Research scientists Irene Glowinski and Jim Vaught have established the Christopher Henry Vaught Scholarship in Science Policy at the University of Georgia. The scholarship, named in memory of Glowinski and Vaught’s son Christopher who lived for only 13 days in 1988, will encourage UGA undergraduates to spend a semester in Washington, D.C. and learn about the myriad aspects of science policy beyond what they might be exposed to on the Athens campus.
Glowinski serves as Deputy Director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. An expert on public health policy and infectious diseases, including Ebola, influenza and the Zika virus, she is a University of Michigan alumna with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology.
Vaught is the Editor-in-Chief of Biopreservation and Biobanking, the official journal of International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER). He earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from UGA in 1970 and a PhD from former MCG (now Augusta University) in 1977. Vaught spent 14 years at the National Cancer Institute, most recently as the Chief of the Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch. He has been working in the field of biobanking and biospecimen science for over 20 years.
As a young postdoctoral fellow, Glowinski spent two years in the mid-1980s working for the Science and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. “It was such an important experience in my overall science education,” she said. “Being a political junkie, living and working in Washington D.C., you are constantly bombarded with the impact of the policies Congress is making on what you do. I was determined to learn about how the process worked and it was eye-opening. With very few ‘scientists’ on the committee staff, everyone thought I knew everything there was to know about all science. Think about that for a minute – I got asked questions about everything from astronomy to zoology. I learned how to research policy questions during a time when there was no Google or internet.”
Glowinski wrote testimony and legislation, learned how to brief a congressman in five minutes or less, and drafted position papers laying out the pros and cons of any issue. “I taught the lawyer on the committee about molecular biology, and he taught me aspects of the law I needed to know,” Glowinski said. “I learned to think on my feet and speak to multiple audiences. Many years later, I realized how valuable all those skills were to anything I wanted to do. What better way to honor the memory of the child we lost 30 years ago!”
“This scholarship offers a new opportunity to support life science students in the UGA Washington semester program where they can explore science policy at its hub,” Amy Medlock, associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at UGA who teaches at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership and serves on the Vaught Scholarship committee. “We are very lucky to have both the financial and personal support of the Vaught family to allow our students to learn about and experience the convergence of science and public policy.”
For the first recipient of the Vaught Scholarship, senior political science and biology pre-med major Ashleigh Proctor, the experience helped strengthen and refine her future career goals.
“During my time in Washington D.C. I was able to connect to various politicians, lobbyists, and professionals in the healthcare industry who have provided me with a wealth of insights and perspectives about the potential future of healthcare in the United States,” said Proctor, who plans to attend medical school upon graduation in May 2019. “One of the most interesting parts of my internship was being able to attend briefings and hearings that covered a variety of topics that ranged from steel tariffs to the Farm Bill, defense and cybersecurity, as well as the need for healthcare reforms.”
In an era of multiple, ongoing challenges for the U.S. Government, the importance of increasing public understanding of how policy processes work and helping educate policymakers has only become more acute.
“The Congress, and in fact the nation, is very polarized to the point where there are significant numbers of people in the U.S. who don’t believe in the value of vaccinating their children. We can see the impact of that every day,” Glowinski said. “Today there are so many issues in our country where much of the public and even policymakers don’t believe scientific data. While I think there are many opportunities for Ph.D. students with interest to acquire these experiences, I saw a dearth of opportunities for undergraduates. I wanted to provide an opportunity for a hands-on policy experience for those science students with such interest.”
The UGA Washington Semester program presented a ready-made fit, with a built-in cohort of students already interested in policy and help with finding internship opportunities.
“There is a ready place to live with lots of guidance and mentoring,” Glowinski said. “As our first scholarship student, Ashleigh really made the most of her time in Washington, DC and we couldn’t be more pleased.”
Image: Dr. Irene Glowinski, left, with undergraduate student Ashleigh Proctor.