Graduate student Casey wins state, national Garden Club scholarships

Fort Hays State University's Patrick Allen Casey, McCracken graduate student, won both the Kansas Associated Garden Club Scholarship and the National Garden Club Scholarship for the 2007-2008 academic year.   

"This accomplishment is definitely a first time for us, and maybe for all of Kansas, for a student to win both," said Dr. Joe Thomasson, professor of biological sciences.

Kansas Associated Garden Clubs Inc. awards a $1,000 scholarship to one Kansas student each year and then enters one applicant into the National Garden Club Scholarship competition. The national club scholarship is $3,500.

As an undergraduate, Casey studied biology with an emphasis in botany. His bachelor's degree is in biology.  

"Most of the classes I'm taking as a graduate are range-ecology and range-management oriented," said Casey, "but my thesis project is wetlands, which is kind of a separate entity."

Casey works as a teaching assistant for the Department of Biological Sciences and teaches genetics lab and a biology lab for non-majors. He has also taught basic biology lab.

"In the summertime I do what is called the Natural Resources Inventory Range Field Study. There are multiple sites in the state on private rangeland that we go sample for vegetation, soil erosion, cattle grazing and conservation practices. They are randomly scattered throughout the state. For the last four years I have done that. My first summer I did it in Montana and every year after that has been in Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska."
"That's the main source of funding for college," he said.

Requirements for the scholarships include written essays and a description of the student's research project, which the scholarship money helps fund. The scholarship money is divided among the recipient's tuition, books and research project.  

"My actual project is on local wetland flora and water here in Ellis County. That was the focus of my proposal," said Casey. "I needed funding to complete my research and if I get the funding it can broaden what I'm looking at."

A wetland is an area that is saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support vegetation that is adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.

Wetlands perform many functions that result in successful and healthy ecosystems. The importance of wetlands includes water quality, wildlife habitat and hydrologic processes.

Casey is performing a comparison of two local wetlands, which are both streams that flow through pastures about four and five miles north of the feedlot northwest of Hays. One of these streams drains into the Saline River and the other into Big Creek.

"What I'm looking at is vegetation differences amongst either one of them," said Casey. "One of them has a fresh water fen-mat floating marsh, which is basically a layer of grass floating on top of super saturated soil. The layer acts similar to a waterbed if you were to jump on it. That was the interesting part. I found the other one, which was relatively close, to do a comparison of the different hydrology and vegetation. I am also conducting isotope testing to see if most of the water in either wetland is from ground water coming up out of the ground or from local runoff coming from upstream or both."

National Garden Clubs Inc. is the largest volunteer gardening organization in the world. Since 1929, it has provided members with educational opportunities in all aspects of gardening and floral design. The organization aids in the protection and conservation of natural resources, promotes civic beautification and encourages the improvement of roadsides and parks.

National Garden Clubs awarded 34 scholarships for the academic year of 2007-2008, each in the amount of $3,500.

"That money is going to be partially what helps pay for the isotope testing and equipment and materials I need," said Casey.

Kansas Associated Garden Clubs Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 1926. It is a statewide organization with community clubs located throughout the state. KAGC has been a member of National Garden Clubs Inc. since 1931.

Casey is considering his career options.

"I've considered possibly working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, cattle grazing -- they also do some spring developments and some water shed or water quality issues -- or maybe the Kansas Department of Health and Environment," said Casey. "Another graduate student and I are thinking about even starting our own company conducting environmental status and quality surveys."

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