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HI’s new chief of staff looking to help build the Institute to even loftier heights

Anybody who starts a job during the time of COVID-19 will have a story to tell, and that includes The Hormel Institute’s new Chief of Staff Elizabeth Fedie.

Fedie started the newly created position at the Institute on May 4, right at the heart of the pandemic as it spread across Minnesota and the nation.

Like most organizations, the Institute has had to close down, forcing many of its scientists and employees to work at home, and while some — including scientists — have begun coming back little by little, many are still working at home, including Fedie.

“It has been one of the wildest starts to a new job that I’ve ever had,” Fedie said. “Trying to come on board to a new location and a new town during COVID-19 has been truly a unique experience.”

In other words, right from the beginning the job has been challenging, but welcoming.

Elizabeth Fedie. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“Trying to get onboard remotely and getting to know your team is a much larger challenge than typically anticipated when starting a new position,” Fedie said.”It’s been wild, but very positive.”

Fedie will supervise administrative and operational activities under the direction of current interim Executive Director Dr. Ann Bode and incoming Executive Director Dr. Robert Clarke, who will begin his new job on Aug. 31.

“I’m looking forward to joining Liz and working with her and the entire faculty and staff as we plan together to further the progress of scientific research at The Hormel Institute,” Clarke said in a statement to the Herald. “Liz’ experience and skill set are going to be of great benefit to help achieve outcomes that will benefit our community and all of society through greater application of scientific knowledge gained through research.”

Fedie comes to the Institute from a long line of prestigious positions, including those with the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota and brings with her a long line of experience in both grant administration and cancer research management experience.

However, at the end of the day, Fedie simplifies the reason for her position under one broad umbrella — freeing up the scientists to do the necessary research.

“I felt like I didn’t have any innovative ideas, but I did have a unique set of skills to be an organizer,” Fedie said. “To help navigate the extreme structure of administration at an educational institution, shaking off the administrative (for the scientists )burden and clearing their time to focus on their work.”

That broad resume of past experiences started with her first steps into the profession in the lab of Dr. Lee Wattenberg, considered to be the “Father of Chemoprevention.”

It was under Wattenberg that Fedie began to see where her true interest lay in the world of science.

She would go on to earn a Master’s Degree in public and nonprofit administration.

“It was very interesting to me because when I joined the lab I saw they achieved so much … seeing the dynamics of his lab team and seamlessly working together with his lab staff,” Fedie said. “He was so close to these people that it left an impression on me on how research is such a team effort.”

“It really made me feel like being part of that team made an impact,” she added.

Fedie went on to work in leadership positions at the Center for Genome Engineering and the Brain Tumor Program and as Research Development Manager at the Masonic Cancer Center.

She would also work with people that would mentor her in various ways, including Donna Seabloom, lab manager at the University of Minnesota, who Fedie said, “took me under her wing and gave me great advice and how to navigate my career. It was a stepping stone to getting my masters.”

She also worked under Dr. Dan Voytas, again at the University of Minnesota, who was the director of the Center for Genome Engineering. He imparted on her the importance of having high standards for excellence, as did Dr. David Largaespada, who was the director of the Brain Tumor Program at the Masonic Cancer Center during her time there. Fedie said she spent the most time with Largaespada, who was a big influence not only as a mentor, but a friend.

“His friendship and mentorship was the most influential throughout my career,” Fedie said. “His constant support of all the advancement I’ve been going through set a tremendous example of what it means to be a lifelong mentor.”

Fedie is coming into her position with two key areas that have come with her from her other positions: recognizing all parts of an organization and making the connections.

“That sometimes can be overlooked by leadership,” Fedie explained. “That’s something I really took with me is to make everybody feel like they are an important part of the team.”

“Try to see the big picture,” she continued. “Try to find the connections. A lot of what we do is based on serendipity and the connections you can make with individuals.”

She’s coming into a good situation to do that, which is what she has recognized as well, and that’s to build off the existing strong connections already in Austin.

She said that it’s a good base to continue working from.

“One of the things that most impressed me about Austin, The Hormel Foundation and The Hormel Institute is how close knit they are with each other,” Fedie said. “We want to continue to build on that in a setting where people are already looking to help their neighbors.”

There’s also excitement about trying to increase collaboration with Mayo Clinic and creating a larger hub of research.

But for the timing being, COVID-19 has limited the work and so one of the trials directly ahead is simply getting the researchers back to work.

“One of the biggest hurdles we’ve already been tackling is how to get researchers back in the lab,” Fedie said. “The second day on the job, I and Ann Bode, that’s what we started to tackle. Day two was how to get labs back up and going again.”

Plans have been implemented and while not quite up to full speed, they are moving ahead.

In the meantime, Fedie said she wants to work with all those at the Institute to create as strong a future as possible.

“We are setting a strong sort of values and a strong mission going forward so we can continue to expand,” she said. “We were poised very well to begin expanding research and the research base.”