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Melsa, James

Published onJul 30, 2021
Melsa, James

(July 6, 1938 - )

Quick Facts

Former Dean of Iowa State University's College of Engineering.

Dr. James Melsa, Dean, College of Engineering, 1995-2004, 2003 by Girgis Shehata (Egyptian-American, b. 1953). Oil on canvas. Commissioned by University Museums and the College of Engineering. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2003.216

Location: Iowa State University, Marston Hall, 3rd floor

Jim Melsa, born in Omaha, Neb., in 1938, received BS in 1960 from Iowa State, and his MS and PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona. He then, in 1995, brought a wealth of academic and industrial experience back to Iowa State. Previous to that he was a faculty member at the University of Arizona and Southern Methodist University, was professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Notre Dame University, and was a vice president with Tellabs.

Jim and Kathy Melsa returned to Ames in 1995 when Jim became dean of Iowa State University's College of Engineering, and they have played a major role in many advancements for the college, the university and the Ames community.

The Melsas met as students at Iowa State — Jim was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and Kathy was a member of Delta Zeta sorority — and they served together on the 1960 VEISHEA central committee. Kathy earned a BA in English from the University of Arizona and a MEd from National-Louis University.

As dean, Jim led a transformation of the College of Engineering that included construction of the Engineering Teaching and Research Complex (Hoover and Howe Halls), revamping the undergraduate curricula, expanding internships and co-ops, launching the Reach for the Top initiative, and expanding research and technology transfer activities. Under his leadership, the college set new records in sponsored funding, and enrollment increased by 20 percent. Upon Jim’s retirement in 2004, the Melsas were honored with the creation of the James and Katherine Melsa Professorship in Engineering.

"I believe that the College of Engineering has become stronger and more visible during the past eight-plus years of my administration. I appreciate the support of the faculty and staff; I am proud of what we've accomplished," Melsa said.

At the time of his retirement, ISU’s then-president spoke on Melsa’s achievements.

"Jim Melsa has provided extraordinary leadership for Iowa State University's College of Engineering. In the eight years he has been dean, the college experienced significant enrollment increases and set new records in research and fundraising," said Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy. "He oversaw the addition of the two-phase Engineering Teaching and Research Complex, the largest building project in Iowa State's history and a facility that will provide a solid foundation for the college to continue its progress in the future. I thank Jim for his many contributions to Iowa State, and I wish him the best in his retirement."

The Melsas support several Ames community programs, including the United Way, Israel Family Hospice House and Youth and Shelter Services of Ames, which presented them with its 2006 Outstanding Philanthropy Award. They were also instrumental in establishing the Story County Dental Clinic. Kathy received the Unsung Hero Award from Ames Noon Rotary and Ames Daily Tribune in 1999 and the Strong-Minded Woman Award from Iowa State's Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics in 2001. Jim has received numerous engineering awards, including election as a fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers and IEEE's Third Millennium Medal in 2000.

In 2017, Melsa was awarded the Anson Marston Medal at the ISU Honors and Awards Ceremony. The medal, named in honor of Anson Marston, former professor of civil engineering and dean emeritus of engineering, is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in advancing engineering science and having national and international impact in academics, industry and public service.

Spanning many years, Melsas have supported several private initiatives in engineering and throughout the university including with University Museums. They are members of the Order of the Knoll President's Circle and life members of the ISU Alumni Association. They have six children: Susan Melsa Jordan, Elisabeth Melsa Nilles, Peter, Jon, Jennifer Melsa Nolan and Mark ('96 management information systems). The Melsas live in Naperville, Illinois.

Selected Sources

James L. Melsa papers, circa 1987-2011, RS 11/1/17, University Archives, Iowa State University Library.

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