Gerald and Helen Stephens graciously donated $1 million to create an endowed professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources, suggested that the endowed professorship be given to wildlife ecology assistant professor, Jason Riddle.
The Stephens’ son was a former wildlife ecology student at the university and had unexpectedly passed away less than a year after graduating in 1991.
According to Thomas, the donations that the Stephens’ made to the university have been to honor their son and his passion for wildlife ecology.
The interest that the endowment accumulates will be used towards matching money on grants and funding student research projects, but the majority of the donation will not be spent.
Riddle, with the approval of Thomas and her budget team, will ultimately decide how the money will be used.
“It is a permanent endowment, the proceeds of which will be used to enhance the activities of a wildlife professor in the college of natural resources and it’s at my discretion for who it supports,” Thomas said.
Thomas believes that endowed professorships are critical for the future of the college and is hoping that there will be more professorships in the future.
She thinks that they are critical because of the positive impact they can have, such as enhancing professors’ salaries and giving more opportunities to fund student research.
Riddle admitted that he cannot disclose any specific projects that the money will be funding because he has not yet submitted his first budget proposal.
“This will give us a lot more flexibility to pay students to do research and to be more flexible in acquiring supplies in the short term, while also planning for more extensive projects in the long term,” Riddle said.
Riddle is particularly interested in studying game birds and is hoping that some of the money will fund game bird research. He believes that donations to universities are a good way for donors to be supportive of the programs that they are passionate about.
“Every student that a donor is able to positively impact is then going to hopefully go and have a positive impact in all the places that they work or species that they work with. In my mind, it has a multiplicative effect,” Riddle said.
Riddle is very grateful for the generosity and the impact on students that this donation and past donations that the Stephenses have made to the university.
“Science and knowledge are the primary foundations of making decisions to use our resources wisely and so I think that is important for students to start to get experience with how that knowledge is generated,” Riddle said.
Riddle finds it encouraging that there are individuals that view the wildlife ecology program as prestigious and thus make donations to the university.