Sara Sternman grew up in an Orthodox household in Baltimore City, the oldest of nine children (her youngest sibling is 12). Her parents, Shmuel and Rivka Meiselman, were members of Congregation Shearith Israel (nicknamed “The Glen Avenue Shul”). She attended Bais Yaakov through high school and then studied business administration at Ma’alot in Baltimore after a year of seminary in Israel.
The 31-one-year old met her husband, Yaacov Sternman, in Baltimore, and for the first five years of their marriage, they lived in Israel. There, Sternman worked in business-related roles in the financial and diamond industries.
They moved back to the area — they now live in Baltimore County between Pikesville and Mount Washington — where she got a job in government and eventually landed her current position at SAIC, a contractor supporting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as a senior business process analyst.
She and her husband have three children: Chaim Yitzy, 10; Batsheva, 7; and Aviva, 3.
What exactly do you do at work, and in what area do you specialize?
I support the FDA through the Scientific Computing Board, which spans the entire agency. Scientists require specialized computers and tools for their research and regulatory roles, so the SCB communicates scientists’ needs and provides a forum for collaboration and innovation. I see my job as using my administrative and organizational skills to help people who have remarkable scientific knowledge. We host a yearly symposium that attracts more than 1,000 scientists and technology professionals from inside and outside of FDA. I also support projects that deal with Real World Evidence in electronic health records data and clinical trials data.
During the COVID pandemic, certain government agencies often made headlines: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the FDA. What were some of the challenges of all that attention and focus on science?
Inside the FDA, everyone I knew just continued working diligently as usual. The news was not really discussed in my work circles; everyone focused on supporting the public-health mission as always. In my personal workload, one of the projects I support expanded to include the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C), which is a Real World Evidence dataset of COVID patients; and another project, the OneSource platform, ran COVID trials to test different proposed medications to treat people with severe COVID.
Many people dream of just visiting Israel, and you had the opportunity to live there. Explain why Jews should go.
Israel is more than just a place; it’s a different world. Leaving the country where I grew up expanded my horizons. Being in Israel was like standing on a skyscraper and seeing a bigger picture of the world; it’s easier to focus on what is really important from that bird’s-eye view. Many people are drawn to the holy sites; others to the vibrancy of the people or beauty of the land. But there is a deep connection between Jewish people and the land of Israel, no matter how you relate to it.
You manage a serious career with raising children. How do you balance it all?
I enjoy being busy and getting a lot done every day. I use a list app called TeuxDeux; it helps me focus on doing one thing at a time but doing it well.
Working with kids at home during COVID made me feel like I was drowning as a professional and a parent. In reality, I realize that I accomplished an enormous amount during that time, and our family memories from that time are mostly funny and not too traumatizing, so I guess it all worked out in the end … hopefully!
What are your favorite things to do as a family?
My husband is a mortgage broker, and we both work long hours, so we like to make time to have fun on Shabbat. We hang out with the kids, read and laugh a lot. We enjoy kayaking together, and now my oldest can go on his own paddleboard. And we love the Jewish holidays; most recently, we enjoyed family sleepovers in our sukkah, which were so fun!