Before Carmen Papenfuss came to Virginia Tech, the Institutional Review Board process at the university was often described as challenging, lengthy, and not very transparent. As an integral part of research involving human subjects, the process was in need of change.

Thanks to the innovation of Papenfuss, associate director and Institutional Review Board administrator in the Office of Research Compliance, the university’s institutional review board process is now described by users as progressive, efficient, and timely.

After joining Virginia Tech in 2005, Papenfuss oversaw the implementation of the protocol management online submission system and its subsequent improvements. According to her colleagues, her expertise and organizational insight led to the successful launch of the new system, which has been touted as one of the best and easiest systems to use.

The protocol management online submission system that Papenfuss helped implement has provided many benefits including: allowing the Institutional Review Board to go paperless; online administrative and institutional review board chair reviews, permitting reviews to be conducted from any where in the world; the tracking of the status of protocols in progress; automated communication; and a fast turnaround.

“Carmen’s contributions in organizing the functioning of the Institutional Review Board office have rippled across the university and have helped propel our research rankings upward over the past 10 years,” said Suzanne Lee, director of research compliance and data access for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “The transparent process and friendly, customer-oriented staff have shifted perception of the Institutional Review Board from a dreaded roadblock on the way to research to its current perception as an important and relatively painless part of the overall research process.”

The efficient service provided by Papenfuss also relieves instructional and research faculty of burdensome paperwork, freeing them to spend more time on their research and enabling the current administrative staff to handle more work without adding positions.

“Armed with the online system and with effective management of her staff, the Institutional Review Board received the highest scores for customer satisfaction of any of the service units within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation,” said David Moore, associate vice president for research compliance. “Administrators and faculty arriving from other institutions note how the Institutional Review Board was held in contempt at those institutions and marvel at the efficiency, timeliness, and service that they receive from the Institutional Review Board at Virginia Tech.”

The database development process established by Papenfuss has also been used to develop the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocol management system and is the basis for other systems adapted by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation to support the needs of the Office of Sponsored Programs.

According to Lee, Papenfuss’ work has resulted in an increasingly visible reputation of the Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board.

“Many other institutional review boards have agreed to sign letters of authorization ceding authority to the Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board for transportation studies,” said Lee. “This includes the highly successful SHRP 2 Naturalistic Driving Study, which collected data from 2010-13 and for which the data will be used for up to 40 years into the future. Two of the six sites ceded authority to the Virginia Tech Institutional Review Board, and the others relied on them to ensure consistency in processes and materials for all of the 3,000+ participants.”

In recognition of her outstanding innovation, Papenfuss is one of six Virginia Tech employees nominated in 2016 to represent the university in the statewide Governor’s Award program. She was nominated in the innovation award category. The winners were announced in May.

Written by Katie Huger, employee communications manager.

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