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Much to Celebrate, a Big Gift and More

April 10, 2017

To the UW community:

Good Monday morning! As we approach the final five weeks of the semester, momentum is building, and the number of events doubles (easily) from the normal semester’s pace. It is an exciting time of year as we welcome visiting lecturers, congratulate students at awards and scholarship events, feature students’ work, and host a variety of statewide high school competitions and events. I am doing my best to get to as many of these as possible!

Last week I enjoyed a reception with staff members hosted by Staff Senate. The reception is a time for me to meet and visit with staff in an informal setting. And today we celebrate UW staff as they hold their annual recognition day. I have authorized three hours of release time for all staff to attend, and I congratulate those who are receiving awards or other recognition for their service to UW. Thank you for all you do, and enjoy the celebration!

Over the weekend I received good news on several individuals or teams. Let me share in an abbreviated manner…

--Congratulations to Robert Rust, UW geography master's student, and his teammates on the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Geography Bowl team for winning the World Geography Bowl at the American Association of Geographers meeting on Saturday, April 8, in Boston. Robert and the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Geography Bowl Team competed for five hours and won the round-robin competition in 10 undefeated rounds!

-- The University of Wyoming Geography Department, the Wyoming Geographic Alliance and Casper College hosted the National Geographic Wyoming Geography Bee on Friday, March 31, at Casper College. Forty-four participants in the fourth through eighth grades from around the state competed. The top contestants were:

-- First place -- Preston Buehler, seventh grade, Star Valley Middle School, Afton. As the 2017 Wyoming National Geographic Bee champion, he received $100, the National Geographic Concise Atlas of the World, fourth edition, and a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Wyoming in the National Geographic Bee Championships to be held at National Geographic Society headquarters May 14-17.

-- Second place -- Aidan Coberly, seventh grade, Upton Middle School.

-- Third place -- Adam Carey, eighth grade, Casper Classical Academy.

-- The UW debate team concluded its season of competition with two students, Culver and Carter Henman, qualifying for the National Debate Tournament for the 14th consecutive year. The Pokes claimed victories against Georgetown University, James Madison University and the University of Texas-Dallas. Even when they came up short, they ensured it was an extremely close debate, forcing split decisions against Gonzaga University and Binghamton. Congratulations!

-- Bobbie John and Mike Cheadle (and others) were featured in NSF Science Now: Episode 5, as they (and researchers from Scripts and University of Victoria) discovered five hydrothermal vents on the bottom of the ocean. Aboard the research vessel Atlantis, their discovery occurred in eastern Pacific waters at 7,500 feet below the ocean’s surface. They are current mapping the lower oceanic crust.

On Monday evening, Tim and I attended “Wyoming Goes Global,” sponsored by the Center for Global Studies. The panel discussion included informative presentations from Drs. Jason Toohey, Anthropology; Derek Scasta, Ecosystem Science and Management; and Urszula Norton, Plant Sciences. In addition, two graduate students presented: Christopher Rumple, Mechanical Engineering; and Yara Thomas, Architectural Engineering. All were recipients of the 2016 CGS grant awards for international research projects, and they shared the nature of their research and progress to date. The program was followed by poster presentations of several undergraduate and graduate students. The evening once more affirmed for me the value of global engagement in our mission of teaching, research and outreach.

Last Tuesday was an exciting day, as a $2.5 million gift from Alchemy Sciences was announced. Seven of Alchemy’s leadership team were here to tour the High Bay Research Facility, meet with Dr. Piri and his team on this research partnership, and travel to Cheyenne to meet with Governor Mead and hold a press conference. The day concluded with Tim and I hosting dinner at our home for the Alchemy and UW partners. The gift will be matched by the state to develop research funding and an endowed chair in petroleum engineering. This type of industry partnership is an affirmation of the cutting-edge research occurring at UW, and it provides resources necessary to recruit and retain top-quality faculty, post-docs and graduate students. Congratulations to Dr. Piri, Dr. Northam, the School of Energy Resources and the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Wednesday morning was absolutely delightful, as I had a private showing of “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science” by Dr. Ellen Currano, assistant professor of botany and geology. The project was the brainstorm of Ellen and several colleagues, and it consists of 39 large black-and-white photographs of leading women paleontologists…wearing beards and moustaches. A documentary film accompanies the photo exhibit and features Dr. Currano and several other successful paleontologists. The project conveys women’s reality of gender bias -- intentional and unintentional -- in achieving professional success. Later in the week, I learned that the project is featured in Science, as an interview about the film and touring exhibit. I thank Dr. Currano for taking time to meet me and show me the exhibit, as I missed the opening reception in early March. It is a creative, impactful exhibit. 

Wednesday was also the start of the Shepard Symposium, with the keynote provided by Dr. Robert Bullard, a sociologist from Houston. His speech about building healthy and just communities recalled his earliest experience with environmental justice when his (mostly black) neighborhood in Houston was selected for a future landfill. He retold the story of how he fought this choice, which was also the subject of his first book, “Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality.” Dr. Bullard had a wonderful sense of humor and delivered a dense lecture with many statistics and examples. After the opening lecture, I hosted a reception for the symposium participants, including speakers, volunteers and committee members. The symposium continued Thursday, Friday and Saturday with many speakers, panels, poster sessions and more.  My thanks again to the planning committee members, who did a remarkable job of designing a three-day conference with excellent topics and speakers.

On Thursday, I and several others from UW traveled to Gillette to attend the annual meeting of the Energy Capital Economic Development Association. The theme, “Taking Charge of Our Future,” included keynotes from Jim Ford, vice president of operations with Atlas Carbon, and me. I reflected on my first year as president and then spoke about the importance of a post-secondary education in opening doors of opportunity in one’s life. I also talked about planning underway to increase our enrollment and research focused on the energy industry -- both have significant implications for economic prosperity in Wyoming. The event was attended by about 200 and held at the newly opened Gillette College Pronghorn Center. The annual meeting and banquet was followed on Friday with an Advanced Carbon Products Conference where UW’s Rob Godby and Richard Horner were on the program to present.

Friday was a day one did not want to be away from campus. There were several distinguished -- in fact, downright impressive -- guests at UW. Let me tell you about three that I had the opportunity to see.

The morning began when I hosted a breakfast for Baroness Catherine Ashton. Many consider her one of the most influential women in the world. She served in the House of Lords and in 2008 was named European Union trade commissioner. Friday afternoon, Baroness Ashton gave a public address titled “A New World (Dis)Order,” in which she emphasized the importance of global collaboration. Sponsored by the Center for Global Studies, the baroness was genuine, warm and most impressive. It was an honor to meet her.

At noon, I snuck over to the Berry Center auditorium to hear Dr. Neil Shubin speak on “Your Inner Fish.” Dr. Shubin delivered the L. Floyd Clarke lecture on Thursday evening, but I was not able to attend. So at Dr. Skinner’s invitation, I attended the departmental lecture instead. Dr. Shubin is a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, distinguished professor at the University of Chicago and provost of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. He is a popular science author and is a gifted lecturer. His research takes place at both poles and through ancient fossils, connecting human anatomy and the structures in fish. I was so fascinated by his lecture that I’ve added his book to my reading list!

Tim and I ended Friday by attending the reception for Tau Beta Pi Honor Society, College of Engineering. While we were not able to stay for the dinner and program, it was fun to congratulate several students and meet a few key scholarship donors and the distinguished alumni award recipient.

Then we rushed to “Just Passing Through: An Evening with Garrison Keillor.” I have listened to Garrison Keillor’s program, “A Prairie Home Companion,” on public radio for years, including favorite Lake Wobegon stories. I was anxious to see him entertain in person … and we were not disappointed. This evening of storytelling and singing was perhaps one of the most unusual shows I have experienced. I was prepared for Keillor’s dry sense of humor and funny stories; I was not prepared for the singing. He led a full A&S auditorium in a cappella singing of golden oldies, patriotic, gospel and folk songs.
We actually sounded pretty good! I was amazed by Keillor’s talent. He talked (and sang) for 2.5 hours with not a note, script, slides, Power Point or songbook.

The weekend presented two more enjoyable events. On Saturday evening Tim and I attended “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” performed at the Gryphon Theatre and as guests of Cecilia Aragon and her husband, Jed. The play was written by Larissa Fasthorse, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and is based on a true historical event. The four actors did a terrific job of conveying a complex story with deep historical and cultural meaning. And Sunday night, we attended “Celebrate Nepal 2017” sponsored by the Friends of Nepal at UW. I was happy to begin the program with a welcome; the program consisted of cultural dances and singing, and it ended with a cultural fashion show of beautiful Nepalese dress. We enjoyed the program, but the best part was observing how much the Nepalese students were enjoying themselves. We are so fortunate to have international students at UW, and the Nepal students are a big part of our international community. Thank you and congratulations, Friends of Nepal at UW, for a successful evening.

I conclude by pointing out the UW Board of Trustees conference call this Wednesday morning with a very brief agenda. Campus interviews begin this week for the dean of the Haub School -- for more information on the finalists and schedule, please see here. I encourage you to attend the public presentation if your schedule allows. I know your feedback is appreciated. In addition, I understand that the searches for both the vice president for research and economic development, and the vice president for student affairs, are coming along nicely. Campus interviews will be announced soon.

Have a great week!

Laurie Nichols, President

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