Human Genetics. She played a role in organizing a symposium that resulted in an international research collaboration to implement genetic cancer risk assessment in Peru.  In addition, through her role as “International Outreach Program Manger” at Fulgent Diagnostics, she performs tele-genetic counseling and provides support for clinics in Peru and Colombia. 

Alexandra also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetic Counseling at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences.  She is developing training modules in clinical genetics for Latin American professionals with the ultimate goal of building an international training program in genetic counseling.  This program will provide opportunities for international experiences for US genetic counselors and genetic counseling students while building local capacity to produce genetic counselors in Latin America.  

Alexandra published a recent article in Perspectives that inspired many members of NSGC to become excited about international outreach and collaboration.  She is truly leading the way in this area and I look forward to seeing what she does next.  Congratulations Alexandra!

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