KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney alumnus Alan L. Smith feels he was never able to fully participate in his college experience. While studying at UNK, then called Kearney State College, he was juggling a job while concentrating on his studies in biology and plant science during the early 1960s.
To assist future generations of UNK students and enable them to participate more fully in all the university has to offer, Smith and his wife, Irene, have established a permanently endowed scholarship fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The Alan and Irene Smith Biology and Plant Science Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide two annual scholarships to students studying in the department of biology within the College of Arts and Sciences. Scholarships will be awarded by the department’s scholarship committee to juniors or seniors majoring in biology who have an interest in plant science.
“Endowing this scholarship gives us the opportunity to not only give back to the college – which gave me a start – but to provide opportunities to students from smaller schools in Nebraska,” Smith said. “Technology in the plant sciences continues to grow, so there should be opportunities for well-trained and educated graduates. Hopefully, this scholarship will give selected students the opportunity to contribute to their field.”
The Smiths, who reside in Fredericksburg, Texas, near Austin, created the scholarship to especially aid graduates of Southwest Public Schools in Bartley, Nebraska, who meet the scholarship’s award qualifications. Students who graduated from other rural areas of Nebraska may also be considered if qualified candidates are not identified who attended the Southwest Public Schools system.
Julie Shaffer, chair of UNK’s Department of Biology, said scholarships geared toward students from rural areas of the state are especially valuable to UNK because the campus is known for providing rich opportunities to rural and first-generation students. She said scholarships such as the one created by the Smiths make it so financial hardships don’t stop students from being successful.
“In the sciences and the biology department, students need that support to meet their goals,” Shaffer said. “Our rural students are interested in pursuing career paths in plants and agriculture; this scholarship will help them do that.”
The first Alan and Irene Smith Biology and Plant Science Endowed Scholarship will be awarded this spring for the 2020-21 academic year. In future years, the scholarship fund will provide two scholarship awards annually.
As a native of Bartley, Smith hopes the scholarship fund will help many students from rural areas flourish through the years. Though he had to work hard to put himself through UNK, he said he is fond of his time on campus and the education he received.
“I cannot say enough about the quality of science education I received at UNK,” Smith said. “The breadth of science coursework required to get a degree in biology laid the foundation for my advanced degrees. It also gave me the tools to attack problems encountered during my professional career. The courses were taught by professors who were engaged in educating young people.”
Smith graduated from UNK in 1964 then received a master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a doctorate in plant ecology at Texas A&M University. Now retired, he enjoyed a successful career as an environmental consultant and was owner of Global Environments located in Houston, Texas, for 20 years. Alan and Irene Smith are graduates of Bartley High School, Class of 1959.