Thomas A. Plein scholarship helps MSU graduate students


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Posted: 8/29/2014


More scholarships are available in 2014 for Mississippi State University students who plan careers in waterfowl management and wetland conservation.

The Thomas A. Plein Endowed Graduate Student Scholarship was established in 2011 and is one of the largest graduate student scholarships in the MSU College of Forest Resources. Over the last three years, the Thomas A. Plein Foundation has increased the funding for this scholarship to more than $75,000.

The scholarship helps further the mission of the MSU waterfowl and wetlands conservation program endowed by James C. Kennedy, a long-time conservationist and philanthropist.

Richard Kaminski, holder of the James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation, said the scholarship tremendously benefits the program.

"MSU has been a leader in waterfowl and wetlands research and conservation for the past 30 years. In 2008, that program was sustained in perpetuity through the generosity of James C. Kennedy," Kaminski said. "In late 2011, the Thomas A. Plein Foundation, an organization that shares our passion for waterfowl and wetlands conservation, approached MSU to offer a generous gift to help augment the program."

Eligible graduate students research waterfowl and wetlands ecology and conservation, have strong academic backgrounds and have served in some capacity with Ducks Unlimited Inc.

This year's student recipients are Joe Lancaster and Joe Marty. Lancaster is a doctoral student who studies habitat use and survival of mallard ducks wintering in the Mississippi Delta. Marty is a doctoral student evaluating the use of waste rice and moist-soil seeds in harvested rice and fallow fields as a food source for waterfowl wintering in the coastal prairies in Louisiana and Texas.

The first scholarship recipient was Justyn Foth, a doctoral student evaluating the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service's Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, which was founded in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"All recipients are outstanding students dedicated to furthering waterfowl and wetland science and conservation," Kaminski said. "These individuals are deserving scholars, and the Plein scholarship contribution has a major impact on each of them and the program as a whole."

The Plein Foundation was established in the 1980s by Thomas A. Plein of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, whose family owned 7-Up bottling plants in Oshkosh and other Midwestern cities. Plein established the foundation as a way of bringing the families of his siblings closer together.

"My uncle set up the foundation as a way to allow family members to leave a family legacy through their own family grant giving," said Steve Plein, who serves on the foundation's board and is the nephew of Thomas Plein. "I grew up duck hunting with my grandfather and have a steadfast passion for waterfowl and wetland conservation. As an avid supporter of Ducks Unlimited, I sought to establish a scholarship aligned with that organization."

Because of the Plein Foundation's giving criteria, Ducks Unlimited recommended that Steve Plein set up a scholarship at MSU, a university known for its waterfowl and wetland conservation program and close work with Ducks Unlimited.

"In fact, many MSU alumni are Ducks Unlimited employees across the United States and Canada," Kaminski added.

"Our foundation has four categories of giving criteria: the Catholic church, health and financial need, education and other interests," Steve Plein said. "By choosing both education and Ducks Unlimited, which falls under the category of other interests, we were able to make a larger contribution. My wife and I also understand what it's like to pursue degrees on a limited income, so it is very meaningful for us to give back in this manner."

Jeff Little, the director of development for the College of Forest Resources, said endeavors such as the Plein Endowed Graduate Student Scholarship and the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation are paramount to the overall mission of individual programs and the university as a whole.

"As a land-grant institution, natural resources conservation has always been a top priority at MSU," Little said. "MSU was already home to one of the top waterfowl and wetlands programs in North America, and with the Thomas A. Plein Foundation's gifts, we are making sure that MSU's stature grows permanently."

The Plein Foundation's philanthropic endeavors help dozens of nonprofit entities, including several educational institutions, on a national and global scale.

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