Ray Schneider memorial scholarship

Ray Schneider with students
Ray Schneider with students during the “Golden Opportunity” trip.

It is hard to overstate Ray Schneider’s dedication to the development and welfare of his graduate students.

Schneider, who died in October of 2019, was a distinguished plant pathologist with the LSU AgCenter and a professor committed to seeing his students thrive.

Schneider’s wife of 49 years, Rhea, and their children, Jason Schneider and Julie Cummings, are honoring his memory by endowing the Ray Schneider Memorial Scholarship, which is aimed at helping graduate students at LSU studying plant pathology and crop physiology.

“As a family we thought that supporting the ongoing efforts of graduate students would be in line with my dad’s support of his students,” said Jason Schneider.

As a child, Jason remembers his parents hosting graduate students at their home. Many of the students were international students. Schneider said his dad went out of his way to make them all feel welcomed.

“It really left an impression on me how dedicated he was to their success,” he said.

It is a sentiment a former student echoes. Nicole Ward Gauthier, an extension plant pathologist with the University of Kentucky, said students who weren’t studying directly with Schneider often gravitated to his lab.

“No one was excluded,” she said. “Every student had his concern and care.”

Gauthier said Schneider was eager to offer his students experiences beyond his lab. She described a trip she took in 2009 with Schneider and other students that started in Oregon and went down the West Coast.

She said Schneider called the trip The Golden Opportunity Tour. Gauthier said it was a life-changing experience for her.

“We met with scientists, visited national parks and broadened our horizons,” she said. “I credit my career to that trip. I met people I am still working with today.”

Ray Schneider in field
An archived photo of Ray Schneider from 2005 when he discovered Asian soybean rust in Louisiana — its first discovery in the U.S.

Gauthier said Schneider was the most curious person she had ever met. He instilled his love of knowledge in his students and helped them see the big picture to solve plant problems.

The care and compassion he showed to his students were just part of his professional life. Schneider also was a very accomplished plant pathologist.

In a tribute after this death, his colleagues in the department said his mission-oriented research projects led to significant advances in the control of plant diseases.

Schneider was the first to find Asian soybean rust in North America, and he became a leader of the coordinated national research and extension effort that followed.

Schneider was well recognized for his professional achievements, receiving numerous awards and honors.

Schneider’s aspirations didn’t initially point to plant pathology. Schneider was on his way to a job interview with Johnson & Johnson when a conversation on a plane changed his trajectory. He was seated next to a plant pathologist who later became his thesis advisor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Schneider, who received his undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry from the University of Alabama, earned a master’s and doctorate from the University of Illinois. He held a Ford Foundation Research Fellowship at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, and a postdoctorate at the University of California, Davis. He was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley from 1976 to 1984, and then with LSU AgCenter from 1984 to 2016.

Schneider traveled the world with his career and was an accomplished sailor, often taking students and colleagues out on Lake Pontchartrain.

His daughter Julie said she was inspired by a father who had a selfless curiosity to understand and show appreciation for every person who crossed his path.

“He was inspired by life’s provisions of unanswered questions, which is why he was a brilliant scientist,” she said. “He was guided by empathy and love, which made him an extraordinary father.”

Jason recounted a story of when he was traveling through Chile and met up with one of his dad’s colleagues in Santiago, who treated Jason as a member of his family.

“He formed relationships across the globe,” he said. “That really reflects his personality and warmth.”

The family hopes this scholarship will support the important work graduate students conduct in the Department of Plant Pathology & Crop Physiology.

“And maybe years from now students will see his name and that will prompt them to read and learn more about his contribution to the field,” Schneider said.

Written by Tobie Blanchard