Director’s Blog 2/10/19

Director’s Blog February 10, 2019
By Ian Billick, PhD

It may seem odd, but RMBL staff Gesa Michel and Samantha Siegfried are busy planning a RMBL-led conference in Washington DC in early April. Every several years there is a meeting of directors of site programs for NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduate programs. It’s a chance to share best practices and foster communications between NSF and programs. This year RMBL is handling the logistics as well as organizing the agenda and speakers.

RMBL has always supported meetings in the Gunnison Basin. The Evolution meetings, which this year had about 2700 participants in Montpellier, France, came to Crested Butte in 1984. But RMBL got serious about meetings in 2015 with the opening of the billy barr community center.

We have had two goals, which are ideally synergistic. First, the meetings are a great way to support science and build RMBL’s scientific profile. The Mountain Climate meetings last fall were flat out fun! Great talks, ideas flowing, and a first visit to Gothic for many. Since 2015 we about 750 scientists have participated in our Gothic based science conferences.

Second, the meetings help financially. RMBL’s has struggled over 90 years to take care of buildings and provide a high level of service when we are operational and generating revenue June-August. The meetings allow us to reduce the amount of fixed operating costs that we charge any one scientist. While we only thought briefly about asking molecular biologists to ski into Gothic in April for the REU meetings, even though the meetings are in DC they help us maintain staff in year-round positions and generate overhead. And RMBL is a leader in training undergraduate researchers!

We are not beyond charging an outrageous amount of money for use of the community center in the fall for a handful of weddings; the revenue has helped fund core operations. We hope that eventually we will be able to focus on revenue-generating activities that are core to our mission. But until our buildings are in better shape, and we aren’t scrambling to fund key staff, we have to stretch to offer high quality services at reasonable prices (to scientists, not mothers-in-law). Oddly enough, we’ve found that the people that like to get married in Gothic, include field scientists, environmentalists, and science journalists! Sometimes synergies emerge in unexpected ways.

And thanks to long-time RMBL’er Dr. Rosemary Smith for joining us in DC in April to help with the REU meetings!