Last year entrepreneur and mushroom expert Paul Stamets ’79, his wife, Dusty Yao, and their business, Fungi Perfecti, created a new scholarship in the name of faculty emeritus Mike Beug, the professor who helped shape Stamets’ career as a mycologist. The Mike Beug Scholarship is offered to students with financial need who demonstrate a passion for mycology.
“It’s important to continue Mike’s legacy,” Stamets says, “he pioneered mycology studies in the seventies and I was one of his very first students. Mike has a tremendous ability to inspire students. He can educate without seeming superior, he has a humility about him that’s very engendering, and he’s a very kind soul—that really shows in his teaching style.
“That’s why Dusty and I helped support this scholarship with Mike’s name on it. Following the mycelial path from the past into the future is very important. Additionally, I was a low-income student so I can relate to not having enough money to follow your dreams. I believe in karma. It’s important to pay it forward.”
Enter Ryan Richter, a newly enrolled Evergreen student who has a tremendous enthusiasm for mycology, and is the first recipient of the new scholarship.
“I remember the day my mom and I got news of the award. We both started screaming,” Richter says. “We felt like this scholarship was meant for me.”
Richter’s fascination with mycology stemmed from his experience as a high school counselor at a weeklong outdoor school in Oregon. His interest in botany landed him in the “mushroom center,” where he taught sixth graders about the mushroom’s role in forest and animal decomposition.
Inspired by a fellow counselor who was homeschooled, Richter realized “school doesn’t always have to be in the classroom” and began learning everything he could about mushrooms. He joined the Oregon Mycological Society. He devoured everything his local library offered—from books, to articles, to YouTube videos.
“The library is where I found out about Paul Stamets,” Richter says with a grin. “His TED Talks are amazing and I’m currently reading Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”
Now, two years and one scholarship later, Richter and Stamets have had a chance to connect in person. The two met on Evergreen’s campus and shared laughs, conversations on mushrooms, and a spirit of learning.
“What I really appreciated about Ryan was that he immediately began to express how little he knew of the field, but how vast it was,” says Stamets. “I valued that because he recognized ‘Oh my gosh, I have a strong interest in the subject but I didn’t know it was so expansive.’ I think he has an appreciation that there is a deep well of knowledge to dip into.”
As part of what could become a ritual for all Mike Beug Scholarship recipients, Stamets gifted Richter a hat with significant meaning—made from the Amadou mushroom and handcrafted in a village in Transylvania.
This mushroom is one that Stamets describes as holding “threads of knowledge” because it links the ancient past, present, and future. Amadou was first used more than 5,000 years ago and has played an important role in human survival and evolution—it could start and carry fires, it revolutionized warfare, it creates a felt-like fabric, and can be used to smoke bees to calm them. Stamets recently received patents on the Amadou for discovering that the extracts from the mycelium of this species helps significantly reduce viruses in bees and more than doubles their lifespan.
“This is the perfect example of just one species of mushroom with a multiplicity of benefits,” he says. “This keystone species that nature provides us is so beneficial in so many ways. It’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg.”
Equipped with the Mike Beug Scholarship, a hunger for learning the vast world of mushrooms, and a cool new hat, Richter is excited to be a Greener. His dad Reid Richter ’84 is an alumnus, and he has a few friends who are already enrolled and working toward their Evergreen degree.
“I’m interested in a liberal arts education and I know what I like,” says Ryan. “I enjoy working with my hands—gardening, mycology, bike repair—Evergreen has all of that and then some.”
Ryan will begin his freshman year in fall 2018 and is registered for the program Intro to Environmental Science. He also looks forward to joining the iconic Evergreen program, The Fungal Kingdom.