Virginia Tech laboratory staff members' skills and professionalism are critical to the university's research and education missions.

Both a team and an individual's contributions have been recognized with the Outstanding Performance in Laboratories award, which is presented by Human Resources, University Organizational and Professional Development, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. The award recognizes non-administrative staff for performance supporting research and teaching labs.

Dianne M. Bourne of Christiansburg, Va., a lab and research specialist in food science and technology, received the individual award. The team award recipients are the lab operations staff for the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory, Curt Eskridge, Mike Gaal, and Joan Wirt, all of Manassas, Va.

Bourne has worked at Virginia Tech since 1966, working in poultry science and the anaerobe lab before her current position in food science. Laura Lawson, research associate in food science and technology, said that Bourne acquired a wealth of microbiological knowledge and many faculty members, staff, and students relied upon her expertise for research design, method development, and data interpretation. 

Bourne's contribution is demonstrated by the impact her laboratory research has had on the food science community, said George Flick, University Distinguished Professor of Food Science and Technology. "As a result of Ms. Bourne's laboratory work, food safety has been increased as well as firm profitability and new enterprises developed."

Bourne years of dedicated effort in the laboratory and her continuing commitment to research excellence are exemplified by the care and commitment she puts into designing and conducting research studies. The fact that she has worked for three university distinguished professors reflects the high quality and caliber of her laboratory performance. Flick said that Bourne's ability to take charge of external funded grants and assume complete leadership for all laboratory research activities resulted in meticulous, accurate data and success in meeting deadlines for reports and grant activities.

Bourne's contributions to research in food science include training graduate students, ensuring that the most current methods and technologies are used for research, reviewing experimental designs, and maintaining the rigorous safety standards that are required when using biological pathogens in research studies. Flick said that she has made many significant contributions that are not customary for laboratory personnel, such as identifying potential projects for extramural funding and assisting with preparation of grant proposals. Bourne is a co-author on various publications and has made presentations at scientific meetings.

The Occoquan Lab is a Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering research operation located in Manassas, Va. It supports research and outreach activities in the National Capital Region. This laboratory team was nominated for the award based on the extraordinary teamwork, initiative, leadership, and dedication that they displayed during the past three years, a time of major demolition, renovation, and expansion of the research, education, and office facilities at the Occoquan Laboratory.

During this period, Eskridge, Gaal, and Wirt worked closely with the lab management team and the state contractor by actively participating in planning, including programming, layout, and design. Dongmei Wang, Occoquan Laboratory supervisor, said that the invaluable contribution of the team's unique operational experience to the full process made the new lab layout a much more efficient design.

In addition to the challenges imposed by adding renovation planning to an already full workload, the lab team was faced with maintaining basic laboratory operations during the demolition of the old laboratory space. Wang said the team displayed enormous initiative, innovation, and flexibility as they managed to keep all operations moving forward.

At the end of the renovation period, the team returned the newly refurbished analytical laboratory to service, while continuing to perform analytical work in the temporary setting. This included moving temporarily stored equipment and instrumentation to the new space and setting up the lab to standards of performance required by the laboratory quality assurance program. This was all accomplished without outside assistance, while continuing to meet analytical requirements for sponsors and students engaged in research.

During the same period, Eskridge, Gaal, and Wirt undertook an ambitious project to achieve environmental laboratory certification under the provision of the Virginia Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, a program that implements standards to assure the validity of analytical data collected for the purposes of the commonwealth's regulations for improving air, water, and solid waste quality. The lab was granted full accreditation in June 2011, the first among university environmental laboratories in Virginia.

"Our laboratory expansion and renovation project, as well as our laboratory accreditation would simply not have been successful without the efforts of this group," said Thomas Grizzard, Occoquan Laboratory director.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

 

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