Gift establishes O'Connor Graduate Student Research Award

A friendship formed over a mutual fascination with fossils led Roy O’Connor, a KU alumnus, to establish a fund in honor of Leonard “Kris” Krishtalka, the former director of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. Krishtalka, who is also a paleontologist, retired in December 2020 after leading the Biodiversity Institute for 25 years.

The O’Connor Graduate Student Award Fund, established with a $100,000 gift from O’Connor, will provide research support for graduate students studying in the KU Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology who are mentored by Biodiversity Institute scientists and curators. These students work on faculty research in labs across the Biodiversity Institute, conduct their own research and often teach. The fund, administered by KU Endowment, will support the students’ own research efforts by covering the cost of supplies, travel and conference fees, food for expeditions and other expenses.

O’Connor was a frequent visitor to the KU Natural History Museum during his time as a student. A few years ago, he connected with Dr. Krishtalka and the two began a friendship which grew to include fossil hunts in O’Connor’s home state of Montana, where KU vertebrate paleontology digs have also taken place.
“I hope this fund will offer support to graduate students with similar interests that Kris has, and will allow them to follow their dreams,” O’Connor said.