PULLMAN, Wash. – Just 18 months after her premature death from cancer in December 2010, Washington State University graduate student Virginia Gale Lee’s dream of making a difference in the world is beginning to come true.
Friends, family and colleagues of Lee gathered Thursday evening to honor her memory with the second annual Dr. Virginia Lee “Change the World” Fellowship Fundraiser. The event raised nearly $5,000, bringing the fellowship endowment to $80,000, more than half of the university’s goal for the fund.
In addition, Kim Kidwell, a former WSU spring wheat breeder and now an associate dean in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, and Michael Pumphrey, WSU’s current spring wheat breeder, announced that the newest wheat variety developed by the spring wheat breeding program will be named “Glee” in Lee’s honor. Glee is a hard red spring wheat that features a combination of high yield potential and excellent disease resistance. WSU Professor Michael Neff baked bread using Glee flour and served it at the fundraiser.
“In the past year and a half, Dr. Lee has had a profound and positive impact on the Molecular Plant Sciences Graduate Program, the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and Washington State University,” Kidwell said. “Virginia’s focus on changing the world has been a reminder to all of us that what we do helps many people in many places live better lives.”
Pumphrey agreed. Virginia worked with him while studying resistance to globally important rust diseases of wheat including the stem rust pathogen Ug99. Her research interests focused on using plant breeding and genetics to improve crop productivity and stability in developing nations.
“Virginia was passionate about contributing to an improved quality of life for all,” he said. “Her pursuit of scientific research with direct application to increasing sustainable crop production was a first step toward her much broader goals. We are delighted to name a wheat variety in a way that captures her spirit and enthusiasm.”
Lee was awarded a doctoral degree in Molecular Plant Sciences from WSU just days before her death on Dec. 31, 2010.
“She was awarded the Ph.D. degree because of her potential as a scientist, her commitment to making a difference in this world, and the tremendous impact she has already had on plant science education at WSU, “ Kidwell said. She announced that the first recipient of the fellowship named for Lee – Megan Lewien – will begin her Ph.D. studies in crop sciences on the Pullman campus this fall.