Opening Doors

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
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As the Director of the New Hampshire Public Health Laboratories, Christine Bean oversees a workforce of 65 scientists. “We have a very dedicated and competent group of people here with a high level of technical skill. My staff loves what they do and they stay,” says Bean '82 '03G. “What can happen from one day to the next is totally unpredictable, and it’s important for everyone to stay calm in an emergency.” As such, one of Bean’s responsibilities is to make sure no one gets burned out. In surge mode; for instance, the lab’s recent investigation into the Hepatitis C outbreak that originated from Exeter Hospital, Bean continuously assessed the level of responses among her staff and delegated appropriate responsibilities.

Bean cares deeply about her employees and that means, sometimes, encouraging someone to fly the coop.

“We had a microbiologist on staff who was very instrumental during the implementation of a customized laboratory information management system (LIMS). She came off the work bench to help and realized that she had a real knack for computer implementation,” says Bean. “The LIMS vendor offered her a position and she came to me for advice.” Not only did Bean encourage her employee to follow her passion; she helped her negotiate fair payment for her work in the new career.

Bean knows the importance of opening doors for others as well as taking advantage of the opportunities she’s created for herself. When she was an undergraduate, studying Medical Technology in the School of Health and Human Services (SHHS) at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Bean began her foray into hard science with three years of clinically oriented classes that culminated in an internship with the pathology department at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center during her senior year. “That training prepared me to be a generalist,” says Bean whose clinical knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, and hematology opened the door for her to work as a generalist at Exeter Hospital for several years post graduation. “They needed people who had all the lab skills necessary to rotate through the department,” Bean says.

Bean’s focus in microbiology enabled her to advance her career and take on a position as the Microbiology Manager for the laboratory at Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts. During her time there, Bean recognized that her employees would benefit from her honing of business management skills, so she began an evening MBA program with a cohort of other professionals in the community. “It’s not typical to see scientists in administration,” says Bean, “but I wanted to improve my ability to prepare budgets, train personnel, and improve laboratory operations.”

Shortly after her graduation, Bean seized the opportunity to teach at UNH. Coming full circle, she returned to her alma mater and taught in the Medical Laboratory Science program at the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) for the next fifteen years. A student turned teacher, Bean found herself forging important friendships with the professors who mentored her as an undergraduate; notably, Professors of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences Tom Pistole, Aaron Margolin, and Robert Zsigray (retired). “I had always thought about teaching,” says Bean, “and I really enjoyed it.” During her career at the University, she was a part-time Ph.D. student, researching the land application of biosolids and the correlative public health risk of the practice. “I was looking at pathogens in human waste, and investigating treatment methods to reduce those pathogens in biosolids being applied to land all over the country,” says Bean.

When the former Director of the Public Health Laboratories announced an impending retirement, Bean was encouraged to apply for the position. While she was content with her career at UNH, she couldn’t help but be interested. “I said to myself, you earned your Ph.D. to open doors and now you need to walk through those doors.” And when Bean was offered the new job, she consulted a lot of people. Her colleague and friend Paul Tsang, professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences, said, “Not everyone gets an opportunity to apply everything they’ve learned in their career” and it was then that Bean knew she would walk through the door and into the public health laboratory as the new director.

“We really have a beautiful facility here with a lot of sophisticated equipment and scientists from all over the world,” says Bean of the Public Health Laboratory in Concord, NH, where molecular and diagnostic testing is done through Pulse Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE), Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry (LCMSMS), the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and automated extraction equipment, and genome sequencing, among other methods. “We do a lot of testing, not done elsewhere in the state, for the greater good and the health of the whole community,” Bean says about both rare and routine investigations, conducted at the state laboratory in support of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which include tests for rabies, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), pandemic influenza, chemical and biological threats, and more.

With an interest in increasing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) educational opportunities, Bean offers tours of the state laboratory for high school and college age students and accepts speaking engagements that promote science careers. “I have been very fortunate in continuing to have the opportunity to teach,” says Bean. “I really enjoy working with students and hearing from them.” In fact, a number of UNH graduates are employed by the lab and Bean encourages students to consider applying for internships in her facility. “We have very competent Ph.D. level people who can lead students in projects,” she says. “Our lab staff really enjoys working with students here.” In fact, the laboratory has hosted several graduate students from the Chemistry Department at UNH to do research projects at the facility.

Always on the lookout for future leaders, Bean recognizes that, often, they are right under her nose. “They’re here in our workplace,” she says. “It’s just a matter of their wanting to take on that responsibility.” Interested employees, nominated by the state, are eligible to work together in a cohort for one year to develop skills in a national leadership development program coordinated by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), a professional organization for which Bean serves on the Board of Directors. When her employees are ready to lead, Bean enjoys opening those doors that advance both their professional goals and the protection of public health in New Hampshire.

Christine Bean lives in Hampton, NH, with her husband Scott Bean ‘85, a graduate of the UNH Whittemore School of Business and the owner of Bean Insurance Agency, LLC.