Martin Jischke, President, (515) 294-2042
Tom Mitchell, ISU Foundation, (515) 294-4607
Colin Scanes, Agriculture, (515) 294-1823
John McCarroll, University Relations, (515) 294-6137


AMES, Iowa -- A $10 million gift will establish the first endowed research center in Iowa State University’s new Plant Sciences Institute.

The gift from Norma Baker of Los Angeles, Calif., will create the Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics. Baker made the gift in memory of her late husband, Laurence, a 1954 Iowa State graduate.

Baker’s contribution — made as part of the ISU Foundation's Campaign Destiny: To Become the Best — also will create the Laurence H. Baker Chair in Agricultural Statistics, the first endowed faculty chair in the department of statistics. A classroom in Snedecor Hall, the department's current home, will be named in the donor's honor.

The ISU Plant Sciences Institute consists of a group of research centers that focus on a variety of areas in the plant sciences, including bioinformatics, plant genomics, designer crops and gene research. The institute was recently approved by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and has received more than $2 million in funding from the Iowa Legislature over the past two years.

"This gift from Norma Baker continues this family's remarkable history of generosity for and involvement with Iowa State University," said ISU President Martin Jischke when he announced the gift Oct. 16 at the inaugural colloquium for the Plant Sciences Institute. "Her leadership gift to endow the Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics and to create a chair in agricultural statistics supports one of the most important scientific areas of our emerging Plant Sciences Institute — the merging of statistics and computer science with genetic research."

"This gift was a family decision to honor a loving husband and father and to help Iowa State, the place where Larry first realized that he had a real talent in statistics and genetics. The Plant Sciences Institute is a bold vision, and if Larry were alive today, he would be one of its strongest advocates," said Norma Baker, who is active in children's charities through her church and the Forest Home Women’s Auxiliary in California.

Laurence Baker was born in Des Moines in 1933. He received a B.S. degree in genetics and a minor in statistics from Iowa State. Baker went on to build a successful career focused on developing computer systems for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, the California State University system and many other businesses and institutions. He died in December 1982 from injuries suffered in a fall. (See attached biography.)

With Norma Baker's gift, the Baker family continues a legacy of giving to Iowa State. Norma's brother-in-law, Lee Baker, and her son, Joe, are both ISU Foundation Governors. Joe and his sister, Marcia Baker Duncan, a physical therapist from Orange County, Calif., also are members of the Baker Council, an advisory group for the Department of Agronomy in the College of Agriculture.

"Iowa State has always been a central part of our family," said Joe Baker. "Growing up, I remember all the interactions with Iowa State faculty members and international students. It was just part of our lives. When we visit campus, it's like attending a family reunion."

The Laurence H. Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics is one of eight research centers that will constitute the ISU Plant Sciences Institute. It will provide technical analyses and interpretation of a rapidly accumulating "mountain of data on thousands of genes," said Colin Scanes, executive associate dean of the College of Agriculture and interim director of the institute. (See attached fact sheet.)

"It's an extraordinary time for the university and the state," said Jim Cornette, professor of mathematics and director of the Baker Center for Bioinformatics and Biological Statistics. "In the past two years, several ISU faculty have been building an infrastructure of communications among many biological, mathematics and computer scientists on campus."

The holder of the Laurence H. Baker Chair in Agricultural Statistics will lead collaborative research in the biological sciences, said Dean Isaacson, professor and head, department of statistics.

Isaacson explained that as a new unit of specialization within the department, bioinformatics integrates the study of statistics with the biological sciences such as agronomy, botany and genetics.

Statistics has been an integral part of agricultural research at Iowa State since the early 1900s when George W. Snedecor arrived on campus. Since then, collaboration has expanded to include researchers throughout campus.

Current areas of emphases include agricultural statistics, engineering statistics, environmental statistics and survey sampling. These and other research areas have led to national prominence for the department, which was ranked in the top quartile as a doctoral program in the current report of the National Research Council, Isaacson said.

"The new unit in bioinformatics will expand learning and research opportunities for both our students and faculty members," he added. "Through the Baker Chair in Agricultural Statistics, we will be able to recruit a gifted researcher with national or international stature. The chairholder will have expertise in statistics relating to the biological sciences, particularly bioinformatics or genomics."

"The Plant Sciences Institute will bring together the best minds in the world in a collaborative program of academic, government and private sector research and technology transfer," said Scanes. "This academic collaboration requires a similar partnering of public and private funds."

The total funding goal for the institute is $400 million over the next 10 years. The private fund-raising goal is $100 million.

"Campaign Destiny, the largest fund-raising effort in ISU history, continues in its final year to raise crucial dollars for university priority projects," said Tom Mitchell, president, ISU Foundation. "The campaign has been the most successful in ISU history and we are grateful for the record-setting support provided by ISU alumni and friends."

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