Endowment Stories - Hightower Endowment

It Planted a Seed: Hightower Endowment to Support Collection in Genetics, Fisheries, and Wildlife

It’s a family tradition that has now passed on to the next generation.

Hightower Bookplate

The Hightowers Receive Their Endowment Bookplate

Joe Hightower, a professor in NC State’s biology department, remembers as a young man watching the pleasure his mother and father would receive from the periodic letters from strangers.  Towards the beginning of each semester, they would come in, postmarked  “Athens”—from veterinary students at the University of Georgia (where Joe’s father had been a vet student himself) just starting their careers.

Each letter would, with obvious sincerity, thank the Hightowers for the support that their endowment at Georgia provided for this next generation of vets. “It planted the seed that I might like to do something like that down the road,” says this generation’s Dr. Hightower.

That seed bore fruit on July 30, 2010, in D. H. Hill Library as Joe and his wife Robin Hightower attended a ceremony to place a custom bookplate in the first book purchased with the earnings from their own gift to future students and researchers. The Joseph E. and Robin C. Hightower Collection Endowment is now in place to enrich the materials that the NCSU Libraries can provide about genetics, fisheries and wildlife.  

The First Hightower Book is Plated by Libraries Staff

The First Hightower Book is Plated by Libraries Staff

Joe and Robin first met at NC State, where they were both undergrads in the late 70’s.  Their experience on campus as young people provided another key impetus for establishing their library endowment.  “We enjoyed our time here and felt like it gave us a great start on careers that we love.  So naturally we felt we would try to give back in this way,” explains Joe in his office at the David Clark Labs, where he and three other colleagues form the NC Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and where Joe bases his studies of fish species that live in the ocean but spawn in coastal rivers. “I was able to come back and work here, and for most of my career I’ve been here.  This is our home state; our son was born here.  We just wanted to support NC State as much as we could,” adds Joe.

In addition to her undergraduate degree from NC State, Robin Hightower holds a Ph.D. in genetics and worked for Novartis and taught at Central Carolina Community College.

Dr. Hightower credits his work on the University Library Committee—especially during the economic downturn--as another strong motive for establishing the endowment:  

The members of the Committee get updates on how the library is doing, and sometimes the role of the representative is to poll department members about which journals to cut.  When you go through those hard times, you realize that the Libraries sometimes has to struggle for resources.  It made it more obvious that Robin and I could make a difference.

By design, the Hightower endowment will support the purchase of electronic materials as well as traditional books. “These days, the electronic access is critical,” Joe insists.  “Whether you are working from campus or students are working from the coast, everybody can access journal articles online—it makes a huge difference in what we can do in a given amount of time.”

The rewards Joe and Robin expect from giving back to the University are much like the rewards his father and mother received from their own philanthropy.  Joe explains:  “I like to go [to the Libraries] when classes are in session because it’s just packed.  It looks like a fun place to be, and people are learning there too. I’m excited that I can now go over and pull a book off the shelf that I need for work and it might have our bookplate in it. . . . And we’ll get periodic updates on books that have been purchased and it will be great to see the things that we’ve helped contribute to the program.”

Joe’s mother has already made a donation to the new endowment.  And it’s probably no accident that the Hightower’s son Jason--soon off to college himself--was present at the bookplating ceremony in July.  No doubt, a few decades from now the family tradition will bear still more fruit.