By Molly Manchenton
Sarah Kinling had a communications background when she joined MITRE as an outreach and engagement lead in 2016. Her education and experience prepared her for the critical roles she’s played in two different MITRE-operated federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs). She spoke with us about her path to MITRE, her transition from cyber to health programs, and how her personal journey led to a critical role examining maternal mortality.
I knew I wanted to be at MITRE. My colleague at the small nonprofit where I worked came from MITRE—and then returned here. She’d described a work culture that values each person’s expertise, whether that’s through education, work experience, or lived experience. I also had never worked for a large company with so many different areas of expertise.
With my background in communications, I knew I could apply that to any area at MITRE, with unlimited opportunities to find “the next interesting thing” rather than changing companies completely. Eventually the right role opened up in the National Cybersecurity FFRDC, and I came on board.
In 2019, I transitioned to the Enterprise Program Management Division of the Health FFRDC. In that role, I facilitated thought leadership and executive communications with health teams across MITRE, including authoring white papers, preparing for speaking engagements, and developing materials for executive sponsor conversations.
Coming onto the team, my main job was to learn as much as I could about the Health FFRDC and MITRE’s health work. My task was twofold: I needed to draft the annual report and identify areas of thought leadership we should explore. So, I started attending our weekly HealthLab Talks.
One of the talks featured Rachel Mayer Ediger, who is a maternal health researcher, presenting on the MITRE Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Interactive Dashboard, which we refer to as 3MID. She and Alison Dingwall were the principal investigators on that project.
I offered to help the team if they needed communications support like report writing or conference material.
They reached out about a year later. At that point my traumatic experiences with the birth of my children were still pretty fresh. Though I didn’t have a background in public health or data analytics, I’d experienced firsthand the roles that data and implicit bias have on policy and clinical decision making.
When I made the offer to help, I didn’t realize how personal the work would feel.
I experienced firsthand the roles that data and implicit bias have on policy and clinical decision making.
Kinling tells her own story in this video, but here’s a summary: Kinling has two children, born 14 months apart. After delivering her first child, she experienced symptoms consistent with pre-eclampsia, a serious condition related to a rapid rise in blood pressure that can lead to seizure, stroke, organ failure, and even death. Despite her concerns, the hospital sent her home, where she suffered a series of seizures that put her back in the hospital with eclampsia. When her second child was born—at a different hospital, with a different care team—the same thing happened. Despite her symptoms and concerns, the hospital discharged Kinling. “I came back a few hours later because I was having a lot of trouble breathing,” she says. “They took me a little more seriously because I was in congestive heart failure.”
I want to do all I can to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else. Because of my personal experience and contributions to the approach, I ended up being a co-author rather than a ghost writer on the paper Saving Women’s Lives: A Data-Driven Approach to Reduce Maternal Mortality.
The policy paper, published through MITRE’s Center for Data-Driven Policy, opened doors, sparking interest with sponsors, legislators, and the March of Dimes. From there, MITRE co-hosted the Data-Driven Summit to Improve Maternal Health with the March of Dimes.
And later, a White House report that became a blueprint for maternal health cited our paper! The blueprint was completely in line with our work.
What’s kept me at MITRE? It’s the possibility of new opportunities. If you look at my resume, I'm definitely an “every three years I need a change” kind of employee.
Whether it’s the team, the topic, the environment—I like to come into a role, adjust processes to help my colleagues do good work, and leave the project or department better than when I found it. When I believe I’ve achieved that, I ask, “What can I help with next?” And I can do that at MITRE without leaving.
I've been at MITRE for seven years. This is the longest I've been with the same company, but in those seven years I've served three different divisions. I like to keep moving and evolving. I like meeting new people and working in new topic areas. MITRE lets me do that without uprooting my life.
I’m in a new role within the Health FFRDC’s Biomedical Innovation Division, leading a project for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I look forward to learning more about NIH and this division and continuing to help the Health FFRDC and folks across MITRE communicate thought leadership and impact.
What’s also made a difference in my career here is the people I’ve met along the way. The connections I’ve made in each role have helped me find my next adventure. The opportunities don’t always come to you. You have to do a little work and a little networking to figure out where your next opportunity to have impact will be. But you can do it all right here.
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