DID YOU FEEL THE MAGIC?
As I rotate off the ASHS Endowment Committee as it’s Chair, I can report that not only is the Endowment solvent and well managed, but also that the number of students seeking and receiving travel grants to the ASHS Annual Conference is increasing. Currently, less than 6% of the active ASHS membership is contributing to or have contributed to the fund in the last 5 years. If our organization is to accomplish our collective goals of bringing in new talented scientists, we are going to need more members to step up. Yes, I know everyone is approached many times a year for donations. Many of these organizations are completely unrelated and not relevant to our individual circumstances. Its relatively easy to just say “no,“ but seriously, can you say that about the ASHS Endowment Fund?
Through my committee work, I have seen dozens and dozens of student’s lives transformed by their first ASHS meeting. Do you remember your first meeting? I do. Truthfully, I was amazed. I could not believe so many people shared my interest in my area of research. More than 80 people attended my first ever scientific presentation, including Marc Cathey, Roy Larson, Wil Carlson and Jim Barrett …. I remember because I still have their business cards. The number of people I met that year that became my career-long colleagues could fill the rest of this column. I was wide-eyed and electrified at all the possibilities I saw. It changed how I viewed horticulture…it was bigger and more diverse than I had thought. That meeting introduced me to Penn State faculty, including Jay Holcomb and John White. I remember Wil Carlson told me after that first ASHS seminar that, with a little polishing, I’d make a good Extension Specialist. Funny how that worked out, Wil. These same gentlemen would facilitate my enrolling at Penn State for my PhD. Later, some of these same ASHS colleagues (Wil, especially) would write letters of recommendation for my position at the University of Georgia as a faculty member in Extension and Teaching. My story is no different than any of the 30 or more graduate students each year that attend their first meetings at ASHS. I see all kinds of heads nodding…. Was that you back then too? Did attending your first conference make a difference? ….. I thought so….
What’s my point? I had no money to attend that meeting. Seriously…it wasn’t going to happen. Graduate school drained my piggy bank and there was no way I was going to drop $600 plus (at that time) that I didn’t have to attend a meeting of an organization I knew little about. No part of my journey would have ever transpired had it not been for my Graduate Advisor at Southern Illinois University, John Preece, and Department Head Gerald Coorts, dipping into their pockets and covering the expense, and insisting I attend. That was the magic moment. That was the simple decision to contribute to a young person’s career experience that made all the difference in my career. I was very fortunate I went to the annual meeting, damn lucky to be honest, and I took full advantage of the commitment my advisors and supporters made towards my success. So, I ask, who helped you get into Horticulture?
By now I am hoping that you will agree with me that, regardless of your stage in life, what level of scientist or industry professional you currently are, the ASHS Endowment Fund is relevant to you. Ask yourself, how important is it that we keep this going? Surely graduate students still need doors opened and introductions made? Surely you want to see all our various industry and academic segments remain strong? I see more heads nodding. Clearly, we all do, but it is not going to happen without support from within. The ASHS Endowment Fund needs to raise another $30,000 in the next few years to keep up with the number of students we wish to bring into ASHS. Few if anyone can afford to write a $30,000 check, but if you can, call me. Pragmatically, if half of our members whom have been and are still employed post-graduation could donate $25 a month to the endowment, we’d reach that goal easily. Given the number of well-established, internationally known scientists and industry leaders in our organization, this shouldn’t be a difficult goal. Yes, I signed up, and did the $25 a month plan, with automatic withdrawal, and I couldn’t be happier. It was easy, painless, and seriously, folks, unless you are a graduate student, you can afford $25 a month. That’s the equivalent of 7 Starbucks coffees, or a movie night with your partner. By sharing that amount you directly allow ASHS to subsidize travel for several students. Imagine the impact your $25 will have? Imagine the potential impact those supported students will have on our industry! Imagine the good feeling you would have knowing you are paying forward all the open doors, lunches, introductions, letters of recommendation, and career jobs facilitated for you during your passage onto the ASHS community.
Be part of something good! Be someone’s magic moment. Contribute to the ASHS Endowment Fund.
Paul A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Professor of Floriculture & UGA Honors Program Mentor
Advisor - Pi Alpha Xi, National Honor Society for Horticulture
Chair, ASHS Endowment Committee
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602