“Prepare your minds,” Dr. Charles Hays, a Canadian science journalist, advised students at the Department of Microbiology’s annual scholarship luncheon on May 7, 2018. He is the son of the late Helen Alford Hays, a long-time microbiology instructor and advisor from 1955-1981, who established the Helen Alford Hays Women in Microbiology Scholarship with her husband Dale, who worked in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Helen would have been 100 in 2018 and the luncheon was a tribute to her spirit and her generosity.
“Science was my mother’s life,” said Charles Hays. ”My mom raised me on stories of scientists. She planted that seed of science. She saw science as representing truth.” Adding “all my mother’s heroes were scientists.”
Born in Bismarck, North Dakota, and raised on a farm, Helen Hays put herself through college working as a maid cleaning houses during her first two years at the University of Illinois in the late 1930s. Her third year she asked her grandfather for a loan because the classes were getting harder and she needed more time to study.
Helen came to OSU in the early 1950s to pursue a master's degree in bacteriology in what is now the Department of Microbiology. She worked as a lab teaching assistant in the department during her graduate studies.
Helen was the only woman in her graduate chemistry course. She was driven to succeed by her professor who appreciated that women wanted to improve their minds, but that “no woman would earn an A in this course... women can’t do science.” At the end of the term, Helen had the highest grade in the class.
So she created a scholarship in microbiology for women, believing that “everyone should have the opportunity to be the best they can be,” according to her son Charles.
Established in 1991, the Helen Alford Hays Women in Microbiology Scholarship supports undergraduate women majoring in microbiology who have a minimum GPA of 3.0. This year’s recipients of scholarship were sophomores Michelle Zhou and Jay Bickell, graduates of Corvallis High School.