James named 2021 Staff Excellence Award winner

April 22, 2021

Melissa James, manager and responsible official of Eva J. Pell Laboratory for Advanced Biological Research, has been named Penn State's 2021 Staff Excellence Award winner.

Melissa James

Melissa James

IMAGE: Penn State

Established in 1993, the award recognizes the consistently outstanding performance of a staff member who has demonstrated and practiced the philosophy of continuous quality improvement, team spirit, managerial excellence in the performance of assigned duties and leadership in establishing a quality service orientation, so as to benefit his or her unit and the University.

Since joining as a lab coordinator in 2013 and being promoted to manager in 2016, nominators said, James has shown outstanding commitment to the facilities. This has allowed the complex lab to run smoothly in the face of massive research projects and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 23,000-square-foot, $23 million, BioSafety Level-3 (BSL-3) facility that houses animal, in vitro and insect labs, completes high-security biological research. The research there involves highly secure biological agents and is under routine inspections by federal authorities. Nominators said the facility’s unblemished safety record and more than $20 million in recent research expenditures are, in part, a result of James’ stellar work.

In the past four years, James was key in training six new labs to work in BSL-3 safety conditions. She also helped in the Zika epidemic response, readying the facility for Zika-related research. This led to several publications and research grants, positioning Penn State as a top-ranked Zika research university.

Nominators said James is quickly positioning Penn State to do the same for COVID-19 research. In fact, the lab experienced no downtime during the pandemic. Researchers report $5 million in new research expenditures with another $20 million pending.

“What is remarkable and commendable is her extraordinary effort in helping Penn State’s efforts to combat COVID-19,” a nominator said. “It was clear when COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic that facilities like the Pell lab would be crucial in leading the efforts to combat the disease. James initiated the rigorous training programs for research staff from various labs that were likely to work on this virus. In fact, she has trained, got them certified, and is overseeing more than 50 research staff in less than three months.” 

Last Updated April 22, 2021