James L. Melsa, alumnus of Iowa State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECpE) and Dean Emeritus of Iowa State’s College of Engineering, was awarded the Anson Marston Medal at the ISU Honors and Awards Ceremony, held during Homecoming week.
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.
Melsa, a distinguished scholar, award-winning educator and corporate leader, graduated in 1960 with a degree in electrical engineering from Iowa State. He met his wife Katherine during those years; the two of them served together on the 1960 VEISHEA committee and were active in Greek life. Katherine has gone on to receive the Strong-Minded Woman Award from ISU’s Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.
After graduating from Iowa State, Melsa earned his Master of Science and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona, and he earned a place on the faculty of the same school. He also was a faculty member of Southern Methodist University and Notre Dame University, where he became chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering. During this time, Melsa earned recognition as one of the nation’s outstanding electrical engineering professors in the areas of control and estimation theory, speech encoding and digital signal processing. Before he returned to ISU, Melsa held three vice-president roles at Tellabs Inc., a global supplier to the telecommunications industry.
From 1995-2004, he came back to Iowa State as College of Engineering dean, and during that time, Melsa led a transformation that included construction of the Engineering Teaching and Research Complex, revamping the undergraduate curricula, expanding internships and co-ops, launching the Reach for the Top initiative and expanding research and technology transfer activities. He oversaw significant growth in research and teaching infrastructure, including Hoover and Howe Halls and the CAVE virtual reality lab. Under Melsa’s leadership, the college set new records in endowed professorships and sponsored funding, and enrollment increase by 20 percent. When he retired in 2004, the James L. and Katherine S. Melsa Professorship in Engineering was created, a title now held by College of Engineering Dean Sarah Rajala.
Outside of Iowa State, Melsa is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). He has served in leadership roles for many engineering groups, including ASEE, Eta Kappa Nu and the American Association of Engineering Societies. The Melsas now live in Naperville, Illinois, but they still support many Ames community programs, including United Way and Youth and Shelter Services of Ames. They have supported several private initiatives in engineering and throughout the university.
Melsa was honored with a reception in Coover Hall, the home of ECpE, the morning of Oct. 27. That afternoon, he was awarded the medal at the ISU awards ceremony.