The National Academy of Engineering announced today that University of Virginia chemical engineering alumnus Paul Mensah is among its newest elected members.

Membership in the academy is one of the highest professional distinctions for an engineer. Mensah, who earned Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees at UVA in 1997 and 1999 respectively, has been a leader at Pfizer Inc. in accelerating processes for developing biotherapeutics, including the key components for the first approved COVID-19 vaccine. He is Pfizer’s vice president of Biotherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences, a role he has held since 2021.

“All of us at UVA Engineering offer our heartfelt congratulations to Paul on this well-deserved recognition,” said Jennifer L. West, dean and also a member of the academy. “His contributions to our society’s health and well-being will be profound and long-lasting.”

Paul Mensah portrait

Paul Mensah, who earned his Master of Science and Ph.D. at UVA in 1997 and 1999 respectively, is vice president of Biotherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences at Pfizer Inc.

Mensah has earned numerous accolades, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ 2021 Industrial Research and Development Award and the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science Distinguished Alumni Award in 2018. He also was the School’s Outstanding Young Graduate in 2010 for serving the chemical engineering department as an advisor, mentor and UVA advocate within the biopharma community.

Mensah went to work for Pfizer as a research scientist straight from UVA and rose steadily in the company. Before being named a vice president, he led or co-led numerous projects or teams working on commercializing new biologics, including drug substance development teams for two different monoclonal antibodies for lung cancer and melanoma.

He is also a diversity leader through his service as a mentor for the Pfizer Global Blacks Community. He has advocated for building trust in the vaccine among Black and brown communities.

Mensah is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, American Chemical Society and the Society of Biological Engineers.

His Ph.D. advisor at UVA, Lawrence R. Quarles Professor Giorgio Carta, remembers a “prolific, creative and independent researcher” who never shied from a challenge and always seemed to be a step ahead of where he expected him to be.

“I would suggest an experiment to test a hypothesis, only to find out that Paul had already thought of it and, in some cases, had already done it,” Carta recalled.

As a student, Mensah earned the 1997 AIChE Outstanding Scholastic Achievement Award, an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award and the department’s highest recognition for graduate students, the Lou Rader Award in Chemical Engineering.

Mensah has remained deeply involved with UVA chemical engineering, serving since 2003 on the department’s advisory board and participating in recruiting and networking events for students.

“I’m thrilled but not surprised by today’s news,” said William S. Epling, professor and chair of the chemical engineering department. “Paul is an incredible engineer and industry leader, and he’s an even better person. He is the role model – what we want our graduates to become.”

Mensah is among 111 new members from the United States and 22 international members. This year’s class brings total U.S. membership to 2,388 and international membership to 310.

Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education,” according to the NAE news release.

Election of new members is a yearlong process, with final votes occurring in January. Mensah and his 2022 classmates will be formally inducted during the NAE’s annual meeting on Oct. 2, 2022

When Mensah woke up this morning, he had no idea he needed to save the date.

 “I was certainly very surprised when I got the email this morning,” he said. “It wasn’t something that I was expecting. I am both honored and humbled to be elected into the NAE, and would like to express my gratitude to my team at Pfizer and all of my colleagues, mentors, friends and family who have supported me over the years.”