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K-State Today

January 25, 2012

Friends of the prairie: Couple's gift supports educational programming for kids on Konza

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A gift by a Manhattan couple will help support educational programming for children at the Konza Prairie Biological Station and honor a longtime environmental educator.

Karen and Steve Hummel, Manhattan, have established the Valerie Wright Legacy Fund with the Kansas State University Foundation to provide financial assistance to the Konza Environmental Education Program, also known as KEEP. The Hummels, both university alums and Konza Prairie docents, made their gift as a way to honor Valerie Wright, who is retiring after serving as the prairie's environmental education for 15 years.

The Konza Environmental Educational Program offers school-age children special opportunities for scientific discoveries.

"Valerie has been instrumental in developing KEEP's infrastructure and implementing the scientific and educational programs," Steve Hummel said. "It was very important to us that we do something to recognize her efforts before she retired."

The Hummels have established the fund with a $2,000 donation and are challenging Manhattan and the surrounding communities to provide additional contributions. As an incentive, the Hummels have agreed to match new donations up to an additional $3,000.

"We are both very fond of the prairie and realize its importance in environmental preservation," Karen Hummel said. "The education programs that are conducted on Konza are very important in getting the kids out on the land, learning scientific methods and learning about nature firsthand. This fund will support the continuation of those activities while continuing Valerie's legacy."

Total donations must reach the $6,250 minimum required by the foundation for the Valerie Wright Legacy Fund to be established as an expendable fund. The Hummels and John Briggs, Konza Prairie director and professor in the university's Division of Biology, hope to raise more than $25,000 so the fund may be transferred into an endowed account that would be eligible for gained interest.

Kansas State University and the Nature Conservancy jointly own the Konza Prairie Biological Station, and the university's Division of Biology manages it.

"The station has a threefold mission of long-term ecological research, education and prairie conversation," Briggs said. "The KEEP program is essential to our education mission, and a large portion of its funding comes from the private sector. This gift is an appropriate way to honor Valerie's extreme dedication to Konza Prairie Biological Station and especially KEEP."

Under Wright's guidance, the environmental education program has reached more than 20,000 students, and it has trained 231 Konza Prairie docents and 48 Kansas teachers since its establishment by Wright in 1996. Wright also has developed Konza Prairie educational kits that meet state educational standards in many areas, including science, math and physical education, and she has delivered them to every school in USD 383.

"Valerie's work has a multiplier effect," Karen Hummel said. "She develops and implements programs to train school teachers and docents who, in turn, share information about the prairie and environmental conservation with other adults and children."

Wright said she is excited about the generous gift from the Hummels.

"How do you thank somebody for doing something so wonderful and important? It is amazing that they can think about the future of the program, the importance in this kind of education and can go forward and make it happen. It is comforting to know that KEEP is going to have a bright future," Wright said.

Jill Haukos, Wright's successor as environmental educator, began Jan. 23. She has a bachelor's degree from South Dakota State University in wildlife and fisheries management and a master's degree from Texas Tech University in zoology-environmental education. Wright will work with Haukos throughout the next year to transition her into the position.

Contributions can be made to the Valerie Wright Legacy Fund at http://www.found.ksu.edu. Select "give now" at the top of the page and designate the gift to the Valerie Wright Legacy Fund by typing the fund's account number, F40760, under "other" at the bottom of the gift designation list. Contributions also may be sent by check to the KSU Foundation, 2323 Anderson Ave. Suite 500, Manhattan, KS 66502-2911, with the account number, F40760, in the memo, or send a note stating that it should be designated to the Valerie Wright Legacy Fund.

For more information about the Konza Environmental Education Program and docent program, visit http://keep.konza.ksu.edu.