Director’s Letter December 2021

Gothic Mountain

A great educator is a force of nature.

Almost 2500 years ago Archimedes famously waxed poetic about fulcrums and torque: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.” As high school physics students have long learned, with sufficient leverage, a small force can move worlds. There is an educational equivalent; the right mentor at the right time can shift the trajectory of a life.

Engaging students is woven into RMBL’s DNA, with mammalogy and botany courses starting with our founding in 1928. Given half a chance, long-time RMBL scientist Dr. Scott Wissinger would wax poetic about his students. He liked science, but he loved the opportunities that science gave his students. While publishing research mattered to him, he burst with pride when he talked about his students, describing families and careers.

One such force of nature is Dr. Bobbi Peckarsky. Winner of the 2008 Award of Excellence from the Society for Freshwater Science, between high school students, undergraduate researchers, graduate students, and teacher trainees, Bobbi has mentored close to 100 individuals. Yet, the impact of Bobbi’s mentoring is not captured in the number of students she has worked with, but in the lives she has touched.

RMBL’s high school course has become a gateway for students to enter science. After a week learning the scientific process and shadowing scientists, students design and implement their own study. The process of working in the field as a scientist is very different than what students typically experience in school and for some, it’s as if a light switch turns on. They start actively asking question and observing the world more closely. They see how a well-designed study can illuminate the previously hidden mechanisms of the world, linking data to inference. Almost every summer at least one student ends up returning, often for multiple summers, to work with, and as, a scientist.

Havalin Haskell is one such student, her story told in the adjoining article. She spent the summer of 2021 working with Bobbi after taking RMBL’s high school course in 2020.  She has been a part of a team of women scientists, extending decades of mentorship by Bobbi, exploring the streams around Gothic. As you read about Havalin, think about her story, multiplied many times over, and you will start to appreciate the power of what Bobbi, Scott Wissinger, and the many other RMBL mentors have had over the decades. What better gift than to light the mind and engage the passion of a young person!

But the value of mentorship is not just about the impacts on students. The value of mentorship is also about making the world a better place. These students that Bobbi, Scott, and others have trained are, and will be, our leaders as we take on environmental challenges. Their students have become scientists, mentors, wildlife managers, and environmental decision-makers. In other words, they help ensure the world’s clean water and food supply as well as help us face challenges such as emerging diseases.

Science generates the discoveries that make the world a better place. But there is only so much that any single scientist can do, even in a lifetime. By passing on the gifts of excitement, observation, scientific analysis, and discovery, they use a lever that expands their impact many times over. RMBL scientists are moving the world to a better place through their mentorship. For this, I give thanks!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL