Regents Medal honors irrigation pioneer Robert B. Daugherty
The University of Nebraska’s most prestigious award, the Regents Medal, was presented July 15 in honor of the late Robert B. Daugherty of Omaha, the legendary irrigation pioneer and founder of Valmont Industries Inc. whose charitable foundation provided a $50 million gift last year to establish the university’s global Water for Food Institute.

President Milliken presents the 2011 Regents Medal to members of Bob Daugherty's family
NU President James B. Milliken presents the Regents Medal to Robert Daugherty's son Tim and other members of the Daugherty family View larger
Daugherty – whose lifelong commitment to developing ways to use water efficiently and effectively to feed more people contributed to a dramatic increase in agricultural productivity – died in November in his native Omaha at age 88. His family accepted the medal on his behalf during a luncheon ceremony in Omaha.

In presenting the medal, Regent Jim McClurg noted that Daugherty clearly fit the criteria of the Regents Medal, which the Board created in 2006 to honor individuals whose service to the university has significantly furthered the goals and mission of the institution.

“The gift that Bob Daugherty made last year to the University of Nebraska is a wonderful platform from which the university and the state can foster historic change in water resources and food production everywhere in the world,” McClurg said. “Bob and his family, his colleagues at Valmont, and the Daugherty Foundation have my deepest respect and gratitude for setting the course for this initiative.”

McClurg added, “I have the highest expectations that we will look back at this time as a significant inflection point in the global impact of the University of Nebraska. The work of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute will benefit billions of people. We are so fortunate to be at one of those special times when the right issue, right people, right resources and opportunity have converged.”

In addition to founding Valmont, the world’s most successful irrigation company where he served for more than five decades, Daugherty was a leading figure in the Omaha and Nebraska communities throughout his career. He became a mentor to many civic and business leaders in Omaha and contributed generously to educational and other causes in which he believed. He served as director for a number of Omaha corporations and, through the creation of his namesake charitable foundation, became well-known as a philanthropist as well as an innovator and entrepreneur.

The gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation to establish the Water for Food Institute, announced in April 2010, is one of the largest in NU’s history. It is one of the hallmark gifts of the Campaign for Nebraska, the University of Nebraska Foundation’s ongoing comprehensive fundraising campaign for which water for food is one of six priority academic areas. The Board of Regents voted earlier this year to name the Water for Food Institute in Daugherty’s honor. The institute is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research, education and policy analysis center dedicated to the efficient use of the world’s freshwater resources to feed a growing global population.

Among the successes of the Daugherty Institute during its first year:
  • The institute, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hosted the third annual Water for Food Conference this May. The conference drew 450 participants from more than 20 countries, including international leaders in fields related to the use of water for agriculture.
  • Through the institute, the university continues to build its international stature and is forging new collaborations with key partners across the globe, including leading universities and ministries in China, India and elsewhere. For example, in May, the institute signed an education partnership agreement with the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, The Netherlands – the world’s largest international postgraduate water education facility – focused on water and food security. The agreement will allow Nebraska students to study abroad and will bring students from developing nations to NU. The partners also will develop joint Master of Science degree programs in water for food as well as related courses and collaborative research projects.
  • In March, NU President James B. Milliken co-hosted with M.S. Swaminathan – known as the father of the Indian “green revolution” – a water conference in Chennai, India, sponsored by the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum.
  • A search for the institute’s inaugural director drew outstanding candidates from around the world and an announcement is expected soon.
“I am very pleased that the Daugherty Institute is off to such a successful start,” Milliken said. “This is a fitting way to sustain the legacy of Bob Daugherty, who dedicated his career to improving agricultural productivity to help feed the world.”

Milliken added, “Bob Daugherty was a true pioneer and visionary who saw that the University of Nebraska was in the right place at the right time to become a global leader in the use of water for agriculture. We will do all we can to fulfill his vision of creating an institute where the world’s best minds come together to find solutions that will improve the quality of life for people around the world.”

The first Regents Medal recipient was the late Charles W. Durham. In 2009, the medal was awarded to Omaha philanthropists Ruth and Bill Scott.

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