FAU student petitions to name preserve after late faculty member

Former environmental science masters major, Alana Edwards is petitioning to name an element of FAU after former director of environmental science, Dr. Dan Austin without donations.


Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy | Business Manager

Ha’ani Sumerix, Contributing Writer

After ethno-botanist and former FAU faculty member Dan Austin suffered a fatal heart attack on Jan. 20 in Tucson, Arizona, a petition has formed to have the 90-acre preserve named in remembrance of Austin.

Alana Edwards, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of geosciences and the current coordinator of education and training for the Center for Environmental Studies, is spearheading the petition.

Austin helped establish the preserve on FAU’s campus after he told the grounds crew to stop cutting the grass in that area, according to Edwards. The preserve is located in the northwest corner of campus, encompassing the football stadium. It is now grassland and scrub that houses many endangered plants and animals — including gopher tortoises, as well as our school mascot, the burrowing owls.

But his impact stretched farther than just the preserve.

Edwards stated that he was a “very inspiring person,” and an “incredible mentor to me and every one of his students.” She shares a personal story of how Austin could make anyone feel they could accomplish anything, such as how he could make her feel excited and motivated to dive right in to her project when she was initially having trouble with her research.

She has also reached out to her former FAU students and colleagues to receive letters of support for naming the preserve after Austin.

Nicholas Aumen, a regional science advisor for the U.S. Geological Survey in South Florida, believes that Austin’s most enduring accomplishment was securing and protecting the ecological preserve on FAU’s campus and that “the preserve is a treasure for FAU and a legacy of Dan.”

Former FAU student Jill Young reminisces about how “Austin guided students through the FAU preserve, where we learned to understand and appreciate Florida’s native plant and animal life.”

Anne Cox, another former FAU student, shares that some of her fondest memories with Austin are at FAU on “field trips in the ecological  preserve area… learning plant species, how to collect research data, and the importance of the plant and animal interactions in their natural communities.”

Although Edwards has support, she is finding out that naming an element of the university is not that easy without monetary donations.

The most common way buildings are named after people is by a donation which makes a “significant contribution to the cost of the building or facility,” according to the Naming of a University element Forum.

Edwards has submitted the petition as a non-donor since Austin meets the qualifications of having “made a significant contribution to the University or to the State of Florida or to the fields of education, government, science or human betterment.”

Austin served as director of environmental science program for Florida Atlantic University from 1971 to 2001. He was a dedicated ethno botanist — someone who studies the relationship between humans and plants. His main research was on the Convolvulaceae plant family, known as Morning Glories. He was also a founding member of Florida Native Plant Society and a frequent contributor to Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.

He fought hard to maintain the preserve by criticizing plans to build the football stadium in 2000. He wrote a letter to former FAU president, Anthony Catanese, after FAU officials claimed that the stadium would “erase no more than a chunk of the tortoise territory and just three owl dens.” He even inspired his students to take action in protest against the building of the stadium, including Edwards who was finishing her last year as a student.

In between teaching, Austin traveled the world, published 35 books, wrote 100 journal papers and over 60 popular articles. He also wrote many book reviews and abstracts.

Along with the petition, Edwards is submitting a Naming of a University Element document to Dorothy Russell, FAU’s Senior Vice President of finance and administration, which will then continue on to the Executive Committee to be reviewed. If approved, it will have to be signed by the President of FAU, John Kelly, and passed on to the University Board of Trustees in order to be official.

After submitting the documentation last in February, Edwards checked for a signature of approval in March with no success. Edwards stated that in the Committee’s original reply they said that it was going to take a while to process, and that she should not “expect anything to happen quickly” with no mention as to why. Edwards is still waiting for a final reply.

Additional information:

Letters of support from former students and colleagues

Publications from Dr. Dan Austin that relate to Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, and South Florida

Publications from Dr. Dan Austin for the Palmetto, which is the quarterly publication for the Florida Native Plant Society.

Articles about Dr. Dan Austin

Article Dr. Austin wrote about FAU’s preserve