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#GivingPack: Getting (and Keeping) the N.C. PSI Rolling

Stephen Briggs, the launch director who helped make the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative a reality shares his vision for the initiative’s future and why he’s contributing financially to help realize it.

Stephen and Vicki Briggs
Stephen and Vicki Briggs are supporting the North Carolina Plant Sciences on NC State's 2024 Day of Giving.

Stephen Briggs became the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative’s launch director when the effort was little more than a dream for North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. For four years, he raised funds, oversaw the construction of a $160 million building and helped kickstart early interdisciplinary research that made the initiative much more than thoughts on paper.

Today, the Plant Sciences Initiative, with headquarters at NC State, uses interdisciplinary research and collaboration with government, industry and academia to solve grand challenges in agriculture and the environment in North Carolina and beyond. 

Although Briggs retired in 2021 from what he called a dream job, he hasn’t stepped away from the initiative or the university. On NC State’s Day of Giving 2024, he and his wife of 46 years, Vicki, are giving back to the initiative.

We talked with Briggs recently about his gift, what he hopes it’ll do, and what he envisions for the N.C. PSI’s future.

What led you and Vicki to decide to give again to the initiative, this time financially?

I’m very humbled and honored to have been selected as the leader to start the game off. I was able to get a glimpse of what these faculty members could really accomplish if they coalesced around the vision of interdisciplinarity, and that would be game changing.

My efforts as the launch director have evolved into wanting to support the funding that’s critical to running the programs. It’s one thing to build the building, and we’re thankful to the General Assembly and taxpayers, the Golden LEAF Foundation and the North Carolina Farm Bureau and everybody who stepped forward and helped us fund the building, but it takes a good size chunk of money to do research and to put on seminars and to attract and retain great faculty.

So I think that’s where my heart and Vicki’s heart are — we want to start the ball rolling for others, recognizing that the funding apparatus for research and other activities needs to be an ongoing effort.

What do you hope your gift leads to?

Our gift is to help Director Adrian Percy and the management staff build programs for the Plant Sciences Initiative. It’s just a small token that we hope will contribute to something big. I hope it leads to others recognizing the need for continued funding for the mission of the Plant Science Initiative and ongoing support that the PSI can use to do great things and attract and retain great students and faculty.

It is through fundraising that we are able to do so much more. I witnessed that firsthand, and it was inspiring. That’s why I remain invested in the success of the PSI.

Also, selfishly, we have seven grandchildren, and I’m indoctrinating them on NC State colors and sports, and I’m hoping one or some of them will take the journey along the science route – and maybe plant science and then someday maybe even work in that building that I helped get built.

Seeing how the Plant Sciences Initiative has evolved today, what makes you proud?

I’ll wander through the building every once in a while, and it makes me happy to see people there and science happening, the different events and seminars that they’re sponsoring and how they are engaging students and also the local farm community.

So it’s mainly the people who make me proud of the PSI. Geoff Bock, the director of operations, has been there since the inception. Geoff was employee number one in the PSI, and I was employee number two. I’ve watched Geoff grow professionally and personally and really embrace his leadership role now in the PSI.

And for NC State to attract a quality executive director like Adrian Percy has just been tremendous. Adrian is a recognized, world renowned leader in agriculture, so that makes me happy. I’d also say the platform directors … are excelling with the PSI. That excites me.

It’s fun, too, to look back and see all that’s happening and to see students moving out into the community, getting jobs, being ambassadors for the PSI and emerging as leaders in their own right.

What do you hope for the N.C. PSI’s future?

I hope the future brings recognition of the great science going on and continued collaboration — not only interdisciplinary collaboration on campus, but also collaboration with other plant science centers around the world. From a global perspective, there are so many opportunities for PSI to do interdisciplinary work that ultimately helps feed the world while benefiting farmers and our state economy here in North Carolina.