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Hightowers endow awards for graduate students in fisheries and wildlife

A new endowment to fund awards for N.C. State University graduate students has been established by Dr. Joe Hightower and Dr. Robin Hightower. The Joseph E. and Robin C. Hightower Graduate Award Endowment in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences was created Oct. 22 at a signing ceremony and reception hosted by Dr. Johnny Wynne, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

The endowment, created in the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Inc., will be used to provide financial awards and educational opportunities for graduate students enrolled in the fisheries and wildlife sciences master’s and Ph.D. degree programs jointly administered by CALS, the College of Natural Resources (CNR) and the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) at N.C. State.

Joe Hightower listens as friends and colleagues pay tribute to him.

“Thanks to Joe and Robin for their contributions to fisheries and wildlife,” said Wynne. “Both are CALS graduates, and we’re appreciative of their giving back to the university.”

Among those participating in the ceremony were Dr. Robert Brown, CNR dean; Dr. David Bristol, CVM dean; Dr. Damian Shea, head of the CALS Biology Department; and Dr. Barry Goldfarb, head of the CNR Forestry and Environmental Resources Department.

Also in attendance were the Hightowers’ son, Jason, and many of their family, friends and colleagues.

“Joe really is a model for other faculty, one who finds ways to work for the students’ benefit and who is always there for the students. It’s no surprise, knowing his character, that he and Robin have set up this endowment,” Shea said.

Added Goldfarb, “Faculty dedication has made this [fisheries and wildlife] program grow, and this endowment is an example of that dedication.”

Earlier this year, the Hightowers also created the Joseph E. and Robin C. Hightower Collection Endowment in support of the N.C. State University Libraries, to enrich library materials in genetics, fisheries and wildlife.

As Wynne said, Joe and Robin Hightower are CALS alumni: They earned their 1978 bachelor’s degrees from the College’s Department of Zoology (now Biology). Both pursued graduate degrees  at the University of Georgia, with Joe receiving his 1981 master’s degree and 1984 Ph.D. in fisheries, and Robin receiving a 1980 master’s in zoology and a 1985 Ph.D. in genetics.

After working in California, the two returned to North Carolina, where Joe is professor of zoology and assistant leader of fisheries for the N.C. Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Department of Biology, teaching courses in fisheries sciences and working on migratory fish and population dynamics. In 2006 he received the Excellence in Fisheries Education Award from the American Fisheries Society. Robin, previously a molecular biologist for the University of California-San Francisco and Advanced Genetic Sciences, has worked for Novartis in North Carolina and taught in the state’s community college system.

“I enjoy students and enjoy being around them. We’re excited that we can do this,” Joe Hightower said.

“My dad went to the University of Georgia, where he and my mom created an endowment for veterinary students, and many of those students sent letters of thanks. We saw what a great thing that was and wanted to do that here. Now I look forward to hearing from the students here.”

— Terri Leith