Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

An endowed scholarship to sustain freshwater systems

Eric Gakstatter, John Gauthier, Jack and Susanne Gakstatter
Earth Sciences undergraduate and scholarship recipient John Gauthier (second from left) with some of the Gakstatter family, who endowed a scholarship that will support his studies in freshwater systems. Family members include Eric (far left) and Jack and Susanne Gakstatter.

Jack Gakstatter spent the bulk of his career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), studying how pollution impacts streams, lakes and estuaries. He witnessed seminal moments in the environmental movement that shaped his research: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (largely credited with inciting the ban on the insecticide DDT), the start of the EPA itself, and the establishment of the Clean Water Act. Throughout the decades, he published papers and reports on everything from how land use affects nutrients in streams to insecticide uptake within aquatic organisms. And though he has been retired for 17 years, Jack is still passionate about his work, even throwing around familiar freshwater terms such as “large woody debris” or LWD.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jack’s son Eric (B.S. ’87) wanted to establish a scholarship to honor his father’s legacy. As an OSU alumnus, Eric had a vision of supporting undergraduate students studying freshwater systems, so that a budding scientist might have a career as fruitful as his father’s. After nearly two years of planning, Eric and his brother Jeff (B.S. ’82) announced to their parents that they had made a pledge to the OSU Foundation to establish the Dr. Jack H. and Susanne Gakstatter Scholarship Fund, an endowed gift that will support students of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS) in perpetuity.

“We sprung it on them just a few months ago,” says Eric. “We wanted to do something that honors our parents but is also going to live on beyond our years.”

When Jack learned about the endowed scholarship, he said it was a wonderful surprise. “I felt good about it,” he says. He felt so good about it, that he and his wife Susanne decided to match Eric and Jeff’s contributions to the endowment.

In late fall, some of the Gakstatter family gathered on the Oregon State campus to meet the first recipient of their endowed scholarship: John Gauthier, a second-year CEOAS student studying earth sciences.

Gauthier grew up in southern California and was surrounded by water scarcity. “Coming from a region that isn’t water rich, I have a real understanding of how bad it can get, and how important proper management and allocation is,” he says.

With a strong background in geology and a few years in the oil and gas business behind him, Gauthier decided to come to Oregon State and study earth sciences. The flexibility of the degree allowed him to focus his studies on river restoration and conservation.

When it rains, it pours

On the heels of the Dr. Jack H. and Susanne Gakstatter Scholarship Fund, OSU alumnus Bill and his wife Jane Jackson established a fellowship fund to support graduate students in the OSU Water Resources Graduate Program. Now, both undergraduate and graduate students studying diverse aspects of the water system will have funds available to enhance their research and education. As they say, when it rains, it pours.

“I really recognize the value of clean, pristine, protected and preserved natural spaces,” he says. “The support of the Gakstatter family will assist me greatly and allow me to focus on my studies. As the first in my family to attend college, I feel a great sense of pride in accepting the scholarship.”

Gauthier may soon be following close behind Jack Gakstatter’s career. Gauthier just interviewed with the U.S. Forest Service to work on the south fork of the McKenzie River, doing floodplain restoration. When hearing about the work, Jack showed both interest and a deep concern for river restoration. Both donor and scholar exchanged ideas about the importance of habitat complexity in sustaining healthy waterways.

“If we pollute and diminish our freshwater systems, it will ultimately end up hurting us,” Gauthier says.

Given Jack Gakstatter’s long career in studying streams and other freshwater ecosystems, it’s fair to say that he would agree.

To support this or other donor-supported scholarships at CEOAS, please visit ceoas.oregonstate.edu/alumni/ and click on Make a Gift.

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