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Bettye Price, the 'life and soul' of the Biology Department, to receive 2011 Marsh O'Neill Award

Price, the administrative services manager of the Biology Department, is one of two winners of the 2011 Marshall D. O'Neill Award, which will be presented at 4 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Faculty Club.

L.A. Cicero Bettye Price

'I'm excited each time a grant is funded,' said Bettye Price, administrative services manager of the Department of Biology.

BY KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN

A business wizard. The jewel in the crown of Biology's main office. No person more central to the success of its research mission. The "life and soul" of the department. A model of grace, ability, professionalism and cheer.

Those are just some of the many accolades used to describe Bettye Price, winner of the 2011 Marshall D. O'Neill Award, which honors staff members who have made outstanding contributions to Stanford's research mission.

Price is the administrative services manager of the Department of Biology, where she oversees a $50 million annual budget, including $37 million in sponsored research contracts.

Price was one of two people chosen for the award this year. The other winner is Heideh Fattaey, executive director of operations and programs of the Bio-X Program, which supports, organizes and facilitates interdisciplinary research connected to biology, bioengineering and medicine.

Price, an Alabama native, began working at Stanford as an accountant assistant in the Biological Sciences Department – as it was then known – in 1981.

Price, who received a bachelor's degree in business administration, with an emphasis in accounting, from Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., received most of her training at Stanford. In 2010, Price was one of 23 graduates of Leadership @ Stanford, a program designed for outstanding staff members who are considered important to Stanford's future.

Stanford has honored Price's work and work ethic before. In 1989, she received the Arnice P. Streit Award for outstanding contributions as an administrator in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

In 2001, she was awarded the Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work. Price also has received the H&S Dean's Award of Merit twice. The Dean's Award of Merit acknowledges the important role staff members play in the success of the School of Humanities and Sciences and of the university.

Once again, the Biology Department is honoring Price.

"I'm humbled, grateful, thankful and thrilled to be nominated for the O'Neill Award by faculty," Price said. "What a wonderful surprise to actually receive it. It wasn't in my wildest dreams. There are so many members of the staff that deserve this recognition. It was such an honor to receive the phone call from Dean Ann Arvin."

Price said she enjoys helping faculty, staff and students accomplish their ultimate goals.

"I'm excited each time a grant is funded," she said.

Created a model structure for research administration

Robert D. Simoni, chair of the Biology Department, said Price has created a staff structure for research administration so successful that outside consultants have recommended it to other units at Stanford, including the School of Engineering.

"Bettye oversees everything from pre-award proposals to post-award reporting," Simoni wrote in a letter nominating Price for the O'Neill Award.

"In order to do this effectively, she has created a staff structure so that grant proposals originate with an administrative assistant closely associated with the faculty member. Proposals then proceed through the Biology central office staff and eventually to the Office of Sponsored Research. This 'distributed' system of research administration has served Biology exceedingly well and served as a successful model for others," Simoni added.

In the Biology Department, nine administrative staff report directly to Price, including the faculty affairs coordinator, personnel coordinator, student services administrator, research administrative manager and the finance and operations manager. All told, more than 20 people in the department report indirectly to her.

Simoni said Price ensures that all staff members involved with grant administration are trained and up to speed with changing regulations, which vary among granting agencies.

"She ensures that we are compliant and that we all work well with the Office of Sponsored Research," said Simoni, who is the Donald Kennedy Chair in the School of Humanities and Sciences. "Our record of compliance is perfect!"

He said the faculty has "absolute confidence" in Price and her understanding of compliance issues.

"Faculty members occasionally try to game the system but so respect Bettye's knowledge and judgment that they never challenge her," Simoni said. "If Bettye says something is not allowed, it is not allowed!"

Simoni said the volume of departmental grant applications has increased substantially in recent years. In 2010, when the U.S. government was distributing stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Biology Department submitted more than 50 proposals in a single month.

"This effort strained our departmental system, but no proposal missed a deadline," Simoni said. "There is no person in the university more central to the success of the research mission in Biology than Bettye Price!"

Truly a wonder

Paul R. Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies, said that under Price's careful watch, faculty are freed from administrative headaches and allowed to spend more time pursuing their actual investigations.

"For example, much of our group's research involves doing field work in distant and difficult places, and raises complex questions of expense reporting and hiring assistance," said Ehrlich, the president of the Center for Conservation Biology.

"Whenever a problem comes up, we know where to turn for prompt, competent and pleasant help. She has the total confidence of our faculty to be able to deal with administrative issues quickly and innovatively."

Ehrlich said that in his 52 years on the faculty, "no staff member of my acquaintance has served with more grace, ability, professionalism and cheer."

"I know my view is widely shared," he said. "When we occasionally talk of the possible splitting of our large department, the discussion is always truncated by someone saying 'the battle over who gets to keep Bettye would be too bloody.' She is truly a wonder, and richly deserves the Marshall O'Neill award."

The Biology Department, which has about 50 faculty members, has 250 undergraduate majors, 20 master's degree students, 140 doctoral candidates and 140 postdoctoral scholars.

Above and beyond the call of duty

Mary Beth Mudgett, associate professor of biology, said Price "makes things seamless for faculty," so they can focus their attention on their research and students.

"Her door is always open to faculty, and she takes our requests seriously and personally," Mudgett wrote in a nominating letter.

"Such professional treatment is priceless. I know that I can go to her for anything and things will mysteriously work out due to her active involvement. Thus, I think the world of Bettye's impact and contributions to our department. She is most deserving of this award because she always works above and beyond the call of duty."

Life and soul of the Biology Department

In a letter nominating Price for the O'Neill Award, Biology Professor Judith Frydman described her as "the life and soul" of the department.

"Bettye is not only a fantastic, organized, super-efficient, on-top-of-everything manager, organizer and business wizard, but she is also always cheerful, extremely nice and understanding, taking her time to explain things," she said.

"She is amazing. Sometimes I feel that the department would disintegrate without her, and her love and dedication are obvious in the 15-hour workdays she puts into the department work."

Makes problems go away – immediately

"I think it's fair to say that almost everything that works well in the Biology Department is due to Bettye's insight and leadership," Biology Professor Deborah M. Gordon wrote in a letter nominating Price.

"Her willingness to help is extraordinary, and she has performed miracles for me in all kinds of difficult situations: undergraduate crises in the midst of field work; complicated financial tangles related to grants; lab equipment disasters; as well as all the myriad details that keep ordinary work going."

Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, described Price's ability to get people to do things as "amazing" and her speed and memory in handling complex financial matters as "astonishing."

"She seems to do it all by magic, but I know her effectiveness is due to hard work and total commitment to doing the best possible job for everyone, at all times."

Without her, Biology would be at sea

"Bettye is on top of every detail, is supportive of the academic mission above all, but maintains a wonderfully collegial atmosphere among the staff she oversees," Marcus "Marc" Feldman, the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, wrote in his nominating letter.

"I have never asked her a question that she could not answer within 20 minutes at most. Whether it is a grant-related, student affairs-related, teaching-related, salary-related, benefits-related question, she is on top of it," he said.

"And it is always with a smile. She acts as the ideal on which other departmental admin heads are modeled, and rightly so. I think this award is way overdue to Bettye. Without her, we in Biology would be at sea."