Belmont’s Environmental Science Program Receives $3.5 Million Boost as Bob and Judy Fisher Honor Late Son with New Endowments

NASHVILLE, TN (TN Tribune)–  In honor of the 2021 Earth Day global celebration, Belmont University announced the establishment of two Rob Fisher Endowed Funds for Environmental Science. One fund will go entirely to support scholarships for students within the University’s Environmental Science program, while the second establishes a new environmental science faculty chair as well as research and experiential learning opportunities. These funds, which collectively now stand at more than $3.5 million, were made possible by a recent lead gift from retiring Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher and his wife Judy Fisher as they seek to honor their late son Rob, a nature and conservancy advocate who passed away five years ago.
Belmont Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said, “These new endowments promise even more robust educational opportunities to our students and will further establish Belmont as a leader in the environmental science field. It comes as no surprise to me or anyone else on this campus that this gift comes from the generosity of Bob and Judy Fisher, who have consistently demonstrated their commitment to students and their dedication to be thoughtful caretakers of God’s creation.” 
 
The scholarship fund currently stands at approximately $1.5 million while the endowment to support a faculty chair is at $2 million. Belmont Assistant Professor Dr. Matthew Heard, who serves as the Environmental Science Program Coordinator, has been selected as the inaugural Chair in Environmental Science.
Dr. Bob Fisher, who is retiring at the end of May, noted, “Judy and I are so excited that Dr. Heard has accepted this role. We have both had a chance to observe his work in his time at Belmont, and his scholarship is outstanding. But what stands out the most to us is the way he gets students involved in activities outside the classroom. It’s that sort of experience that provides the spark that will ignite embedded passions that some of our students have regarding our natural environment. We speak for Rob’s sisters—Jennifer and Kelly—as well as our entire family when we say that we know that Rob celebrates this announcement with us!”
Rob Fisher spent his career working to protect and improve natural resources in his home state of Arkansas and throughout the world, serving as the executive director and co-founder of the Ecological Conservation Organization (ECO). Prior to founding ECO, Rob worked for American Rivers, Arkansas Audubon and the National Wildlife Federation. With these and other organizations, he approached his passion for conservation in a variety of fashions, from leading state and federal environmental policy programs to developing wetland restoration projects to expanding education initiatives.
His passion was inherited from his parents, longtime supporters of the environment and conservation efforts, who established Belmont’s Conservation Covenant in 2015 to model for Belmont students and the broader community the imperative to care for God’s creation. More than 50 years ago, Dr. Fisher participated in the first Earth Day events and has passionately promoted environmental stewardship ever since. Through his leadership Belmont:
  • Serves as an arboretum to preserve more than 100 species of trees and shrubs and carefully manages water usage for irrigation.
  • Constructs new buildings to LEED-certified standards, including the only LEED-platinum new construction of any university in Tennessee
  • Builds multiple green roofs totaling 55,650 square feet of natural habitat created four-to-five stories high above ground, providing homes to indigenous plant species as well as the wildlife they support, including hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, pigeon hawks and honey bees. (Fisher himself manages the bee hives.)
  • Utilizes geothermal energy and other innovative systems to heat and cool parts of campus
  • Creates more than 4,200 underground parking spaces beneath buildings, limiting the architectural footprint of campus growth while also maintaining natural environments
  • Installed Solar Array on Curb Event Center Arena which generates 245KwHrs reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 223 metric tons
  • Received numerous awards for conservation efforts including Governor’s Environmental Stewardship AwardTrane Energy Efficiency Leader Award and a Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
Dr. Heard, a Belmont faculty member since 2017, has been the recipient of two recent National Science Foundation grants focused on helping students to engage in field-based research in remote settings during the COVID-19 pandemic and to integrate environmental data into undergraduate teaching and research programs. His work is frequently published in peer reviewed journals and conservation magazines. He also serves on the board of the Association of Southeastern Biologists and the Ecological Research as Education Network. Heard has an undergraduate degree in Ecology and French from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. from Brown University in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.
“Being asked to serve as the Rob Fisher Endowed Chair is a humbling and exciting opportunity,” said Heard. “I am so grateful to be able to honor the legacy of Rob, and the entire Fisher family, who have always been committed to helping Belmont students see the value in the environment and in giving back to their community. This award is also a transformative opportunity that will help with new program development, expansion of experiential education and service-learning opportunities in Nashville and beyond, and allow for the pursuit of exciting interdisciplinary research. In short, this endowment will help create an exciting new chapter for the environmental sciences at Belmont.”