COLLEGE STATION – The Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence – Technical and Programmatic Staff was presented to Li Paetzold during a ceremony Jan. 7 at Texas A&M University in College Station.
The Vice Chancellor’s awards, established in 1980, recognize the commitment and outstanding contributions of faculty and staff across Texas A&M AgriLife and represent the highest level of achievement for the organization.
Paetzold is a senior research associate with Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s plant pathology program in Amarillo.
She is known by researchers, industry personnel, farmers, crop consultants and others around the country for her dependable and rapid return of plant disease diagnostic results, her award nomination stated.
“She always strives to demonstrate professionalism, and at the same time seeks to maintain a happy, enjoyable, positive atmosphere, both inside and outside the lab,” the nomination reads, also noting “her dogged pursuit of precision, accuracy and excellence has resulted in high-quality data, which in turn has yielded increased grants and publications.”
She has trained numerous students, post-doctoral candidates and faculty in multiple aspects of molecular biology and lab protocol.
Paetzold first joined Texas A&M in 2007 when she was hired as a research assistant in the Gene Technology Laboratory in College Station. In May 2010, she was hired by Dr. Charles Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist, to manage the Texas Zebra Chip Diagnostic Laboratory in Amarillo.
Zebra Chip, or ZC, is the most economically important disease of potatoes and was causing growers in Texas and around the country tens of millions of dollars in losses. Paetzold took an empty room and converted it into a state-of-the-art molecular diagnostic lab that served, and still serves, clientele throughout Texas and the U.S.
As lab manager for the multimillion-dollar ZC project, Paetzold stepped into a high-pressure, high-responsibility, high-visibility position, the nomination stated. However, she was up to the challenge, and in every possible way she excelled and exceeded all expectations, the nomination stated.
Her initial job was to conduct diagnostic tests on plant and insect vector samples for the bacterial pathogen that causes ZC. Other labs were getting different results and having difficulty with various diagnostic tests, and growers were unhappy with the inconsistency and variability.
In a blind evaluation conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Amarillo lab prevailed over other labs due to Paetzold’s insistence on precision and attention to detail, the nomination stated. She soon assumed responsibility for all national diagnostic ZC survey samples.
In addition to her work in plant pathology, Paetzold routinely collaborates with other researchers, both within the Texas A&M University System and at other research institutions around the country. In these collaborative projects, she analyzes data and prepares research results for technical reports and scientific publications. The value of her input and collaboration is verified by her inclusion as a co-author on numerous refereed journal articles and conference proceedings.
In addition, Paetzold’s recognized expertise in diagnostic techniques and molecular biological methods has significantly enhanced Rush’s ability to obtain competitive grant funding, the nomination stated. Since her arrival in 2010, she has been involved in projects supported by research grants exceeding $10 million.
Paetzold is clearly an expert in molecular techniques and is widely respected for her knowledge and willingness to help others, the nomination stated.
In 2015, she was presented with the Amarillo Center’s Award in Excellence for Technical Assistants/Associates.