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Fascinating focus

By Hayli Morrison

Ask Dr. Stephen Higgs about his research in preventing insect-transmitted diseases and his eyes light up. You can see past his title as director of Kansas State University’s Biosecurity Research Institute, or his billing as an “infectious disease expert with international research experience.” It’s easy to envision him as a six-year-old in the English countryside, whose mother collected bugs for him in a matchbox as she ran errands around town.

“I was always fascinated by any sort of insect,” he said. “I had a teacher from high school who I am still in touch with. We used to breed silk moths.”

Higgs, a University Distinguished Professor, now spends his days furthering K-State’s international research partnerships and overseeing the Biosecurity Research Institute (BRI), where researchers improve food safety and security “from farm to fork.” For these daunting tasks, he is arguably the perfect person in the perfect place at the perfect time. And he might not be here without generous donations from K-State supporters like Marty Vanier and Bob Krause or Perry and Virginia Peine, who have funded endowed chairs to support the work of BRI researchers.

For K-State, such gifts make it possible to competitively recruit passionate, highly qualified leaders like Higgs, who holds the Virginia and Perry Peine Biosecurity Chair. In turn, such quality hires help enhance the reputation of the university at a time when it strives toward recognition as a top 50 public research university by 2025.

Higgs said that philanthropy is particularly useful for an organization like BRI, which touches many areas of campus, yet has no dedicated alumni group. Philanthropic gifts to the BRI can continue to help with existing needs outside the budget, such as a much-needed, on-site equipment storage building, he said.

“Recognition of the research, education and training conducted at the BRI is very important in this field,” Higgs said. “To have people like Virginia and Perry Peine or Marty and Bob realize what we can do, value our work, and help us achieve some of our goals is wonderful beyond words, really. I think it means that we are doing the right thing.”

How you can help

To learn how you can support the Biosecurity Research Institute, please contact Tresa Weaver, senior vice president for development, at 785-532-7530 or tresaw@found.ksu.edu.

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