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Talking Shop at Wistar: Up-close with Peter Scarpati Vice President of Operations

As Vice President of Operations, Peter Scarpati has a big job: with the support of his staff, he’s responsible for managing the 250,000+ square feet of space that comprises the Wistar footprint. In a typical day, he logs about 15,000 steps making his way to and from work, and scouring the hallways to make sure everything is running smoothly. 

For those that might not know, can you describe the scope of your work?

I started as director of facilities in 2020, which consists of Building Maintenance, General Services and Security. Then in 2021 I was asked to take on Science Administration, which covers several other areas. First is EHS, or Employee Health and Safety, which includes accurate reporting, permitting, chemical removal and regulated medical waste. The second is Research Operations, which covers all the common use equipment. Common use equipment is shared across all our labs – things like ice machines, autoclaves, incubators, freezers, to name a few. There are over 250 pieces of common use equipment at Wistar, and that is supported by Jamie Richards. Jamie is also responsible for some lab equipment such as biosafety cabinets and centrifuges. 

Was Science Administration something you were comfortable taking on?

It was a huge challenge, and a whole new ballgame. I’m an engineer by trade and by education, so engineering and facilities-related work comes naturally. I worked at a nuclear plant for 16 years and I did maintenance before that, so I have a strong background in facilities-related matters. This was something different, but I’m lucky because I have a great team. Catherine Michalski is general service manager, Jim Dunn is the building manager and Fleta is our security manager – they are all self-sufficient and able to adapt to different situations. That enabled me to dedicate more time to building the science administration team, and together we’ve done an excellent job. 

Any recent success stories or projects?  

Currently we are implementing Lab Guru, which is an electronic lab notebook and inventory management program. The software ensures that all Wistar research and material inventory is stored in one centralized location that can be accessed easily. When something is developed in a Wistar lab then that’s our property. Science administration is responsible for managing these materials and ensuring everything is accounted for. So when Wistar’s Business Development team comes to us and says, ‘I have this research material that we might want to send to someone,’ then we must know where it is, what it is, and ensure that it’s safe. 

Alyssa Jarrell, our implementation specialist, is leading that rollout and we have succeeded in getting 75% of Wistar labs on board in a short time. She’s done a fantastic job of getting everybody on board: she meets with the lab, talks them through the process and she even created a website and tutorials to assist with the transition. 

What’s your secret to managing everything?

I’m able to weed through everything and prioritize what’s important, and what’s not. But the biggest reason we’re successful is my team. I have very strong people that I can rely on. I’ve learned that as much as I try to do everything I simply can’t. I must allow each team member to manage their workload, and then I’ll jump in when necessary to support and solve problems or remove roadblocks. 

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I think my favorite part of this job is coming in every day knowing that I’m making a difference. The team is outstanding and I value working with them. The challenges that we meet every day are great, but we all know we’re here for a purpose. When people ask me what I do, I say that I work to cure cancer, even though I’m not a scientist – and I don’t pretend to be. 

We’re here to support our researchers. And if we’re doing something that helps a scientist find a cure – then we’ve done our job. The mission that we have here is great – whether you’re on the research side or the administrative side of things, we’re all touching people’s lives. It may not be immediate, but we’re all doing important work to solve big problems. 

Any outside activities that help you forget about work for a while?

Golf. I golf as much as possible. When I can get away that is a stress reliever for me. It takes my mind off things and helps me relax.