Staff Award for Excellence - Pennelope Blakely

Pennelope (Penney) Blakely

(L to R): Phoenix, Cassie, Owen, Justin, and Penney

Clinical Research Coordinator, Division of Cardiovascular Medicine

Nominator, Salim Hayek: "Without Penney there is absolutely no way we could have accomplished what we did in the past two years. She sets an example and a very high bar to anyone in the academic field with her versatility, ability to learn new skills, and leadership. People like Penney exemplifies all that the University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine stand for." 

Work Performance

I would like to preface the following points by saying that without Ms. Blakely there is absolutely no way we could have accomplished what we did in the past two years. She sets an example and a very high bar to anyone in the academic field, and has demonstrated initiative and an innate ability to rapidly learn new skills, problem-solve, and innovate. These are only a few examples of the achievements I attribute to her.

In the two years Ms. Blakely has been in this role, she has created a translational science lab from scratch, including EHS Decommissioning of the previously used space, and Initialization for use, Institutional Biosafety Committee approval, and Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee protocol approval and quickly began bench-work and animal studies to push forward numerous research projects. Data from this early bench research has contributed to one manuscript in submission and two in preparation.

We have been awarded 11 research grants - including our first NIH R01. Ms. Blakely has been unparalleled in her assistance with drafting documents for these proposals, including taking a leading role on the authorship of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center Amplifier grant for our pilot project, "Deciphering the suPAR Pathway of Atherosclerosis," and the more recently funded Gilead Research Scholars proposal for the expansion of the project, entitled "Deciphering the “suPAR” Mechanism of Cardiovascular Disease: The Link Between the Heart, Kidneys, and Immune System."

She has submitted and received Institutional Review Board approval for 11 separate human research projects, and 14 exempt or not regulated human research studies, as well as coordinating submission of 20 active UFAs with another four pending activation. She has assisted with the creation of three REDCap databases. Furthermore, we were able to get a jump-start on our COVID19 research with IRB approval by March 31st on a first project and April 10th on a second project, sample collection coordination and updated IBC approval in advance allowed use the ability to begin collecting immediately following that approval. From the biomarker assay data generated from these COVID19 samples, we have published nearly a dozen peer-reviewed articles, many in top-level journals.


Ms. Blakely has earned the nickname "the boss" in our lab for her leadership roles. These are a few examples.
She is the project manager on two dozen different research projects; providing guidance to the dozen med students, residents, and fellows who are responsible for data collection, analysis, and manuscript writing for the projects. Ms. Blakely has quickly become a point person for their questions and advice, including those of outside collaborators. She has maintained a monthly team meeting, scheduling presenters from the group and ensuring the team is engaged even while separated during COVID restrictions.
In the past year, Ms. Blakely has gone through the process of hiring two research assistants and integrating their expertise into the research team as a whole to push studies towards completion. Ms. Blakely was responsible for posting, interviewing, hiring, and training a Research Technician for the laboratory. The new technician has quickly picked up new skills and is performing fully independently in the lab within months. She also posted a position for a post-doctoral fellow, assisted with interviewing and selecting a candidate who has now gone on to apply for the Cardiology T32 fellowship and has plans to begin the fellowship following her PhD defense in May.
Ms. Blakely is mentoring an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) student, working with her to develop a project based on her interests and the COVID19 data collected by the team, and continuing into the authorship of a manuscript.
Finally, she has been working to post a position for a Research nurse for our upcoming COVID19 clinical trials, developing on-boarding and orientation materials, meeting contacts who will be invaluable to the new hire and the success of the trial.

Customer Service

Ms. Blakely is the face of our communications with outside institutions; and for good reason. The is an outstanding communicator and negotiator, and is liked by all. Her interactions has helped foster numerous collaborations.

Our lab has multiple collaborations which rely on performing biomarker measuring services on a short timeline. In the past several months, there have been quick turnarounds on samples requested. One such quick turnaround requested was for preliminary data for an upcoming grant submission. Ms. Blakely made sure to discuss data receipt goals with the PI, coordinated sample pickup with the lab, and analyzed the data as soon as possible to send in advance of the PI's hoped-for due date.

Another such collaboration required 6000 samples to be assayed for two biomarkers in less than two months time. She provided weekly reports to the PI and lab managers awaiting the data, with links to data to keep all investigators apprised of progress. Investigators expressed their appreciation for the communication and the speed with which the data was received.

Process Improvement

In 2019-2020 Ms. Blakely participated on the Study Team Workforce Development Working group, organized by MICHR, the goal of which is to inform the development and delivery of education and training initiatives for research study team members, bringing experience from various departments across Michigan Medicine into concise and accessible documents or training programs who that researchers everywhere are more readily able to access the resources needed.

Ms. Blakely is assisting with a pilot program to address research billing issues between OnCore and MiChart in order to minimize errors and double billing, and to directly bill shortcodes used for research rather than requiring multiple steps to do so. This will save time and effort for researchers across all of Michigan Medicine Medicine.

In the process of attempting to post a position for a Research Nurse, Ms. Blakely discovered many difficulties. In order to simplify the process for future researchers and clinical trialists who have a need of their own dedicated RN, Penney is currently working with the Human Resources representative for the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council to attempt to create a dedicated Nursing supervisory position for research nurses so that these "research nurse" positions can be appropriately and efficiently hired into union positions, rather than each lab wasting months of time and effort to determine whether these positions should be union and the Reporting Structure required per union contract.

Ms. Blakely has also been participating in the DEI Social Media Ambassadors group, the goal of which is to highlight the various DEI Initiatives, events, or efforts within Michigan Medicine and Internal Medicine, and to increase visibility and equity of minorities in the institution and STEM fields as a whole.