When Sabra Tomb owned and managed natural health stores in both Troy and Tipp City, Ohio, from 2004 to 2011, she had no idea how her yearning for higher education could open up opportunities for her in the workplace.
She also didn’t know that she would eventually play a major role in the commercialization of technologies developed by researchers at the 711th Human Performance Wing. But as a Pathways Program Student Intern in the wing’s Technology Transfer office, that’s exactly what she is doing.
After attending a local community college, she received a scholarship to attend Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where she was awarded two grants to conduct research on heavy metal toxicity in metal-accumulating dandelions. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2016.
While at Wittenberg, Tomb was advised by a friend to pursue an internship at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Her friend said Tomb’s interest in research and her biology degree would be a good fit at the 711th Human Performance Wing. Her friend made the connection, and Tomb landed in the 711 HPW Institutional Review office as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, or ORISE, student intern.
“I started out in the Institutional Review office, helping with human research protocols. There are a lot of ethical and legal obligations when any research institute or researchers are involved in human research with actual human subjects,” Tomb said.
The Institutional Review office is the compliance office that reviews all the protocols and ensures they are legally sufficient and that all of the researchers have done their ethics training to be able to work with human subjects.
“That was a great initial experience because I got to see a lot of the research that goes on in the wing and also helped with the administrative work associated with the protocols. I started handling some of the compliance and training the researchers needed to complete to be able to conduct human subject research. I was in charge of that database, making sure everybody was up to date on their training, etc.,” Tomb said.
Her degree in biology enabled her to work for Dr. Deb Taylor, in the Biosurety office, which monitors biosafety and biosecurity for the wing; as a result of that experience Tomb considers Taylor not only a mentor but a great friend.
From the Biosurety Office, Tomb moved to the 711 HPW Technology Transfer office as a Pathways Program student intern in April 2016.
“I thought maybe I would continue my research in a biological sciences Ph.D. program. But by this time, I had two small children, and when I realized I would be 40 years old by the time I earned a Ph.D., I started to think about other graduate school opportunities. I began thinking about applying to law school and I took the Law School Admission Test and applied to the University of Dayton School of Law. I was accepted and began full-time legal studies in August 2016,” she said.
Tomb is now half-way through the traditional three-year law program at the University of Dayton and will graduate in May 2019.
“I’m probably the Air Force’s oldest Pathways student,” she said with a smile, adding, “I’m ready to be finished.”
Creating a variety of agreements
At the 711 HPW Technology Transfer office, Tomb and her colleague John Schutte work with researchers on a variety of agreements. The type of agreement varies depending on whether the partner is another government agency, an industry partner or with academia.
One such agreement, a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, allows Air Force researchers to collaborate with non-government entities.
“This is the agreement that is typically put into place with an industry or academia partner because of what’s required to cover intellectual property and all the security requirements,” Tomb said.
CRADAs are large documents, typically about 30 pages, and are not practical for researchers who just want to share data sets, according to Tomb.
“What we found was some of our researchers only wanted to exchange data sets [numbers], perhaps with a government agency, or industry or a university partner. We were finding that CRADAs weren’t suitable for what we wanted, so we needed to streamline and find a smaller agreement. The data sharing agreement evolved out of that need,” Tomb said.
Tomb and Schutte worked with their Institutional Review office and Legal office to develop a data-sharing agreement of about seven pages. It can be used with both government and non-government partners, and the 711 HPW Technology Transfer office is currently managing four active agreements.
“This agreement is a 711th innovation and is specific to the human research that we do here in the Human Performance Wing,” said Tomb.
The 711 HPW Technology Transfer office is currently working on process improvements including a new database and fillable agreement forms.
“Our goal with the tech-transfer database is to have more accurate record keeping,” Tomb said.
She added that, “For a lot of our agreements, we had a checklist that researchers would complete and send back to us and we would draft the agreement based on what was on that checklist. To streamline those agreement processes, we worked on implementing those checklists into the agreement template and made those agreements as fillable form templates, cutting out the checklist process. Now the researchers just get a copy of the fillable form template, and they can populate that and send it back to us, which cuts down a lot of the back and forth.”
Led by Dr. Jim Kearns, the Technology Transfer office also conducts marketing and outreach to the business community. Tomb worked in collaboration with Wright Brothers Institute to host a Bench to Business event in November at WBI’s 444 Second St. location in Dayton. The event showcased 711 HPW researchers who have patented and commercialized their technologies.
“Discussions are underway to host another Bench to Business event in collaboration with Wright Brothers Institute in the July timeframe, focusing on biomedical technologies,” Tomb said.
Tomb said she is excited about the journey she’s had so far and is eager to see what happens next after earning her law degree. She’s two and half semesters away from her law degree and is currently working two days a week at the office.
Tomb gets a little emotional when discussing where she is today because she never saw herself achieving this degree of success.
“My time at the 711th has helped me decide who I want to be professionally. I’ve definitely grown leaps and bounds as a person working here,” she said. “I’m excited to see what happens when I graduate and can start working full time.”
For more information regarding the Pathways Students & Recent Graduates to Federal Careers Program, visit: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/?page=1#url=Program-Fact-Sheets.