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Professor Robert Kelly Receives NC State’s Holladay Medal

This is a slightly modified version of an article written by Emily Packard, Public Communication Specialist in University Communications.

Professor Robert Kelly
Professor Robert Kelly

Alcoa Professor Robert Kelly has received the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, the highest honor bestowed by NC State and the university’s Board of Trustees. Chancellor Randy Woodson will recognize the Award during a virtual Celebration of Faculty Excellence on May 4.

The award is named in honor of Alexander Quarles Holladay, NC State’s first professor of history and its first president. The Holladay Medal for Excellence recognizes members of the faculty whose careers have demonstrated outstanding achievement and sustained impact in research, teaching, or extension and engagement. Honorees receive an engraved medal and framed certificate.

Professor Kelly obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia and earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from our department. His research interests center on the biology and biotechnology of microorganisms from extreme thermal environments, such as undersea volcanoes and continental hot springs.

His work on extreme thermophiles has ranged from understanding biocatalysis at high temperatures, to identifying novel features of their microbial physiology, to utilizing metabolic engineering for the production of bio-based fuels and chemicals from lignocellulose and CO2. Through these efforts, Kelly has trained over 90 master’s, Ph.D. and postdoctoral scholars in areas related to the life sciences and engineering.

At NC State, Kelly has directed the Biotechnology (BIT) Program for the past 20 years. The program annually educates over 400 undergraduate and graduate students from eight colleges in laboratory skills in molecular biology. Since 2000, through the BIT Program, Kelly has led a National Institutes of Health- and Department of Education-funded predoctoral training program that has supported nearly 200 doctoral students en route to their degrees.

Through his leadership, the BIT program has grown into a model campus-wide educational and research network. Most recently, Kelly has lead efforts to expand the impact of the BIT Program to other schools, colleges and universities. This is being done through a collaboration with middle school and high school students from the NC School for the Deaf in Morganton, N.C., and through a National Institutes of Health-funded initiative that includes North Carolina Central University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Alamance Community College.

Among the research honors that he has received are the American Chemical Society’s Marvin Johnson Award in Biochemical Technology (2004); the AIChE Food, Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Award (2007); the American Society for Microbiology DuPont Biosciences Award (2018) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Extremophiles (2018). Kelly is an elected Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and currently serves as an Editor for the American Society for Microbiology journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology (2012-2022).

Congratulations to Professor Kelly for this well-deserved recognition of your exemplary career of excellence as a faculty member and scholar!