History of FRSES

Interview with Richard Gill, early student organizer of FRSES

with Elsie Denton, student director of FRSES committee
February 14, 2014

Elsie: So where are you now?
Richard: I'm an associate professor at BYU. I work with ecosystem and global change biology and plant physiology.
E: Were you involved with FRSES?
R:
Yes. I was on the organizing committee and I presented a few years.
E:
Who else was involved?
R: Putting the event together? Jeb Barrett, he's at Virginia now and Rebecca Phillips, I think she might be in Oklahoma. And [another member].. He's not in academia any more, but is a volleyball coach in Utah. A real good guy.
E: How did you decide on the format for the symposium?
R:
It was pretty haphazard you know. I guess it was designed to be like a mini ESA, so some folks used that as a guideline. I was pretty new at the time so just went with what they said. Some of it just happened, for instance some one said the talks would be 15 minutes long, and that is what they were.
E:
What was the process of putting on the symposium like?
R:
Pretty chaotic. Running around trying to find funding, space. No one really knew what they were doing then.
E:
How big was the symposium in those early years?
R:
Not that big. Maybe 20 people. We didn't have concurrent sessions or anything. Just a morning session and an afternoon session and maybe a poster session during lunch. Then we all went out to Avo's afterwards. It was pretty low pressure.
E:
Currently students come from multiple school's across the front range to present at FRSES was that always the case?
R:
Maybe not the first year. That may have been just CSU folks, but it was pretty small and we realized that we needed more people so we reached out to other students in the Front Range, like at CU Boulder or up in Laramie and ask them to present as well. It was a good way to make professional connections, so of the people I met through the Front Range event I still work with and see at professional meetings. It has been fruitful.
E:
How many students did you get from other schools that first year?
R:
No many maybe one or two. It was mostly CSU students at the start, but it grew, got better known. Maybe only 55% of the presenters were from CSU my last year.
E:
Did you present at FRSES yourself?
R:
Yes, every year. It was a required part of being in the Burke/Lauenroth lab. It was really good practice.
E:
Had you given a professional presentation before FRSES?
R:
No, it was my first time speaking about my research. It was a good venue, really low key and gave you a chance to see what everyone else was working on.
E:
Do you think your experience with FRSES benefited you latter in your career?
R:
Definitely, it was great practice. You really had to get used to putting your ideas together and presenting them to people. Those are important skills to develop.
E: So I've been trying to determine where the name Front Range Student Ecology Symposium came from, can you shed some light on that?
R:
Not really, I think it was pretty much just descriptive. We wanted it to be about students, since faculty get too much attention anyway, and we wanted it to be about more than just CSU, hence the "Front Range" Part. And then it was a symposium about ecology. Maybe if we'd put more thought into it we could have come up with a cooler acronym, one that actually meant something, but it wasn't really our focus at the time.
E:
So I talked to Dan Binkley recently and he said one of the things that he really remembers about the symposium was the switch from slides to powerpoint, can you think of any events like that that really stand out?
R:
Well yeah, the switch from slides was a big one. It took weeks to prepare back then. Most talks were actually ESA talks. Either recycled from last year or preparing for next year. People put a lot of work into them. You could tell the people who'd put off their talk because they'd be using over heads, remember those? You always knew you were at a modeling talk and they'd just generated their data the night before because it was on the overhead.
E:
Who mostly participated in FRSES while you were there?
R:
Oh we had people from all over. From biology, from soil and crop sciences. But there was a really big presence from the ecosystem science people like the Burke and Lauenroth labs. There was a big push to participate.
E:
Any other thoughts? Tidbits you'd like to share?
R: Well you mentioned Dan Binkley. It was always real intimidating to have him in the room. In those days he was a young and upcoming professor and he was always pushing you, asking the hard questions. Him and Tom Stohlgren. It was such a presence in the room, so much brain power. You really had to have your stuff together because you didn't want to embarrass yourself in front of your peers.