Above is my favorite photo from my "Montana Magisterial" album. Click the photo to view the rest of it. Below is a photo taken on the saddle between Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, and Mount Monroe.
In the summer of 2014 I rode my bicycle, a Trek Marlin 29er, across the continent of North America. I stuck to the Transamerica route from Virginia to Oregon, crossing 10 states in 9 weeks. However, I took a slow, sauntering ride up the coast of Oregon, feasting on seafood, pizza, and craft beer so that my total trip time was ten weeks. I lost 40 pounds.
Below is a photo I took on my second to last day at Canon Beach, OR. You can see from the odometer on the handlebars that at that point I had ridden 4634.5 miles. As a solo biker, I had expected the trip to be a solitary experience, but in turned out to be a highly social one with an interesting cast of characters from all over the world. Click on the picture to access my trip diary, styled as a blog.
Considering that Ithaca is a small town that has an Ivy League university and a liberal arts college, I was surprised to learn that there was no "Nerd Night" equivalent. I greatly enjoyed such events in Colorado and Arizona, where people would gather at a local bar to listen to public lectures on a variety of intellectually-stimulating topics, and felt Ithaca would too. I also felt that in the academically dense town of Ithaca, such an event would be a great way to bridge the gap between those in the Ivory Tower (or in Ithaca's case, on the Ivory Hills) and the rest of the city. But since no such event existed, I made one myself.
I am the founder and the lead organizer of Public Works, An Ithaca Nerd Night Experience. I made friends with the owner of one of my favorite local watering holes and got her on board with the idea, where we'd have talks from Cornell and Ithaca College postdocs, professors, grad students, and community experts on all manner of topics, typically with one science talk and one humanities talk each night. I recruited a lecturer in the Medieval Studies Department to manage the humanities-side speaker selection and advertisements (and who also conveniently had a projector), while I handled the science-side. I made the logo and later a website, and I gave one of the two talks on our opening night, titled "A Song of Ice and Dust, or Why We're Sending a 40 Million Dollar Flying Trash Can to Europa".
The first night was a smashing success, with some of my acquaintances later telling me that they turned around at the door because the bar was packed. We had hung posters, which I had designed myself, in various departments across campus, blasted emails out to yet more departments, and spread the word through our personal networks. We have since recruited a social media coordinator as an additional team member, and Public Works now meets once a month. The first event was in October of 2022, and it's been standing room only ever since.
From 2017 to 2021, I was the head organizer of LunGradCon (LGC), a conference designed to help grad students navigate the world of academic conferences and planetary science. Since giving presentations is such an important part of academia and planetary science, we thought it was a bit silly that the typical method of teaching students to present is to the throw them in the deep end at a live conference. Funded by the NASA Solar System Exploration Virtual Institute (SSERVI) and typically held at NASA Ames Research Center, we provided a space for grad students and early career scientists and engineers to give academic presentations in an environment composed entirely of their peers so they could get feedback and experience in a low-stress envrionment. We also facilitated networking between the students and the NASA SSERVI group at large during the NASA Exploration Science Forum, a SSERVI conference that would take place immediately after LunGradCon. We also provided travel funds for students, covering airfare, hotel, and per diem to make the conference more accessible.
As the lead organizer, my primary tasks were high-level decision making, assigning duties to the other 3-4 team members, writing the funding proposals, and making sure the accounting, travel reimburesments, and logistics (e.g. wifi, projectors, mics, rooms) were all in order. I also set up regular meetings with NASA SSERVI personnel to coordinate our meeting with the Exploration Science Forum, but also to organize panels of career NASA scientists for question and answer sessions with the LunGradCon attendees. I further organized panels of former LunGradCon speakers themselves who were now successfully in the planetary science field to answer questions about what happens after grad school. Both panels were my own initiatives, and they are now regular staples of LGC.
Because the baseline funding was only able to cover students from the United States, I fought for and received an additional line of funding from SSERVI leadership to specifically cover international student travel. Because of this, LunGradCon received its first batch of foreign speakers, specifically from La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (one of whom, I might add, gifted me an excellent bottle of tequila as recompense for the personal effort I made in getting him to LGC).
As did everyone in 2020, we had to quickly adapt to the realities of virtual meetings. While we would have preferred to meet in person, we were quite successful in converting the conference to the virtual format. Because networking is one of the major goals of the conference, I spearheaded some novel methods of using zoom rooms to get our attendees to actually talk to each other during conference breaks rather than just sign off. At the suggestion of one of my team members, I also organized an online and entirely goofy virtual race for attendees to inject some fun into the meetings, and it was very well-received.
Each year we solicited anonymous feedback from our students, and each year we received rave reviews. Under my leadership, we also dramatically expanded the size and scope of LGC. When I started organizing, LunGradCon typically had about 17 presentations each year, with around 20 attendees. The last in-person conference I organized had 25 presentations and 40 attendees. The last all-digital conference I organized also had 25 speakers (which was a hard upper limit due to time constraints), but over 80 attendees.
Above is another photo from "Montana Magisterial". Below is a photo of me atop the most beautiful mountain I've ever hiked, Uncompahgre Peak in SW Colorado.