RMBL Summer 2021 Operations Report

TO: RMBL scientists, students, staff, and other stakeholders
FROM: Ian Billick, Kelly Sudderth, Jennie Reithel, Brett Biebuyck and Steve Jennison

RE: Review of 2021 Operations
DATE: October 15, 2021

Thank you for another great year of science and education at RMBL! Each year, we ask for your feedback and formally assess operations at the close of the summer season. We do this so we can: 1) identify changes that would be beneficial, and 2) prioritize those changes, balancing financial and staffing constraints. This memo communicates:
1) Our synthesis of the feedback we received this year,
2) Goals for improving future operations (both in 2022 and longer-term), and
3) Our progress on the goals we set after the 2020 season.

As a reminder, in 2020 RMBL published a visual guide on RMBL decision-making. The objective of this project was to equip the active scientist community and other interested stakeholders to effectively engage in and shape decision-making at RMBL. If you have not already done so, we encourage you to study the guide, which can be found on our website: Visual Guide on RMBL Decision Making.

RMBL & COVID-19
2021 was the second summer of RMBL operating with the virus and we are not aware of any cases in on-site residents of COVID-19 at RMBL this summer. We attribute this success to an exceptionally high vaccination rate of our community as well as the buy-in, compliance, and flexibility that we saw with the community. RMBL was able to effectively amend operations with declining infection rates early in the summer and to adjust again later in the summer with the resurgence of the Delta variant.

We are planning for fewer COVID-related disruptions summer 2022
For budget and planning purposes, at this time we expect operations to be close to normal for summer 2022. This means we expect full capacity in Gothic residences. This approach will depend on universal vaccination of Gothic residents, and we will evaluate the need for a vaccine mandate (with exemptions as may be allowed by law) for those living in Gothic. We will continue to evaluate the situation and communicate important updates with you via the website and the PI listserv.

What did the evaluation process look like this year?
As in other years, we established a “flash” survey which was available throughout the summer so we could get a quick take from you on how the summer was going. We received 83 responses for the online exit survey at the end of the summer. Staff conducted in-person exit interviews with 14 members of the community. We also relied on staff observations and informal feedback.

How do we use your feedback and responses?
You are the RMBL users – so your feedback is important to us. You see things that we don’t or won’t see because of how you interact with what RMBL offers. We compiled the results of the online surveys, exit interviews and other informal feedback, which we are using to inform our operational planning and budgeting for 2022.

Operational goals for 2022
Implementation of the items below is contingent upon the 2022 budget and availability of staff time. These items were selected because they were mentioned numerous times in surveys, interviews, or via informal feedback and they are actionable within our financial means (i.e. specific enough to design a solution).

1. Update Remington cabin.
2. Create streamlined communications for spring and fall operations, including updates on road status, available RMBL services, internet and water availability in Gothic, cow migrations, and other important news. We will look at developing a color-coded system to easily communicate the seasonal status of RMBL services.
3. Provide additional spaces for private communications. This could include private rooms with good communication equipment (Wi-Fi, IP phone) and space for a few people to meet.
4. Re-focusing on RMBL community interaction as we learn to live with COVID. Assuming COVID is not a barrier, we will offer a scientific seminar series and encourage and support other targeted social events. We intend to revert Ruby Lounge back to a community meeting space after being used as a residence the last two years.
5. Increase the availability of well-functioning common use bikes in Gothic, including expanding the availability of motorized bicycles. We will offer training on bike use. We will continue to explore opportunities for supporting other methods for field site access for those without vehicles.
6. Improve communication within the Undergraduate Program. We will consider alternatives to using an online education platform.
7. Provide, in a user-friendly manner, required training on codes of conduct, behavioral expectations, and misconduct reporting for all RMBL residents. We also hope to provide skills-building workshops on bystander intervention and DEI topics.
8. Improve the ability for community members to easily communicate their gender identities and pronouns when they wish. We will add the ability to voluntarily add these details to user accounts in the RMBL Community Portal and provide name tags for orientation and other activities where this information can be voluntarily displayed.
9. Based on the recommendations from a professional report, continue efforts on RMBL’s fire mitigation program around the Gothic townsite, which could include protecting buildings from fire threats and managing vegetation around buildings. We will also focus on providing safe opportunities and infrastructure for community campfires when conditions are appropriate.
10. We will again deploy a limited number of residential tents in the Gothic townsite to add additional housing capacity and flexibility. We will continue to evaluate the best way to schedule, assign, and use tents in this capacity.
11. We will look at adding increased functionality and flexibility in managing dining reservations including shorter lead times allowed for reservations, more flexibility in requesting vegetarian meals, and easier management of group and minor reservations in the online portal. We will evaluate methods of distributing leftovers to the community when they are available. Due to anticipated staffing challenges, we expect that we will only offer meat and vegetarian options in the dining hall next summer.

Operating in a challenging labor market
RMBL has not been immune to challenging labor markets, supply chains, and other disruptions to “normal” operations, many precipitated, or at least influenced, by COVID. While the country, and world, have struggled with these changes, a local housing crisis and extreme labor shortage in the Gunnison Valley have amplified these challenges for RMBL operations. For example, many businesses in the valley, especially restaurants, have closed or limited operations due to staffing difficulties and the Crested Butte Community School has eliminated bus and food service for students. We anticipate hiring for seasonal positions to be very challenging. We will be looking at ways to improve our recruitment and retention effectiveness, but if pressed, some services may need to be modified if we are not able to be fully staffed. As we plan for next season, we will advertise our opportunities with the RMBL community and will communicate with you about any expected alterations to our services. We are all ambassadors for the RMBL, and we’d love to have your help bringing in new additions to our community.

Updates on long-term goals for operations
The strategic plan includes important long-term goals for operations. We made significant progress on these goals in 2021:
Addressing deferred maintenance at Gothic.
o RMBL hired a year-round Facilities Manager scheduled to start in Spring 2022. This position will add capacity and expertise to the RMBL facilities team, with a specific focus on maintaining, repairing, and upgrading Gothic facilities. The permanent nature of the position (not seasonal) should reduce turnover, allowing the position to become more familiar and effective at the operation and upkeep of a unique physical infrastructure as time goes on. Steve Jennison will continue as RMBL’s Director of Facilities and his focus will shift to planning and managing construction projects, including the new 4-season cabin in Gothic, staff housing in CB South, and the Mt. Crested Butte campus.
o We received funding from the NSF for a new, four-season cabin. With a very challenging construction environment in 2021, work on the cabin was delayed in 2021 and will be constructed in 2022-2023 next to the new Crystal cabin. We may shift some cabins down in the fee structure when this cabin comes online. Note that a general trend we’re seeing in the community is a request for more privacy within housing and that comes at a cost.
• Improving (or replacing) Wi-Fi.
o 2021 saw continued upgrading of Wi-Fi equipment around Gothic. We will look at expanding Wi-Fi availability in additional outside areas, especially around large porches, in order to offer more semi-private space for phone calls and web conferences. Wi-Fi and internet comments for the year were overwhelmingly positive. IT infrastructure has come a long way in Gothic!
• Expanding RMBL’s data infrastructure.
o RMBL’s new cloud-based portal for administering research, submitting applications, and making reservations is live. Stage one was completed last winter and includes the basic functionality of account creation, research project registration and administration, and housing and meal administration. Next steps for the portal will include improving the customer experience after a year of real-world use and feedback, adding the ability for minors to be easily managed under adult accounts, adding registration functions for additional RMBL activities, and adding functionality for PIs and project managers to see and manage more aspects of activity on their project.
o RMBL offers data services including but not limited to drone imagery acquisition, data curation and archiving assistance, and support for spatial data analysis.
o Spatial data and other data products and datasets are found on the RMBL data catalog.
• Improving navigation and information flows on the RMBL website.
o As part of the portal project discussed above, we will start migrating appropriate logistical information from the public website to the community portal. This will help organize and declutter the website as we continue to evaluate new website designs.
• Developing and realizing a sustainable financial model which adequately supports building, lab, equipment, and IT infrastructure for the RMBL community.
o We expect to launch a capital campaign in 2022 to support investments in the North Village campus, RMBL’s spatial ecology program, and data management. Additionally, we are pursuing federal funding for these investments.
o We are seeing increasing inflationary pressures on local housing costs, employee benefits, materials, food and costs for contractors to provide maintenance/repair services in Gothic. We plan to hold fee increases for 2022 to around 3% and to maintain fellowship support at 2021 levels (which doubles fellowship offerings over previous year). However, if inflation continues at the current rates of 5% or more, we could be looking at significant increases for 2023. We recommend that you contact Kelly (kelly@rmbl.org) if you are working on grant budgets for 2023 or beyond to make sure you budget appropriately for RMBL expenses.

Progress report on goals set for 2021
In 2020 we set eight primary goals. Below is a list of those goals and our progress this year.
1. Update Remington cabin. The work to upgrade the Remington Cabin was postponed. Much of our attention needed to be shifted to the nearby Gates cabin when several problems with ventilation and mold were discovered in the spring. The problems were remediated, upgrades were made to the ventilation, and the cabin was refitted for occupation. In addition, significant work was also performed on the Calder cabin preparing it for year-round operation with the increased winter use of Gothic. Work on Remington Cabin remains a priority.
2. Continue to facilitate better bike management in Gothic. We instituted a bike registration program that allows us to identify owners of individual bikes and to manage those that have been abandoned. All legacy bikes of unknown ownership were chained up in the spring then registered and distributed on request of the owners. All unclaimed bikes at the end of the summer were registered as RMBL community bikes and are now available to the entire community, over 20 bikes in total! We hope to have these bikes professionally evaluated and the bikes worth investing in will be repaired and maintained to ensure a well-operating fleet. RMBL also purchased a community motorized bicycle available for checkout as a pilot program. Most reviews of the bike program were very positive and we hope to expand the fleet with more motorized bikes and size options and formalize scheduling, training, and maintenance of the fleet.
3. Offering online documentation and/or training opportunities for RMBL researchers, students, and staff, including:
a. Responsible Conduct of Research
b. Diversity training
c. Title IX training
With the completion of stage one of the RMBL Community Portal, we will soon be in the position to offer online training that is integrated within the Portal experience. The design will be such that RMBL community members will be able to log into their accounts, easily find and take trainings, and their progress will be tracked in the system with the rest of their RMBL information. We intend to add a misconduct training (including Title IX) for all RMBL community members that will be required before other activities are allowed, including RMBL research and housing. Other trainings will be integrated as they are developed. Trainings not able to be offered in the portal will still be able to be logged and tracked in the system.
4. Offering resources (web links, literature) on our website for labs to incorporate cultural safety into their lab safety plans. A website was created that links to some of the better resources that we have found that address cultural safety. RMBL staff also participated in a number of trainings and workshops, including some offered by the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). We will work to incorporate what we have learned into our practices as well as make more materials and resources available to the entire community. RMBL is working with OBFS to host more workshops on these topics that will be available to anyone in the spring of 2022. We will advertise these to the community when the details are finalized this spring.
5. Incremental improvements to cabin plumbing, to standardize plumbing infrastructure and thereby facilitate cost-effective and quicker repairs. This work continued in an incremental fashion. Three showers were replaced with standardized fixtures. We also smaller upgrades and repairs around the campus. In August, RMBL completed a required inspection and sanitary survey of our water system and received a passing grade with positive reviews. In a complicated regulatory environment and unique systems in Gothic, this is a job well done!
6. Replace Moodle for the undergrad program with a different online platform. Moodle was replaced with MyAthena. However, evaluation of these platforms for use in RMBL’s undergraduate programming has led to the conclusion that they may be unnecessary, and other methods of coordination and communication will better serve the program. We will evaluate the website and other existing tools for these functions in 2022.
7. Enhance RMBL’s fire mitigation program around the Gothic townsite, which could include: trimming trees, removing trees, and establishing larger defensible spaces around cabins. The first step in this process was to have the Gothic campus professionally evaluated by wildfire mitigation specialists. We want work on this important issue to be targeted and informed by the best practices and local conditions. An inspection by West Region Wildfire Council and Colorado State Forest Service was conducted in late summer. While we are waiting for the final report, the protection of buildings and other
infrastructure and vegetation management adjacent to buildings will likely be top priorities moving forward.
8. Provide better instructions for the laundry machines. It seemed that confusion on laundry machine operation was minimal this year. We identified that overly soiled clothes were likely responsible for fouling subsequent loads of laundry. We are evaluating the possibility of adding a laundry sink to the laundry room or nearby so very dirty items can be prewashed. Also, some machines were problematic this summer and required involved repairs. After delays receiving the correct parts, all repairs were completed in the fall and all machines are currently operational.

Other ways you can provide feedback
While we strongly encourage participation in the annual online exit survey, we welcome your feedback at any time. We encourage you to give us your thoughts on pretty much anything, including items you think we have missed, feedback on how we have analyzed the information we received, or how we have prioritized our responses. You can contact Kelly, RMBL’s Chief Operating Officer, at kelly@rmbl.org or (830) 358-3501 or Brett Biebuyck, RMBL’s Director of Administration, at brett@rmbl.org or (970) 349- 7231 at any time throughout the year.

If you have any feedback that might have budgetary implications for 2022, please provide feedback no later than November 15 so we have time to consider that for the 2022 budget cycle.

Schedule and Details for RMBL Celebration of Life for Scott Wissinger, July 3rd, 2021

You can find the recording for this event here:

Scott Wissinger Celebration of Life Zoom Recording

 

Scott Wissinger

April 7, 1954 – October 5, 2019

Obituary

Please find details below regarding the service and events surrounding the celebration of life for Scott Wissinger, RMBL scientist for 30+ years, mentor of numerous scientists and students, long-time RMBL board member, and community volunteer. Please refer back to this webpage for updates on the schedule. Questions can be directed to Ian Billick, ibillick@rmbl.org.

 

Memorials can be made to benefit Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (PO Box 519 Crested Butte, CO 81224) or French Creek Recreational Trail (PO Box 592 Meadville, PA 16335)


Saturday, July 3rd, Schedule of Events

 

8:00 am – Hike to Mexican Cut 

  • RSVP for the hike by June 26th here
  • Meet at the RMBL Visitor Center.
  • This hike includes a water crossing and involves 500 ft in elevation gain.
  • Bring rain gear, water, and food.
  • Expect to leave by 8:15 am and return by 1 pm. Plan for 2.5 – 3 hours of hiking time and time to stop and sit.
  • Those interested in an easier hike or arrangements to tour Gothic can contact Ian Billick, ibillick@rmbl.org.

 

3:00 pm – Coffee and Gathering

  • Coffee and cookies
  • Music by Kevin Donovan
  • billy barr Community Center

 

3:30 pm – Celebration of life moderated by Dr. Howard Whiteman with Scheduled Speakers

  • RSVP for the service here
  • Streamed live via Zoom
  • Wear purple!
  • There may be some limited time at the end for unscheduled speakers, but if you would like to say a few words and be included in the schedule, please contact Ian Billick.
  • The memorial service will likely take place inside the Community Center; therefore, we ask that all participants 12 and older be vaccinated if they plan to attend in person.  Masks will be required while indoors, except for speakers.

 

6:00 pm – Dinner

  • RSVP by June 26th for dinner here
  • Courtesy of the RMBL Dining Hall
Scott and billy Maroon Bells

Those who have written thoughts or photographs that they would like to share are welcome to send them to Ian Billick, who will pass them on to family, friends, and the

scientific community, as appropriate, and see that they are put in RMBL’s archives.

Scott Wissinger
Coring with Scott
Scott Bobbi and parade
Cut crew

Director’s Blog 12/12/20

Director’s Blog December 12, 2020
Written by Ian Billick, PhD

We are in a nice snow cycle, which reminds me summer is almost here.  After 20 years as director, I’ve learned how quickly time flies.  When the Gothic dining hall opens I tell staff that summer is almost over.  They’ll often humor me with a chuckle.  If they stick around enough summers, I start to see a glimmer of recognition.

We don’t know exactly what next summer will bring.  How will the vaccine roll out?  Will we get our act together on testing? We are cautiously optimistic.  If the pandemic is no worse than last summer, we have plans for how we can house more people safely.  We think we can do even better, especially as vaccines roll out and if testing improves.  But we’ll communicate again in the spring once the future is closer.  We’re keeping our eyes on whether Gothic residents will have access to vaccines and if so, which one.  We will keep communicating.

We are substantially increasing fellowship support for scientists next summer.  We are anticipating some scientists will experience roadblocks to field work for 2-3 more years.  Summer undergrad research froze up last summer; not so fun fact-RMBL’s program comprised almost 10% all biology REU students last summer.  We know grad student programs are stalling out.  Colleges and universities are struggling.  We don’t know exactly how we will administer funds, though we remain focused on early career scientists, long-term research, and maintaining our PI community.  The more we know about your barriers, the better we can target funds where they will have the biggest impact.  Science Director Jennifer Reithel is cc’d here.  Please let both of us know how RMBL can help.

These plans are being made within the context of the 2021 budget.  Feedback on the budget is welcome now, to Jennie or I, or board members<https://www.rmbl.org/about-us-2/our-board-of-trustees/>.  We don’t post board email addresses on the web, but you can get email addresses from Katie Harper<mailto:katie@rmbl.org>.  Our budgeting process is guided in part by our 2020 review of operations, found here<https://www.rmbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Memo-RE-Review-of-Summer-2020-operations.pdf>.  In addition to having financial experts on the finance committee, we have scientists on the committee (and the Board).  Dr. Dan Blumstein participates on the finance committee as President of the Board.  Board member Dr. Amy Iler just stepped down from the committee to chair the Board’s diversity committee and Dr. Kate Maher has taken her place.  Thanks to Dan, Amy, and Kate for representing a scientific perspective during budgeting.  To help people engage effectively in RMBL’s financial plan
ning, Kelly Sudderth has been doing financial orientation sessions.  Let her<mailto:kelly@rmbl.org> know if you would like to participate in future sessions.  As a reminder, Emily Snow did some excellent work<https://www.rmbl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Decision-making-at-RMBL-Final.pdf> on how RMBL decisions are made.

What else is going on?  Too much for this blog post, but here is a high level overview.  We are hiring an architect for North Village and anticipate an application to the Town of Mt. CB to entitle the property in January.  We have NSF funding for a new cabin next to Crystal, which we will start next fall hopefully.  Dr. Ian Breckheimer has been busy creating community spatial data products<https://www.rmbl.org/scientists/resources/spatial-data-platform/> and supporting efforts to sustain the work.  Atmospherics research<https://sail.lbl.gov/> is coming to RMBL in a big way next summer-get ready for lots of sensors.  Erik Hulm<https://www.linkedin.com/in/erik-hulm-885794178/>, a geophysicist, will be assisting staff with the large number of new projects.

We are very close to implementing the RMBL Portal-for next summer we will have a whole new process for how we will manage applications and billing.  Thanks to Dr. Will Petry for responding to a blog post several years ago pointing out how archaic RMBL’s administrative processes are-online attachments that are hard to track, providing the same info year after year, etc.  It’s taken a lot of staff work to bring the portal to life.  Thanks to Brett Biebuyck and Chris Kittle for running herd. There will undoubtedly be some bugs, but we think the portal will make your life much easier.

As always, feel free to shoot me questions or feedback, or recommend subjects for future blog posts.  If you make it to CB this winter, let’s have coffee or go for a ski!

Happy holidays and stay safe.

Director’s Blog 9/18/20

Director’s Blog September 18, 2020
Written by Ian Billick, PhD

This is an update on RMBL’s plans to expand in Mt. CB (North Village) as well as a call for feedback.  With the recent conservation easement dedicating Gothic to research and education in perpetuity and the conservation of the surrounding ranchlands, as well as legislation being introduced by Senator Michael Bennet designating the valley for research, we have a rare opportunity to do something truly amazing.  But we have to get the management piece worked out.  North Village is a critical piece!

RMBL is negotiating a pre-development agreement with Yvonne and Claudio Alvarez, with the Board meeting to review terms on Tuesday.  RMBL would get approximately 10 developable acres with infrastructure in Mt. CB for $2 million, payable no sooner than Nov. 1, 2021.  The property is meant to accommodate RMBL’s long-term needs, as well as what would be built in the next 3-5 years (Phase 1).  There are many reasons for why the project might go slower, but an aggressive, and reasonable, timeframe has approvals from Mt. CB by the summer of 2021, infrastructure going in 2022, and buildings opening the fall of 2023.  To keep the project moving in the next 12 months we will be working on a master plan for the North Village campus as well as doing at least architectural work on the phase 1 buildings.

A design team including six scientists (Rosemary Carroll, Andy Gloss, Kailen Mooney, Kristina Stinson, Brad Taylor, and Ken Williams) conducted a survey of the RMBL science community in 2019 and provided considerable feedback that has informed our thinking.

We established the following priorities for the campus, in order:  Housing, lab space, reduce public pressures on the Gothic Corridor, and improve Gothic bandwidth.

We established the following objectives for research space, in order: accommodate increased summer research demand, telecommunications, winter/year-round science, high-end equipment, and encouraging collaboration.

We established the following design guidelines, in order: Minimize the carbon footprint, flexibility, promote collaboration, dark skies, family and pet friendly, natural light, outdoor space, noise, power (220 V circuits, surge protection, back-up power).

What do you think?  Did we get it right?  Have things changed with covid?  How might the North Village change how we think about the Gothic Campus? Should we put more of an emphasis on housing scientists engaged in the summer community? Move outreach/education programs that don’t take advantage of Gothic to North Village and move retail and as much of the general public intercept to North Village?

Your thoughts on the details of space would also be appreciated.  We would like to design space for specific needs so the more we know about who will use the space and how, the better.  If you might want either office, lab, or meeting space in the new facility, we would like to know.  Knowing a bit more about demand will help us think about how much space is needed.  We don’t want to overbuild, but we also have one research group that has indicated they are fairly certain they want a large lab on a year-round basis.  Also, if anybody is interested in a first-use housing arrangement, let us know.  That would definitely influence how much housing we build.

In addition to contacting me if you have feedback on our priorities or specific spaces (and I have kept, and been reviewing, feedback people have sent previously), or would like to express interest in either research space or housing, let me know if you would like to be more involved in general planning.  It would be great to have some scientists beyond the board involved in planning.  I’ve cc’d RMBL President and scientist, Dr. Dan Blumstein to make it easy to include him in your response.  Also feel free to reach out to him or other board members, especially the RMBL scientists—Dr. Jill Anderson, Dr. Diane Campbell, Dr. Aimee Classen, Dr. Amy Iler, Dr. Kailen Mooney, and Dr. Ken Williams.  As a courtesy, we aren’t putting the emails of board members on the website, but they are always available from me or our front-office person, Katie Harper (also cc’d).

Here is a bit more information about the project.

  1. Claudio and Yvonne, who own the property, are very committed to RMBL and our goals.  They have identified the RMBL campus as one of their primary objectives, and have expressed a strong desire to help RMBL figure out how to reduce public impacts on the Gothic corridor. They need to make the project work financially, and there will probably be other partners in the project, but we are very fortunate to have them as partners.
  2. The master plan for the long-term is anticipated to accommodate 25,000 square feet of research/admin space, 12,500 square feet of seasonal housing, and 15,000 square feet of long-term housing.
  3. Phase 1, which will continue to change as we get your feedback and as we see how fundraising goes, currently anticipates 2800 sqft of research space, 2200 sqft of office space, 2700 sqft of meeting/visitor’s center space, 3400 sqft of long-term housing, and 4500 sqft of seasonal housing.
  4. Valuing mixed commercial/residential real estate in Mt. Crested Butte is hard, particularly for a 10 acre property.  In CB, a single residential lot (no building) sold for $2+ million and commercial lots of 0.07 acres are going for around $200,000.  There are 1 acre commercial lots south of CB that are going for $600,000 to $1 million.
  5. Claudio and Yvonne are still defining what they will do with the rest of the property.  However, 100-200 community housing units are being considered, as well as some high end homes and commercial real estate (e.g., hotel).  A substantial portion of the property is likely to be put in a conservation easement and the ultimate density will likely be much, much less than the 1800 units that had been planned.
  6. We are still thinking about how to do the Visitor’s Center.  It is likely that Claudio and Yvonne will build the Visitor’s Center, and then lease/sell space within it to RMBL.  It is still imagined that the Visitor’s Center will accommodate mass transit.
  7. We will be developing the site plan for the entire property in November and December.  We anticipate starting a master plan for the RMBL property in March.
  8. We need to raise all of the money for the purchase of the land and the construction and design of the buildings.  How quickly we can raise the money for land acquisition and initial planning expenses (approximately $2.5 million) will likely determine how quickly we move to construction.  We will need to raise approximately $4 million (including the $2.5 million) to cost effectively get building pads.  Depending upon how much we build, we’ll then need to raise another $4-6 million (not including endowment) to have buildings.  We will save a lot of money if we are able to install the infrastructure on our property (e.g., create building pads) at the same time that roads and basic utilities go in.  In similar fashion, we will save a lot of money if we build at the same time as other partners.
  9. Building RMBL’s endowment beyond the current size of approximately $2 million will be critical to RMBL’s sustainability.  If you would like to help with this, either in the short term or through long-term estate planning, feel free to reach out to Kelly Sudderth.  Demonstrating that RMBL has both a committed group of supporters and a long-term sustainability plan will help with fundraising for North Village.

As always, feel free to reach out directly to me, either about North Village or anything else that is on your mind.

Director’s Blog 8/16/20

Director’s Blog August 16, 2020

By Ian Billick, PhD

Miracles, Heroes, and Lessons

With no reported infections in Gothic and the end of summer fast upon us, we are almost ready to declare victory.  Despite the reduction in research activity, I feel good about how much research happened, particularly in terms of early career scientists and long-term research projects.

Between expenditure cuts, a full undergrad program, and $250,000 from the payroll protection program, we expect a small year-end deficit at worst.  NSF is funding a 3 bedroom, year-round cabin with integrated research space next to Crystal, and with an anticipated $1+ million in proceeds from the Gothic conservation easement, RMBL continues to be strong financially.

Given the viral and economic turmoil, the success with the research and education programs and the continued financial robustness of RMBL feels like a minor miracle.

The list of heroes that made this happen is quite long, but I will name a few.  First, my hat goes off to Dr. Rosemary Smith.  She, Dr. Jennifer Reithel, and Dr. Jimmy Lee completely redesigned the undergrad research program this spring.  About 75% of NSF-funded undergrad biology research programs were canceled and our program is quite large, so the RMBL program really mattered nationally.  Furthermore, the program was very important to keeping a number of RMBL research programs going.  I know you worked your butt off Rosemary, and we appreciate your flexibility, creativity, and leadership!

Director of Administration Brett Biebuyck and Administrative Coordinator Katie Harper learned their jobs on the fly while completely re-inventing operations.  Gothic was safe, welcoming, and effectively run.  Kay Cook and the dining hall staff completely reimagined Gothic dining!  Serving food to so many is never easy, but feeding field scientists in the age of covid19 was a whole new level of complicated.

I have to give a shout out to Rick Horn, Greta Holdcraft, and Rick Reavis with the Visitor’s Center.  With no onsite retail sales (though you can now order RMBL swag online at www.store.rmbl.org<http://www.store.rmbl.org>), they cheerfully and quickly refocused their jobs to managing the public and picking up/delivering mail and groceries for the scientists and students.  Furthermore, they went out of their way to connect to Gothic residents, particularly newcomers.  Thank you Brett, Katie, Kay, Rick, Rick, and Greta.  Under the sage and thoughtful direction of Chief Operating Officer Kelly Sudderth, you all kept RMBL safe while building community!

We are still thinking through the lessons of summer 2020, and we’d like to hear your thoughts.  But I’ll throw out some thoughts for consideration.  First, zoom is here to stay; we can make it easier for distant scientists to engage with RMBL, including seminars, the undergrad program, and discussions with board members.  While the priority will always be on bringing students to Gothic, there may be a role for distance learning that I never imagined.

Second, the education program (undergrad, high school, and even younger programs), has been more important to research than I could have imagined.  Multiple research programs benefited from the presence of young scientists, some of whom began getting engaged with RMBL science even before high school.

Finally, I learned that we can be successful despite the virus.  Even if there is no widely available vaccine, by the summer of 2021 we will know a great deal more about how to test for, manage the transmission of, and treat, covid19.  Given what we learned about how to operate with the virus this summer, on very short notice and despite limited knowledge, the summer of 2021 will be that much better.

As always, feel free to send me your thoughts, feedback, and/or ideas for future blogs.  We will be starting our evaluation of summer 2020 soon, and identifying improvements for 2021, so this is a perfect time for feedback.  For those of you still around, let’s connect in person if you have the time and interest.  Stay healthy and enjoy fall!

Director’s Blog 10/18/20

Director’s Blog October 18, 2020

By Ian Billick, PhD

What does it mean to lead a scientific organization in a period of collapsing trust in institutions?

In an article in the Atlantic, “America is having a moral convulsion” David Brooks points out that social trust, or the confidence that others will do what they ought to do most of the time, is at an all-time low.  Structural racial and financial inequality are among the many rational reasons distrust is increasing.  However, distrust makes our lives poorer, literally.  Higher trust nations have lower economic inequality and distrust is associated with depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Several years ago, RMBL Science Director (and in the interests of full disclosure, also my wife) Jennie Reithel asked when we became “the administration”.  Having reconciled myself to this transition a decade or so earlier, I found the label less distressful.  But I took her point.  She does not see herself as “the other”.  Starting as an undergraduate and having done grad work at RMBL, she sees herself as a scientist and former student, who for personal and professional reasons spends her time getting scientists access to research sites and fostering collaborations.  She draws her energy from making good things happen for students and scientists. Subtle, and not so subtle, questionings of motivation are a symptom of growing general distrust.  According to Brooks, most people in the US don’t trust others when they first meet them.

What does RMBL do to build trust?  As important as shared intent, trust is gained when an organization actively works to effectively understand and respond to the needs of its stakeholders in service to its mission.  We embed staff in the RMBL community to build reciprocal understanding and empathy.  We rigorously evaluate operations through our online survey and personal interviews.  We engage scientists on committees, from finance to research to diversity, with a focus on individuals advancing the collective good rather than personal agendas.  Our Board includes a broad representation of scientists.

Engaging scientists in decision-making is challenging.  You are pulled in a thousand directions, including your family, the institution that pays you, and your students.  Decisions may not be as obvious as they seem, bound by financial and regulatory constraints that may make no sense, but which RMBL cannot avoid.  Being empathetic to multiple perspectives imposes a significant cognitive load.  But to build a high-functioning institution means that we can’t dismiss people who disagree with us by calling into question their motivations or suggesting they just aren’t bright enough to get it.  Those arguments ring hollow; people don’t come to Gothic because they are motivated by fame or money, and everybody is smart.

As part of encouraging engagement, Emily Snow put together an excellent guide to RMBL decision-making.  Is RMBL perfect?  No.  Are we always trying to be better?  Yes.

Does building trust matter?  Brooks cites ethicist Sillela Bok, “Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives.”  There are a lot of things that the RMBL community holds dear about our future, from maintaining the integrity of the ecosystems surround Gothic, to maintaining a priceless collection of long-term studies, that will only be achieved through collective action.   Trust will be the foundation on which we stand; distrust will be the quicksand in which we sink.

Beyond the Gothic valley, humankind’s capacity to manage the world will depend upon the extent to which they trust, and follow, the science.  In building an institution that scientists trust, while keeping our eyes wide open to the ways in which we can improve, we are providing leadership for taking on hard worldwide problems that will require collective action, from institutional racism, to climate change, to food insecurity, and pandemics.

Thanks to CB resident Michael Baim for pointing this article out to me.  As always, feel free to reach out, express an opinion, or ask a question.  I’m always looking for good reading material and topics for blog posts!