Melissa Rolls, Paul Berg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is the 2021 recipient of Penn State's Graduate School Alumni Society Graduate Program Chair Leadership Award.
The award honors faculty members for exemplary leadership that benefits graduate students and faculty in an existing graduate program at the University.
Rolls helped create and since 2014 has chaired the molecular, cellular and integrative biosciences graduate program. The program spans six colleges, 20 departments and houses about 130 faculty members. Nominators credited Rolls with spearheading a vital research program and for her attention to improving diversity among its currently 53 students. About 40% of the program's students are international students, 8% are underrepresented minorities and 49% are female.
The program brings together common research interests including but not limited to neurobiology, plant biology, immunology and infectious disease and chemical ecology.
“Rolls has established and leads a graduate program that bridges multiple colleges, recruits outstanding students, and inspires a generation of graduate students as well as their faculty advisers, and she does this all with aplomb, while managing her own highly productive and internationally recognized research program,” a nominator said.
Nominators said Rolls excels at pairing faculty members with students while ensuring those students get the support they need throughout their education. They said she excels at communicating expectations and working to help struggling students.
Her role in recruiting students, they added, is also a strength.
“Excellent graduate programs are built with dedicated faculty mentors and outstanding and diverse graduate students,” a nominator said. “Recruiting the best and brightest to our programs is always difficult and highly competitive, but Dr. Rolls and her faculty leadership team continue to attract the very best students. The quality of the students is evidenced by their earned fellowships. I am particularly impressed with her focus on recruiting underrepresented minority students into the program.”