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Meet Rachel Gross - A Stimulus Funding Success Story

By Eddy Ball
August 2009

Rachel Gross
Gross, above, was interviewed initially in Bethesda and "was rated one of the best candidates they [AFP] had," said NIEHS Administrative Officer Margarita Roque. "When ARRA came, it was the right time and the right place - and she hit the ground running." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

During the past year, timing - good and bad - has played an important role in the life of Rachel Gross, newly hired management analyst for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Office of the Director. Gross is the first person hired at the Institute through the little known NIH Administrative Fellows Program (AFP) ( Exit NIEHS into a position funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Gross graduated from North Carolina State University with a masters in public administration focusing on policy and environmental management in December 2008, only to launch her job search at the worst time in decades. She estimates she sent out five to ten resumes each week in the months that followed, resulting in sporadic interviews at best.

Along the way, Gross learned about fellowship opportunities at NIH and other agencies, and that was when her luck and timing began to change. In June, thanks to good timing and help from AFP and ARRA, Gross started her new job at NIEHS - a perfect example of the way ARRA is intended to promote job creation in what DERT Acting Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., described as a "win-win for everyone."

A resident of Raleigh for the past two years, Gross brings a varied background to her new job, united by, she says, her desire "to serve and empower people." She started out with a bachelor's degree in youth ministry and physical education from Toccoa Falls College in northeast Georgia, on a career path that led her to positions in youth programs and mental health services.

After her first job as a youth leader in her hometown of Savannah, Ga., Gross worked in Seattle before moving back east to North Carolina, where her family had moved and where she decided to pursue her interests in public health, policy and the environment. Last summer, she had her first taste of working in government as a program developer in water conservation for the Town of Cary.

Gross described landing her job at NIEHS, which until this spring she wasn't aware even existed, as "serendipity" - it was the one place where location and vocation meshed ideally for her, and the timing turned out to be perfect. "As I understand it, the position here would not have existed if ARRA funding had not become available at just the right time," she said.

Under the terms of her administrative fellowship, Gross will spend the next two years working closely with Collman and DERT Acting Deputy Director Pat Mastin, Ph.D., helping to coordinate the various activities related to ARRA. Gross will work with staff in all of the different branches within DERT and spend up to 90 days in rotations in other parts of the Institute and NIH.

"We'll pair her up with other offices that also have ARRA activities," Collman said, "such as the Financial Management Branch and Office of Science Policy... We're fortunate to have a very bright, motivated, highly capable individual to come and help us out."

As Collman explained, the two-year AFP position dovetails nicely with the ARRA timeframe. At the end of Gross' two year fellowship, she will be evaluated for a permanent position within DERT or elsewhere in the Institute. "At that point," Gross explained, "we should have figured out how my skills best meet the needs of NIEHS - not just in ARRA-related projects but in the Institute as a whole."

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