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Environmental Factor, January 2013

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NIEHS celebrates diversity and generosity on International Day

By Eddy Ball

Roy Woychik

Woychik set the tone for the tasty and exotic fare partygoers enjoyed on International Day. “I’m looking forward to the wonderful music and great food,” he said before turning the podium back to Walker. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ramen Saha, Ph.D. and others

Ramen Saha, Ph.D., left, was among the first to queue up for refreshments, as the line of hungry people grew longer and stragglers arrived to sample the fare. Saha, who describes himself as a foodie, said afterwards, “I wish I knew who cooked what so that I could ask for recipes or leftovers.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Rao's prize winning entree and Padilla-Bank's prize winning dessert

Organizers paid attention to the details of presentation, as well as to the quality of the food, including Rao’s prize-winning entrée, rear, and Padilla-Bank’s prize-winning dessert, front. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS offered employees and contractors sustenance for the body and the soul, during this year’s International Day celebration Dec. 12, 2012. The event set itself apart from previous celebrations with two firsts from the NIEHS Diversity Council — an international best chef competition and the Giving Tree, a seasonal drive to collect gifts for underprivileged children, supported by the Salvation Army of Wake County. Only organizations that are approved charities within the Combined Federal Campaign are allowed to receive gifts collected in a Giving Tree drive.

Fellowship and fine fare

International Day opened with a hearty welcome from NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., who offered celebrants best wishes on behalf of himself and Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who was unable to attend. “This is the day we really celebrate the rich cultural diversity that exists here at NIEHS. As part of the program, we have some traditions from yesteryear, but we have a couple of other features that are new to International Day this year.”

What followed were upbeat musical selections by the NIEHS band, opportunities for food, fellowship, and new friendships, and podium banter from NTP scientist and emcee Nigel Walker, Ph.D., as judges systematically sampled entries and carefully pondered their votes for the best chef entrée and dessert awards.

The judges included Woychik; Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D.; Employee Services Manager Dona McNeill; Bioinformatics Scientist David Fargo, Ph.D.; Scientific Review Officer Rose Anne McGee; and NTP Cellular and Molecular Pathology Branch Chief Robert Sills, D.V.M., Ph.D. When they reached their difficult, and no doubt agonizing decision, the winners were postdoctoral fellow Bhargavi Rao, Ph.D., for best entree, and biologist Lisa Padilla-Banks, for best dessert. Other culinary contestants were Maile Henson, Ph.D., Irene Lee, Ellen Moul, and Bill Quattlebaum.

The spirit of the season

As people ate and mingled, others gathered at the Giving Tree, which was decorated with stars made by children at the NIEHS daycare facility, First Environments, and surrounded by gifts with angel tags, donated by employees and contractors. The Diversity Council’s drive is part of an effort to provide holiday toys and clothes to nearly 8,700 disadvantaged children through Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program.

The drive continued through Dec. 14, 2012, when Diversity Council members took 120 tagged packages and more than 20 bags of toys to the Salvation Army warehouse in Raleigh, N.C.

NIEHS band

Performing was a labor of love for the NIEHS band. Shown, left to right in the front row, are Roger Callahan, Mike Humble, Ph.D., Andrea Moon, Miranda Bernhardt, Ph.D., and Dick Sloane. Standing in the back to help keep rhythm is Alyson Scoltock. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Winners Padilla-Banks and Rao

Winners Padilla-Banks, left, and Rao received aprons and certificates for their winning efforts, as well as the thanks from grateful NIEHS staff for their quality cooking. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mike Watkins and Lamont Alexander

Media and glassware contractor Mike Watkins, left, and cafeteria contractor Lamont Alexander took a well-deserved break to enjoy the hospitality made possible by the Diversity Council. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Taste test judges

While the band played holiday — and some not so seasonal — tunes, the judges prepared for the rigor of their tasty task. Seated around the table, left to right, are Zeldin, Woychik, Sills, Fargo, McNeill, and McGee. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

members of the Diversity Council

In his opening remarks, Woychik recognized the members of the Diversity Council. Shown, left to right, are Molly Vallant, Jenn Evans, Cynthia Radford, Eli Ney, Chair Brad Collins, Quattlebaum, Walker, and Veronica Godfrey Robinson. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree was as beautiful as it was an emblem of the generosity of people at NIEHS. Thanks to the gift drive, many children in the Raleigh area, who were facing a bleak holiday, will wake up to gifts. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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