Endowed positions have a double impact on research
By Amanda O'Toole Mason
Wheat breeding and genetics professor Brett Carver’s research is changing the way the world eats.
For nearly 20 years, he’s led the Oklahoma State University Wheat Improvement Team, an interdisciplinary group of 11 researchers who investigate and develop new seed varieties with attributes such as drought hardiness and immunity to emerging diseases.
The research translates to a healthy agricultural economy in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas through the production and regional sale of seed varieties engineered at OSU through the Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks. The program recently opened a $4 million facility in southwest Stillwater to accommodate increased demand for the latest high-performance wheat, peanut and grass varieties.
By providing improved product to the region’s farmers as well as the nation’s millers and bakers, Carver and his researchers are also ensuring the world’s ever-growing population has enough to eat.
Professors like Carver — who is the Wheat Genetics Chair in Agriculture — and programs like the Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks are why endowed positions at Oklahoma State University are so crucial.
Oklahoma State has nearly 300 endowed faculty positions, all of which are at least partially funded through outside support.
The number of available positions has doubled within the past decade, mostly because of Branding Success: The Campaign for OSU, which included $188.2 million for faculty support and $1.2 billion overall in gifts and commitments.
For each endowed position, individual donors or corporations have gifted Oklahoma State enough money to endow the position. The gift generates annual funds the university can count on to help provide ongoing support for increased salaries, hiring graduate assistants, purchasing equipment, funding travel and covering other academic and research needs.
Carver uses his funds to help support his research, his Wheat Improvement Team of graduate research assistants, equipment and other costs associated with his work. He said funding from the chair has made a big difference, allowing him consistent funding and the flexibility to quickly adjust his research to address industry problems in real time. It’s helped put OSU on the map in terms of wheat breeding and genetics.
Dr. Kenneth Sewell, the university’s vice president for research, said endowed positions provide a powerful double impact to the research enterprise at OSU.
“First and foremost, they help us recruit and retain faculty superstars — experts at the very top of their fields whose research programs are typically supported by prestigious federal grants,” Sewell said. “But on top of that, the endowments allow these superstars to stretch their imaginations and take greater intellectual risks than is possible using federal grant funds. These intellectual risks — on a new idea, on a novel application of a prior discovery, etc.— often have great payoffs in advancing their respective fields of study.”
Provost Gary Sandefur echoed Sewell’s sentiments, calling endowed positions a distinguished honor for faculty. It’s also an added benefit for students.
“By being able to retain and attract the most sought-after instructors and researchers through endowed faculty positions, Oklahoma State University is better able to support research and additional initiatives of the faculty members,” he said. “That, in turn, gives the university the best chance to provide students with the best instructional and academic experiences, provide research opportunities and more easily share that research with the public.”
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