When many people think about bugs, they think about the creepy crawlies invading homes or flying around them on sticky, midsummer nights. When John Morse, professor emeritus of entomology at Clemson University, thinks of insects, he thinks of a future where understanding biodiversity helps save the world.
Morse earned his master’s degree from Clemson in 1970. While there, he also married his wife, Suzanne. Not only his partner in marriage, Suzanne partnered with Morse to help fund an endowed chair position in Clemson’s entomology department through her family’s foundation, the W. C. English Foundation.
“When I first presented this opportunity to my sisters, they were gung-ho about it. We had not gotten into supporting education before,” Suzanne said.
During his time as a professor, Morse realized that private support would be necessary for the future of some departments, including his own. Entomology has a strong history at Clemson, and it’s about more than collecting bugs; it’s about biodiversity and helping protect the environment.
Morse had seen firsthand how insects could be useful in studying the environment. Through his work with caddisflies, he helped create a knowledge base that could use these creatures to evaluate water pollution.
“Among universities surrounding this Southern Appalachian area, Clemson is the one that has shown the most enthusiasm for emphasizing its rich biodiversity,” Morse said. He wanted to ensure that Clemson could continue to do that and decided giving back through establishing a faculty endowment would be the best way.
“When a really dynamic and creative world-stature scholar comes to campus, they are able to do the kinds of things that donors outside the university may not understand, to inspire students, serve public needs and garner financial support for research. Faculty have a better understanding of where the bang for the buck happens,” explained Morse.
“That’s what ‘Clemson Forever’ means to us — endowments because those funds are used in perpetuity and go on and on,” Suzanne said. And their endowment will continue on, even beyond Clemson. Their donation enabled them to bring Michael Caterino to Clemson to replace Morse and contribute to work that will help South Carolinians in their daily lives.
Former Schlinger Foundation Chair of Entomology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Caterino is globally recognized for his expertise in a group of beetles called Histeridae, of which there are numerous species in the Southeast. His knowledge will help document and inventory beetles across South Carolina and Southern Appalachia.
“This work of baseline biodiversity will tell us what species are here and what might still be arriving — invasive species like the Emerald Ashborer,” explained Caterino. “These inventories can uncover species that can damage natural ecosystems, forests, and gardens, while also revealing beneficial species that help to control many of the detrimental ones.” Understanding these pests means ending the damage and preventing future problems as well.
Caterino cares about more than just beetles though. He cares that students understand and learn so that they can go on to accomplish great things in biodiversity.
“I was in a fantastic position in Santa Barbara, but I missed the interactions with students. I wanted to be in a place where I would be sharing what I love about entomology with others,” Caterino said. This means sharing how insects can make lives easier, the same way Morse shared how Caddisflies could monitor water pollution, or teaching how to combat some of the worst pests, like the infamous boll weevil.
“Knowing that I’m continuing in the legacy of someone as well-known and respected as Dr. Morse is really an honor,” Caterino said. “Because of his gift of the endowed chair position, we know what we do here is always going to be preserved and protected.”