The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has received a $2 million endowment to expand and improve waterfowl and wetlands programs and research.
The endowment will create the Kennedy-Grohne Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation in the College of Natural Resources, a full-time faculty position paid for by the university. A nation-wide search is underway to fill the position by summer 2016.
Dr. Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources, said the money will be invested by the UWSP Foundation, and the interest generated will be used to support the activities of the professor, which may include graduate assistantships, travel, undergraduate research fellowships, as well as matching funds for grants and related equipment.
The Douglas R. Stephens Chair in Wildlife is the only other endowed chair in the university’s history and was filled over a year ago by Scott Hygnstrom.
The position was also accompanied by a $2 million investment, paid by Gerald and Helen Stephens to support wildlife research, outreach and projects. The chair was named in memory of their son Doug, a 1991 UWSP graduate who died unexpectedly shortly after graduation.
“This is the second one of these we have received in 18 months,” Thomas said. “Students in the CNR have already had an opportunity to benefit in meaningful ways from the first one.”
The first chair established Hygnstrom as the inaugural director of the Wisconsin Center for Wildlife, which has hosted professional lectures on topics like wolf management in Wisconsin.
Thomas said the donors had no ties to the university other than those through the greater conservation community. Individuals associated with the organization Ducks Unlimited introduced them to UWSP.
“Ducks Unlimited and their members and staff played a large role in this,” Thomas said.
The endowment will bring an expertise to the university that is important in the international community, Thomas said, and it will link the college to researchers working on related projects from the arctic to the south of Mexico.
“Our professor will have research dollars available to bring to the table for partnerships. There will be opportunities that students would not have had otherwise,” Thomas said.
Nate Kueffer, senior wildlife and biology, was impressed by the news but knows how important waterfowl and wetlands are in the central Wisconsin area. He said Kevin Russell, associate professor of wildlife ecology, is an expert and emphasized their importance during class.
“A lot of waterfowl come through here,” Kueffer said. “We talked about it a lot. We have a lot of species-rich ecosystems.”
Kueffer said as communities continue to develop, the conservation of water resources will become more critical, and he is glad the university can make a commitment toward improving the situation.
“It’s important. Wetlands are being degraded and drained,” Kueffer said. “That’s pretty cool that we’ve been chosen for this.”
Thomas believes the gesture tells the world UWSP is competitive with the best universities in the country and said similar gifts will soon follow in other parts of the institution.
“It tells donors to the other colleges and the rest of the campus that we are the kind of place that warrants investments of this magnitude,” he said.