By Carolynne Keenan, Contributing Writer
When Amy Stull, a 2000 graduate of Walkersville High School, began working in a laboratory at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at Frederick, she likely did not know the role NCI would play in her career.
Stull started at NCI as a Werner H. Kirsten (WHK) student intern after her junior year of high school, working in a lab as she prepared for a career in chemical engineering. The student intern program pairs rising high school seniors with laboratory scientists to encourage the students to pursue careers in both science and health care fields.
Fifteen years after first stepping into a Fort Detrick lab, Stull returned to NCI at Frederick, but not to isolate and identify new organic compound structures, as she had done as a student intern. She returned to work her way up in NCI and National Institutes of Health (NIH) administration, switching from wearing lab coats to wearing business suits. Now Stull, a member of the 2014 NIH Management Intern (MI) Program class, focuses on the administrative side of biomedical research, or what Bob Michon, program manager for the MI Program and administrative training at NIH, calls the “business side of health research.”
The MI Program gives participants the opportunity to explore different career paths in health administration. “It’s a journey of discovery,” Michon said, explaining that the two-year program is made up of rotations of three to four months each, in different areas of NIH. Interns can opt to attend one rotation outside of NIH as well, he added.
Stull said she enjoyed learning about all the different offices and institutes within NIH. “When you’re only focused on one type of work, you don’t get to see all the inspiring things going on here,” she said. “Once you’re exposed [to the other areas], you have the opportunity to be challenged on different projects.”
Graduates of the MI Program must find their new jobs themselves, using their rotational experience and networking, Michon said. Many of them, like Stull, return to a preferred rotation or office.
Stull will begin working full time in her favorite rotational area: workforce management, in the Office of Workforce Effectiveness and Resources, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “I became part of the team,” Stull said. “I’m excited to go back.”
Others find new positions in their fields of interest, Michon said. The program boasts that every intern has found a new position upon graduating.
Stull’s rotations included stints in human resources, financial management, workforce management, management analysis, and an administrative office, and as a special assistant to an executive officer.
Her final rotation was here, at NCI at Frederick—the same place that helped launch her career back in high school. Stull arrived in the Office of Scientific Operations in April and stayed through July 11, working on a variety of projects. One of her tasks was to assist with coordinating and organizing Take Your Child to Work Day, the annual event that invites children ages 6 to 13 to the NCI Campus at Frederick to learn about science.
How Stull Found Her Place
During her rotations, Stull found her calling in workforce management as she helped managers prepare for the future of their workforce, including assessing the gaps between job requirements and employees’ competencies, and recommending areas for employee development for the organization. “This is a job where I can help by allowing the managers to focus on their missions and the science,” Stull said.
Her perspective in supporting scientists is unique, as she counts on her experiences as a student intern to help her better relate to employees in science and health care fields. “I understand the dynamics of working in a lab,” Stull said. “I understand how research is done and the priorities of scientists both on the lab and administration sides.”
In high school, Stull had plans to study chemistry and chemical engineering, so she interned in what was then known as the Molecular Targets Drug Discovery Program, with Tawnya C. McKee, Ph.D., a research chemist. The summer after her junior year, Stull began working as a WHK student intern, and she continued during her senior year, attending high school in the morning and working at NCI in the afternoon. She also returned to the lab full time the following summer, until she left Frederick to begin her freshmen year at the University of Delaware.
In what is now called the Molecular Targets Laboratory, Stull worked closely with Heidi Bokesch, scientist II, who still remembers Stull’s work ethic. “She was very motivated and a pleasure to work with,” Bokesch said. “She always had a smile on her face and seemed truly interested in her research.”
The main goal of Stull’s research was to find compounds with activity against various cancers or HIV, Bokesch explained. Stull was successful, Bokesch said, as one of the compounds she isolated was published in Tetrahedron Letters. (Bokesch, H.R., Stull, A.C., Pannell, L.K., McKee, T.C., and Boyd, M.R. A new pentacyclic sulfated hydroquinone from the marine sponge Haliclona sp. Tetrahedron Lett. 43: 3079–3081, 2002.)
In fact, Bokesch said she was surprised Stull did not pursue a career in science. “She was very skilled in the lab,” Bokesch said.
Stull earned a master’s degree in business administration from Hood College in 2010, and turned to a familiar employer, NCI, when seeking a career change. That year, she landed a job as a contract specialist, where she stayed until 2012, when she was accepted into the MI Program.
Ellen Rolfes, acting executive officer of the National Human Genome Research Institute, is Stull’s mentor—and has been since Stull started in the program. “From our first meeting, it was clear that Amy was very strategic and thoughtful about what she wanted to get out of this great intern opportunity,” Rolfes said. “She showed great talent in navigating each rotation to get the most out of it, while having fun along the way. Each rotation built upon the other, and she was able to define a nice path that led to her final conversion position.”
For more information about the Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program (WHK SIP), visit the website at https://ncifrederick.cancer.gov/careers/student_programs/internships/SIP/.