This award was made possible by a gift in 2019 from Dr. Coakley to support student travel to the annual meetings of The American Phytopathological Society. The narrative was written by colleagues when she was nominated for APS Fellow and updated to reflect her retirement.
Stella Melugin Coakley grew up on a small farm in the central San Joaquin Valley near Modesto, California. She earned a B.S. degree in plant sciences and an M.S. and Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of California at Davis. After receiving her Ph.D. degree in 1973, she moved to Colorado where she joined the faculty of the University of Denver, first as a visiting professor and later as an associate research professor in biological sciences. From 1975 to 1976, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. In 1988, Coakley moved to Oregon State University (OSU) where she served as professor and head of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology for over 15 years. From 2004 until retirement in 2015, she served as professor and associate dean for the College of Agricultural Sciences. She remains active as an advocate for research and as a mentor to students and faculty at OSU.
Coakley is internationally known for her research on the relationships among climate variation, global climate change, and plant disease epidemics. Her pioneering modeling work helped establish relationships between climate variability and the probability of occurrence of epidemics of wheat stripe rust and other diseases on a regional scale. An outgrowth of this initial work was applied to the topic of global climate change and Coakley was frequently sought to write reviews and give presentations on this timely topic. She served on the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems Program, a project of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program. In Oregon, an additional research focus was on development of Septoria diseases of wheat as related to environmental factors, and the use of that information to manage those diseases. Her research contributions have been recognized through invitations to make presentations at international conferences and workshops in Australia, Denmark, Spain, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Philippines, Germany, Japan, Poland, and New Zealand.
Coakley’s career was dedicated service to students, colleagues, and profession. To such service, she devoted enormous energy and initiative in a wide range of venues at Oregon State University and across the state and nation. She has a special talent for bringing together individuals of diverse interests and motivations in collaborations for the common good. Because of this talent, she has been repeatedly called upon to assume leadership roles. As head of the Botany and Plant Pathology Department at Oregon State University, Coakley was responsible for statewide extension, research, and teaching programs in botany and plant pathology. She is known and appreciated for her strong advocacy of departmental programs and faculty and for her remarkable success in building both the collegiality and the scientific strength of the department and university in a time of budget shortfalls. As department head, Coakley fostered relationships with alumni and leaders of the agricultural industries, establishing numerous endowments that fund seminar speakers, graduate student travel, scholarships, and other academic activities. Despite the demands of her position as department chair, she continued to serve as an undergraduate advisor and co-taught a student orientation course because she recognized the need to stay abreast of student concerns. A strong proponent of collaboration between departments and colleges, Coakley served as the president of the Oregon State University Faculty Senate in 2004 and provided leadership for a variety of multidepartment projects throughout her career. As associate dean of agricultural sciences, Coakley was a proponent for all plant sciences at Oregon State University, and has been a strong supporter of the funding and implementation of a major university-wide initiative in computational and genome biology. Her personal efforts and initiative have been instrumental in identifying and creating new opportunities to further the educational and research missions of Oregon State University and the larger academic and professional community of which it is a part.
Coakley provided scientific leadership at the national level, chairing a task force to improve post-award management for then USDA/CSREES (now National Institute for Food and Agriculture), in Washington, D.C., in 2002 and 2003. Coakley has been active in many scientific societies including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the International Society of Plant Pathology, and especially The American Phytopathological Society.
She was chairperson of the APS Foundation from 1997 to 2001, and led the foundation through a period of tremendous growth when the highly successful graduate student travel awards were established. She also served as vice president and president of the Pacific Division (1992 to 1994), as chair of the Epidemiology Committee, and as associate editor of Phytopathology. She served as chair of the APS Public Policy Board and as chair of the APS Awards and Honors Committee. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999 and as fellow of the American Phytopathological Society in 2006.
In retirement, Coakley lives in Corvallis, OR with her husband James A. Coakley; they are blessed with three daughters and eight grandchildren. During her career, attending the annual APS meeting was an absolute and hence her commitment to making it possible for the next generation of plant pathologists to do likewise.