Faculty mentor Greg Florant inspires Richter family to give back to CSU

From left: Tracie Florant, Greg Florant, Melanie Richter, Chris Richter and William Richter, at the College of Natural Sciences Scholarship Luncheon, Oct. 15, 2015.

Back in 2004, Melanie Richter was a sophomore biology major at CSU, and she asked Professor of Biology Greg Florant for a job in his lab. She wanted to learn how to become a scientist.

Melanie showed a “fire in her belly,” Florant recalled. Bringing her aboard, he proceeded to do everything a good faculty mentor does – things that often go unnoticed by the outside world. He helped her explore new research questions, taught her about reliable scientific results, reviewed papers, refined ideas, wrote letters of recommendation. He was interested in her goals, and helped her see them through.

While working in Florant’s lab, Melanie became interested in comparative animal physiology and focused on ground squirrels for her research projects. Fast forward to today, and she’s a full-fledged Ph.D. from the University of Alaska.

A gift inspired by gratitude

Melanie, who graduated from CSU’s College of Natural Sciences in 2007, and her family never forgot Florant’s dedication to helping Melanie begin a career in science. In gratitude, Bill and Chris Richter, Melanie’s parents, have recently established a planned gift to fund future undergraduate fellowships. It is called the Richter and Florant Fellowship in Biology.

“Our decision to form this endowment came from a love of education,” Chris Richter said. “We decided CSU offers such great opportunities and has such caring professors, it could do good things for the future.”

Supporting first-generation students

The Richters themselves did not graduate from college, but they want other first-generation college students like Melanie to be able to. “Our hope is to help provide and subsidize funds to first-generation undergraduate biology students interested in pursuing research who, without financial assistance, would not be able to accomplish their long-term goals,” Chris Richter said.

The fellowship, which is written into the Richters’ will, is designed to support a sophomore, junior or senior researcher in a lab. The gift is structured to be renewed every year, in the hopes that a promising student entering a lab as a sophomore, like Melanie did, could conceivably have research support for the rest of their undergraduate studies.

Honored, flabbergasted

Florant said he was honored, and “somewhat flabbergasted” by the Richters’ gift.

“This is the job of a professor. We take the clay and mold it into something that wasn’t there before.” And then he laughs, “Hopefully for the better!”

“We’re all proud of the work Dr. Florant does in our department,” said Mike Antolin, chair of the biology department. “This is just a great example of where mentoring a promising student brought unexpected dividends that will help other students be successful.”