Directors Letter April 2019
A Place for Education
Is the impact of our summer education program primarily about the impact it has on student participants, or does our program have a national impact beyond individual students?
The importance of a Gothic summer to individuals is clear. We assess and track students, and they describe RMBL as “unforgettable”, “life-changing”, “once in a lifetime experience”, and “the best thing that has happened throughout my academic career”.
Students are often pretty articulate about why RMBL was such an impactful experience—“full immersion”, “outstanding community”, “beautiful”, “the first place where I truly felt like I belonged to a community of scientists”, “helped me understand my love for science”, “discovered my passion for the environment”, “you learn what it means to be a scientist”, “it awakened my curiosity for nature”, and “it gave me the confidence to pursue graduate school”.
Perhaps my favorite statement was that RMBL has a “magical mix of intellectual curiosity, warmth, excitement for science, and quirkiness”.
Students pick up skills that will help them in all aspects of life. One student wrote RMBL “not only helped strengthen my ability to troubleshoot, but also changed the way I approach problems. It has taught me the importance of perseverance, communication, and teamwork.” Another student wrote RMBL made her a better citizen.
With fewer kids growing up on farms or exposed to the outdoors, RMBL increasingly introduces young people to the outdoors. For Colorado junkies it can be hard to imagine, but an alumnus in San Antonio said her school children, upon seeing our website, asked if the Colorado sky was really so blue. We have hosted students who had never left the inner city until they came to Gothic. One student wrote, “I would see images of beautiful landscapes in magazines or documentaries. I got to experience them this summer”.
But do we reach enough students to have a national impact? Relative to the 400 scientists that receive a PhD in ecology each year and the 2500 or so four-year colleges/universities, the 200+ students and scientists we host each summer is a meaningful number. My sense is that RMBL touches most colleges/universities offering four-year degrees in a meaningful way.
Our impact extends beyond numbers. Introducing students to science is in our mission, and in our institutional DNA. Billy barr, our accountant, was a student researcher, as was Shannon Sprott, our GIS/GPS technician, Erin Fabbre, our Development Coordinator, and Jennie Reithel, our Science Director. My career towards Executive Director started as a student in 1988. Kevin Donovan, who has built and renovated many of Gothic’s cabins, originally came as a student.
Because we take pride not just in doing a good job, but in getting better every year, we serve as a model for programs everywhere. This year RMBL staff organized and led a conference for 100+ directors of undergraduate programs that collectively reach thousands of students/summer. We are involved in national efforts to assess the impacts of research experiences for undergraduates. Our alumni go on to run programs elsewhere, modeled on their time at RMBL. An alumnus running a field program abroad wrote, “The excellent mentoring I received at RMBL serves as a model for my own mentoring efforts.”
Much of the quality of our lives depends upon the environment. RMBL matters not just because of our research. RMBL matters because we are training both the next generation of scientific leaders, and our citizenry, how to sustain ecosystem services and make the world better. That is the power of place!
Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL