Our Staff Recognition

A PLAN for Securing Research Funding

Business Director Emily Hixson Shepherd is growing as a leader in the Department of Surgery 

Innovations in medicine save lives. Surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis—whom we often recognize for their accomplishments in the operating room—are at the forefront of clinical, public health, and basic and translational research in their respective fields. This excellent research is the source of lifesaving medical innovations. For example, William G. Hawkins, MD, is a leading researcher in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the deadliest form of pancreatic cancer. Hawkins is the Director of the Washington University Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Pancreas Cancer at Siteman Cancer Center. The SPORE is a collaborative program of research that allows for the sharing of resources among researchers through what are known as “Cores.” As part of the SPORE, Hawkins conducts research to develop a drug that will improve success rates of patients with pancreatic cancer. Research is expensive. Faculty require funds to access resources, develop medication and track results. Research grants and awards from institutions, like the National Institutes of Health, make innovation possible by providing these funds to the School of Medicine. Applying for grants is a complicated process, though. Emily Hixson Shepherd—Business Director in the Department of Surgery—is an expert at navigating this application process and securing funding for faculty.

Learning Leadership Skills from the Best in the Business

Shepherd has worked closely with surgeons to create and submit grant proposals since joining the department in 2008. As Business Director for Gifts and Grants, Shepherd oversees the Gifts and Grants team of nine Grant Specialists and one Payroll Accounting Clerk. With the help of the Grant Specialists on Shepherd’s team, faculty submitted roughly 200 grants in 2019, resulting in over $20 million dollars of research funding. This funding supports research in areas including pancreatic cancer clinical trials, personalized breast cancer vaccines and peripheral nerve transfer surgery.

“I really enjoy working closely with the faculty,” Shepherd says. This close teamwork has certainly paid off for surgeons. The department is a leader in NIH funding, allowing faculty to pursue discoveries leading to medical breakthroughs. Shepherd’s role in the department is growing. She supports Grant Specialists and faculty on larger projects, such as the grant renewal application that funds the SPORE in Pancreatic Cancer. Her role has expanded to encompass payroll accounting. She was the departmental lead on extensive renovations of five research labs for Surgery faculty comprising 13,000 square feet. To better equip herself for this new leadership role, Shepherd applied for the 2019 Professional Leadership Academy & Network (PLAN) program.

Photo Credit: Jodie Allen, Fresh Art Photography

PLAN is a highly competitive, year-long program that cultivates future leaders at Washington University. Shepherd is among the 25 participants selected for the 2019 cohort. As a PLAN participant, Shepherd attended professional development sessions, expanded her network across campus and met with key university leaders—including Andrew D. Martin, Chancellor, Lori S. White, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Henry S. Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer. “Seeing how you fit within the university—and how the university fits within the community—was really powerful,” Shepherd states. The program is open to applications from employees in leadership roles all across the university. The diversity of the 2019 cohort introduced Shepherd to a variety of managers, directors and other leaders she may not have otherwise met. “It gave a great context to the work that we do.” The culmination of this program was Feb. 3, when Shepherd and a group of her fellow participants delivered a project presentation titled “Evolving Strategic Internal Communications.” With this project, Shepherd and her PLAN colleagues explored methods of improving how the university engages employees in its strategic missions and goals. Since completing the program, Shepherd has used her new insights to improve communication throughout the department. Her work ensures the success of faculty grant proposals, making communication a key responsibility of her role. The Department of Surgery is committed to building leadership opportunities for faculty, but this focus on leadership extends to all staff as well. Participating in the PLAN program helped Shepherd make connections across campus and see the work being executed outside of the Department of Surgery. “It’s always nice to see the bigger picture,” Shepherd says.