In 1969, a University of Texas graduate joined the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Colorado State University. That professor would spend most of the next five decades at Colorado State, eventually in the Department of Biology we know today. During his time, like most faculty, Professor Steve Stack assumed a variety of roles including adviser, teacher, mentor, committee member, researcher, Chair of the Cell and Molecular Biology Program, and Assistant Chair of the Biology Department. He would see the department, the university and the city change rapidly, ushering in a new era of science and technology.
Dr. Steve Stack retired in May 2016. The Biology Department celebrates his time at the university, thanking him and honoring his service and investment in the faculty, staff, and students.
As a cytogeneticist, Dr. Stack is known for his extensive research on the structure of chromosomes and genetic recombination. This “old-school” genetic information was critical to the more modern sequencing and assembly of the tomato genome. This achievement was recognized with the 2014 Secretary’s Honor Award for Increasing Global Food Supply from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Stack spent many years teaching developmental biology, genetics, and cytogenetics. He genuinely embraced the education and outreach missions of this land-grant university and its support for higher education. As a botanist, he also appreciated the university’s dedication to agriculture and the plant sciences.
As a teacher, Dr. Stack was influential in upgrading our genetics curriculum, working closely with Dr. A.S.N. Reddy who adds: “He is an incredibly gifted teacher with a genuine passion for teaching. As a leading plant geneticist, he always brought his own research stories and a lot of enthusiasm into the classroom, presenting thought-provoking lectures with the latest developments. He had high expectations for students, and he masterfully helped them to meet those goals. He inspired and positively impacted thousands during his illustrious career as a teacher in genetics and other courses. It was an honor to co-teach genetics with him for about 15 years. He was also a great mentor to faculty colleagues, including me. On a personal note, he is one of the nicest persons that I know.”
In describing his time at CSU, Dr. Stack repeats how much satisfaction he gained and what a privilege it was spend his career as a student and teacher. For more than four decades, he worked almost all weekdays, most nights, and most weekends – because there was so much to do and he loved what he was doing, he says. He calls it a privilege to spend time as a student, and teaching is his repayment to the community. Stack’s passion and love for biology are evident in his own words: “I’ve never been bored!”
When asked what advice he has for faculty and students, he replies that undergraduates should pursue a broad education and not get too hung-up on practical and specialized courses. That can come later at work and/or in graduate school. The biggest benefit is for students to become broadly educated, he says. Students who are science majors should still take as many liberal arts classes as possible. And, he adds, liberal arts majors should also take as many science classes as possible. To him, this makes the world a more interesting and understandable place in which to live – and makes us all better spouses, parents, employees, and bosses. This also transforms students into better citizens of a democracy, which depends on an educated electorate for informed decisions. Graduate students need to read in their research area extensively, work hard in the lab or in the field, take good notes, and think critically about their research, he says. Faculty should work hard and enjoy the pursuit of new knowledge and teaching in association with bright colleagues and students.
Dr. Stack is a unique character who will be remembered fondly around the department. Dr. Pat Bedinger recalls this about him, from fieldwork in South America to collect wild tomato varieties: “Steve is a gifted story-teller. When we were traveling in Peru, it became a competition each morning to get the seat next to Steve for our long van rides into the mountains. Whoever sat next to Steve spent the day laughing – which to me was a double blessing – listening to Steve’s delightful stories also meant that I was not being terrified by the extremely steep terrain as we bounced along!”
It has truly been an honor to have Dr. Stack in the biology department. His long-term investment in faculty, students, and research changed the department, always for the better. We wish him and his wife Carolyn (a retired elementary school teacher) all the best in their next adventures!