PULLMAN – WSU professor emeritus and former dean of the College of Sciences, Robert A. Nilan, was presented the WSU Foundation’s Outstanding Service Award during the Foundation’s President’s Associates pre-game reception before the Cougars football game Oct. 10.
As a volunteer, Nilan served on several development committees over the years, including the Museum of Art Endowment Committee, College of Sciences Campaign Committee and as co-chair of the Faculty/Staff Drive.
In addition to his strong advocacy for philanthropy at WSU, Nilan and his wife have given generously to the arts and sciences at WSU. Attracting students to WSU’s Department of Genetics and Cell Biology was at the center of Nilan and his late wife, Winona’s, decision to create the Robert A. and Winona P. Nilan Graduate Fellowship in Genetics. The fellowship has provided for travel and operational expenses for graduate students since it was established in 1996.
“Dr. Nilan has demonstrated a lifetime of generous support of and leadership in advancing WSU and the College of Sciences, the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and the Museum of Art,” said Brenda Wilson-Hale, chief executive officer of the WSU Foundation. “As a dynamic member of WSU’s faculty, his life of philanthropy, advocacy and service to the WSU community has made a profound impact on the lives of alumni, students and faculty for generations.”
Nilan arrived at WSU in 1951 as an agronomist and geneticist and became a leading international authority on barley genetics. He served as chair of the program in genetics for 12 years before becoming dean of the College of Sciences. As dean, Nilan oversaw the development of numerous programs, including statistics, environmental sciences and regional planning, zoophysiology and plant physiology, essential laboratories in bio-analysis and biotechnology, and centers of electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance.
Nilan’s worldwide recognition as an innovative plant geneticist continued to grow when he developed the high-yield Steptoe barley in 1968. His work in barley genetics earned him an appointment to the Danish Academy of Science in 1986. After stepping down as dean in 1989, Nilan was named the first Nilan Distinguished Professor in Barley Research and Education, a position created in his honor by the Washington Barley Commission. He later became coordinator of the North American barley genome mapping project. After 41 years at WSU, he retired in 1992.
In 2008, Nilan was an honored guest at the 10th International Barley Genetics Symposium in Alexandria, Egypt. This symposium series was developed by Nilan and two international colleagues while he was on sabbatical in Sweden in 1959 to 1960. He is the only barley scientist to attend and present reports at all the symposia to date, and his role in the series has helped bring worldwide attention to the WSU barley genetics and breeding program.
The WSU Foundation Outstanding Volunteer Service Awards are given annually as a public testimonial to individuals who have made outstanding singular or collective contributions in service to the WSU Foundation and WSU. Also receiving an Outstanding Volunteer Service Award in 2009 was Glenn Osterhout of Bellevue, Wash.