Michelle Moody: the glue that holds Zucrow Labs together

As Laboratory Coordinator at the world's largest academic propulsion lab, Michelle Moody has a big job. But her efforts have made Zucrow Labs a better place for everyone. Purdue's College of Engineering recently recognized Michelle with their Support and Customer Service staff award.


At Zucrow Labs, hundreds of students and faculty conduct research in rockets, turbines, energetic materials, and other propulsion technologies. It's a 24-acre complex with nearly a dozen buildings, shared by the schools of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics and Astronautics. As such, there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate - and working with potentially dangerous or hazardous materials and equipment brings its own layer of safety concerns and protocols.

Michelle brought her industry background to Zucrow five years ago in a part-time capacity, and last year was hired full-time as Laboratory Coordinator. She is in charge of much of the shared equipment and infrastructure, and oversees many of the processes and protocols students work with every day. She makes sure that tools get properly used and returned. She trains people to use forklifts, cranes, and other machinery, and is OSHA certified to oversee Zucrow's safety needs.

"Michelle is great at working with students, other staff members, and the faculty," said Robert Lucht, Director of Zucrow Labs. "She brings a level of professionalism to her work that actually serves as a great example for our graduate students."

There are multiple examples of her streamlining processes and spaces at Zucrow Labs. If there's a room being unused, she'll set up tables and chairs for students to study. If there's an unclaimed pile of scrap metal, she'll find a way to recycle it, to save the students money on material costs. She makes sure spaces are clean, organized, and stocked with everything that researchers need.

"Michelle has great organization skills, a ‘can-do’ attitude, and a strong work ethic," said Carson Slabaugh, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "She has taken an active role in important, but often unglamorous tasks that have made a tremendous difference to others."

But she doesn't stop there. Many Zucrow buildings date back to the 1940s, and their battleship grey decor could potentially be a depressing environment to spend hours in. Michelle took her own initiative to decorate the building with new posters, artwork, and signage. When the Grounds Department was short-staffed, she brought in plants from her own garden, and coordinated student volunteers to help beautify the grounds, to make Zucrow a more pleasant place to visit.

"She is not bound by her job description – if Michelle sees a need, she fills it!" said Michelle Kidd, Zucrow's Operations Administrator. "Those qualities mean she is great at her job, but it’s her dedication to the success of Zucrow that sets her apart from the rest."

For these reasons, Purdue University's College of Engineering recognized Michelle at the 2021 Staff Awards of Excellence, giving her the Support and Customer Service Award.