For anyone considering a contribution to the Salk Institute but hasn't fully made up their mind, Marna Whittington offers this piece of advice: "Go visit the laboratories and talk to the scientists. Their passion, the technology and the environment in which they have the ability to improve our quality of life will make all the difference."
Whittington speaks from experience. She was first introduced to the Salk Institute three years ago, when she was invited to meet some of its senior scientists and hear about their research. The experience and learning about some of the groundbreaking discoveries at Salk was enough to convince Whittington that becoming closely involved with the Institute was the right thing for her to do.
Today, she is a member of the Salk Institute's Board of Trustees and, most recently, joined a group of supporters who are charter members of the Chairman's Circle, a new Annual Fund giving level launched earlier this year for gifts starting at $25,000.
"I believe in the work that's being done [at Salk]. The environment is right for significant breakthroughs. With the increasing difficulty in funding high-quality research, the private sector needs to step up," she says.
Whittington had a few peripheral connections and interests in scientific research before deciding to commit her time to the Institute more than three years ago.
She received her doctorate degree in Quantitative Methods from the University of Pittsburgh, the same educational institution where Dr. Jonas Salk led the Virus Research Laboratory beginning in 1947. She was also the Chief Operating Officer for the University of Pennsylvania, where she was in charge of the medical and research facilities from 1984 to 1992.
And although her husband leads a healthy life today, he was diagnosed as a child with polio, the disease eradicated in 1955 by Salk's vaccine. The Salk Institute's research in post-polio syndrome was a natural interest for Whittington, but so was its work in cancer and diabetes, she says.
"We are all touched by people who are important in our lives and the Institute is working to find scientific solutions for their problems," says Whittington, who is managing director and CEO of the investment firm Nicholas-Applegate Capital Management.
"But you can't turn this research on and off. The research takes many years to develop. If we don't keep funding it, you can't necessarily come back in a year or two when the National Institute's of Health has more money and pick up where you left off," she says. "It's a long-term commitment."