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Behind the Research: Becky Stevenson

About the feature

Many people are involved in the remarkable range of programs, services and facilities that undergird research in the College of Agriculture. Collectively they’re integral to the college fulfilling its research mission. “Behind the Research” explores their individual roles. Each academic year, we profile six people whose work supports the College of Agriculture’s global reputation for developing innovative, multidisciplinary solutions to challenges and then putting those solutions into action.

Rebecca (Becky) Stevenson, Building Deputy in Whistler / Laboratory Operations Specialist, Lead 
  • Works with 22 horticulture and landscape architecture (HLA) faculty in the Horticulture Building and 26 faculty in Whistler Hall to maintain a safe working environment.
  • Successfully teamed with faculty in Whistler to replace aging equipment with a biomolecular imager, now available for everyone in the college to use. This machine is capable of phosphor, fluorescence and visible light imaging of samples up to about 1 centimeter thick.
  • Helping to facilitate a one-and-a-half year project to replace the steam heating system in Whistler Hall, which includes installing three new air handling units and replacing 100 individual exhaust fans with a new central manifold system.
Becky Stevenson works in lab at Purdue.

As a freshman at the University of Arizona, Becky Stevenson applied to its Undergraduate Biology Research Program (UBRP), which taught her the rules of research and eventually placed her in a biochemistry lab. “I liked the experiments, but I also liked the technical elements – running it and making sure things were as they should be,” she says. She worked there from her freshman summer through her senior year.

After she graduated, her lab professor recommended her to a colleague in plant sciences. Stevenson has remained in technical lab manager positions for 29 years since. “I’m thankful for that undergraduate program that accepted me,” she says. “It got me where I am today.”

Stevenson worked for several faculty members at Arizona, Her last supervisor there then offered her a lab manager position when he moved to the University of California, Riverside — and again when he came to Purdue in 2011. Stevenson’s service-mindedness makes it easy to understand why: “I never wanted anyone to go to my boss with a problem; I wanted to solve them first,” she says. “I’m a good gatekeeper.”

By the time the faculty member moved again, to an overseas university, Stevenson had married and settled in West Lafayette. “I was very thankful to Linda [Prokopy, department head] and the HLA department for finding a position and keeping me on,” she say Among her responsibilities as laboratory operations specialist, lead, Stevenson manages HLA researchers’ shared scientific lab equipment and ensures it works for everyone when they need it. She also oversees the tissue culture facility in the greenhouse, keeping it in sound operating condition and making sure all equipment is ready to for use.

She currently is helping to coordinate HVAC installation in Whistler to minimize impacts on individual labs. As the project progresses, each room will experience two two-week closures; Stevenson will make sure their occupants have other space to continue their work.

Stevenson helps Prokopy assign lab space for new arrivals to HLA, cleans out vacated labs and prepares new spaces. Stevenson also is the safety chair for her department, focusing on the labs but conducting a safety inspection of the entire building annually.

She assists in the logistics of HLA’s weekly seminars, and also helps international visiting scholars fulfill immigration requirements. Although this latter duty was added during the pandemic and was difficult to learn, Stevenson now finds it especially gratifying when she can soothe the visitors’ frazzled nerves. “Everything is new to them, and I try to be mindful of that and as helpful as possible,” she says. “It’s rewarding because I really like when people are calmed.’”

Stevenson also provides training support for two HLA 201 tissue culture labs. Across her responsibilities, she interacts with faculty researchers, graduate students, international scholars, and undergraduates who need training on any of the shared equipment. On paper, at least, her assignment is 75% HLA and 25% building deputy, but Stevenson gives each 100 percent: “I don’t want to let anyone down by not helping them, and I would never say, ‘that’s not my job."

I like supporting people so they don’t have to worry about things not working and can focus on their mission for the university or college. I help them with the rules they need to follow in their lab so they can focus on science, writing and teaching.

- Becky Stevenson, Building Deputy in Whistler / Laboratory Operations Specialist, Lead

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