In a night of big smiles and inspiring tributes, there was a clear emotional high point at the recent UF/IFAS research awards. It was the moment we honored a man who doesn’t do research.
Yet Kevin Heinicka has a hand in virtually every UF/IFAS research project. He engineers millions in savings in energy efficiency, repairs hurricane damage, and outfits labs for new hires. Kevin leads efforts to make the most of our underfunded facilities.
When Jerry Fankhauser announced Kevin as the recipient of this year’s research service award, it drew the loudest applause of the night by far. It also elicited cheers from various corners of the Harn Museum Auditorium.
In that applause, I heard solidarity of faculty and staff. I heard real appreciation for the many men and women who don’t hold advanced degrees but play key roles in discovery.
All departments and research centers have these people. In Ona, it’s Julie Warren taking international graduate students fishing, bowling, and even to family functions to help them feel more at home. In Agricultural and Biological Engineering, it’s Max Williams rocking his then-newborn to sleep and then returning to the office for late-night work on grant proposals. In Homestead it’s Jorge Vergel staying at TREC through the fury of Hurricane Irma to keep generators running to preserve research.
Kevin put on a suit and tie for awards night. Beneath the cuff of his slacks he had walking shoes on, almost as if hinting that he could rip away the suit and reveal work clothes underneath, like an NBA player tearing away his Velcro sweats to get into the game quickly.
As the cheers rained down on Kevin, he reciprocated with the broadest smile of the night and an aw-shucks look of a behind-the-scenes guy who’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight. It was the kind of moment for which awards ceremonies are made.
Research is a team enterprise. It requires people to take care of funding, facilities, office support, field work, and many other tasks so scientists can focus on discovery.
The scientists’ names go on the journal articles, grants, and research awards like those we gave out that night at the Harn. It was appropriate to put Kevin’s name on a plaque as well.
Without Kevin and people like him, we wouldn’t be the research powerhouse we are. Our facilities are not the best they could be. Fortunately, our facilities people are. The applause for Kevin testified to what a huge difference that makes.