Stella Melugin Coakley grew up on a small farm in the central San Joaquin Valley near Modesto, California. She earned a B.S. degree in plant sciences and an M.S. and Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of California at Davis. After receiving her Ph.D. degree in 1973, she joined the faculty of the University of Denver, first as a visiting professor and later as an associate research professor in Biological Sciences. From 1975 to 1976, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. In 1988, Stella moved to Oregon State University where she served as professor and head of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology for over 15 years. Since 2004, she has served as professor and associate dean for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University and as associate director of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station.
In the role of associate dean and associate director, Stella works as a part of the leadership team in the College. Currently, she provides oversight for the research, education, and outreach programs for approximately one-half of the departments and branch stations, two centers/institutes and other programs within the college; she also serves as the college liaison to various university research centers and institutes.
Stella is internationally known for her research on the relationships among climate variation, global climate change, and plant disease epidemics. She served on the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems Program, a project of the International Geosphere Biosphere Program. Stella has been the recipient of research grants from various federal agencies including NSF, USAID, and USDA, and commodity groups. She was the principal investigator on the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation that served to make Oregon State University the flag-ship institution in the Pacific Northwest for the development of internship-based Professional Science Masters Degree Program. The Sloan initiative has generated new professional science masters degrees at Oregon State University, thereby fostering new and mutually beneficial links between industry and academia. This has contributed in a major way to the current state effort to increase the number of programs offering this degree. A strong proponent of collaboration between departments and colleges, Stella served as the president of the Oregon State University Faculty Senate in 2004 and has provided leadership for a variety of multidepartment projects throughout her career.
Stella has also provided scientific leadership at the national level, chairing a task force to improve post-award management for the USDA/CSREES, in Washington, D.C., in 2002 and 2003. She was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000 and of the American Phytopathological Society in 2006.
Stella is married to James A. Coakley, Jr., an atmospheric scientist who is a Professor Emeritus in Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU. They have three daughters: Sarah (married to Charles Lewis) who is the minister of the Piedmont Presbyterian Church in Portland and the mother of Coakley Anna, Charles E. Jr., and Mary Ann Firehammer; Miriam, J.D. from George Mason Law School, mother of Moira Vey and James William; and Martha (married to Jesse Schönau, M.D.) who is working on her PhD in physical oceanography at Scripps at UC San Diego.
Stella enjoys her grandchildren, gardening, and especially, weed elimination.