Fellowship will support students studying bear behavior

PULLMAN, Wash. – A new fellowship will continue the work of a Washington State University graduate student who was focused on making bears happy in captivity.

Keen outside the WSU grizzly bears enclosure.

The Heidi Anne Keen Memorial Fellowship for Bear Behavior and Cognition has been established in honor of the WSU animal sciences doctoral candidate who passed away in August 2013. The fellowship, established by Keen’s mother, Mitzi Crall, will provide support for graduate students focused on bear research.

“There are many aspects of animal welfare that are impacted by the work Heidi has done. It reaches far beyond grizzly bears,” said Crall. “This endowment will build on her legacy by helping support others who want to conduct research focused on improving the quality of life for animals in captivity. This is something she was very, very passionate about.”

Evaluating animal enjoyment

Keen conducted research at the WSU Bear Center and was developing a new system for evaluating what experiences bears find enjoyable. She spent hundreds of hours training and interacting with the bears to gain an understanding of their responses to standard cues and different types of activities.

“Heidi felt that one of the common methods used to evaluate an animal’s state of mind was neither helpful nor humane in that it used both positive and negative (punishment) rewards,” said Charles Robbins, director of the WSU Bear Center. “She developed a system that used only positive rewards by varying the amount of the reward from high to low.”

Illness contributions become fellowship foundation

Keen died unexpectedly after a brief illness in 2013 as she was preparing for the last semester of her doctoral program. During her illness, many people, including Robbins, made generous contributions to assist with what was believed would be a long recovery. Keen’s family decided to use the donations as a foundation for funding the endowment.

“She was a wonderful person that, even as a graduate student, was a valued colleague,” said Robbins. “She gave freely of herself to help everyone, and she was absolutely brilliant. This endowment serves as a lasting reminder of all that she planned to accomplish in her life, and it will continue her research.”

Keen was awarded her doctoral degree posthumously in 2014.

“She would be proud to know that her work will continue and that animals will live better lives because of it,” said Crall.

Donations welcome

The first fellowships funded by the endowment will be awarded in the spring for the 2015-16 school year. Contributions to the endowment can be made through the WSU Foundation at https://secure.wsu.edu/give/default.aspx?fund=4491.