The Universities Council on Water Resources community welcomes our 2021-2022 President, Dr. Kelly Cobourn, Associate Professor of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech. She brings a passion for interdisciplinary research to our organization, with research and teaching in the area of bioeconomic modeling to explore the connections between natural systems and human decision making. She works to support water research, education, and outreach through her work on the Board of Directors for the Universities Council on Water Resources, on which she has served since 2016. During her tenure on the board, Kelly has engaged in numerous leadership roles including substantive work during UCOWR’s 2017 Strategic Plan development and 3-year implementation, chairing and serving on annual conference committees, and filling other conference service roles. Kelly looks forward to opportunities to further support the mission of UCOWR throughout her term as President.
We talked with Kelly recently to learn about her priorities for her term as President of UCOWR Board of Directors. First and foremost, she recognizes the need to acknowledge the impacts of the pandemic upon UCOWR and its members. “I’m really concerned about early career scientists and the lack of opportunity they may have had to network with more experienced scientists…for feedback on presentations, and that informal type of mentoring that is a really important part of what I valued about UCOWR [as an early career professional],” Kelly notes. She has the sense that “after the year and a half of isolation I think this group is thirsty for opportunities to rebuild a sense of community. We’ve always had some nice early career networking events at the conference.” But, since the interruption of Covid paused conference networking, Kelly adds, “I want to think about creating other opportunities outside the conference, throughout the year, to help early career professionals develop a network, feel connected, and to be engaged with our community.”
The shifting in work and life balance over the course of the pandemic is another impact Kelly is interested in exploring. “Amongst my colleagues there’s been a lot of discussion about how the past year and a half has led people to rethink how they allocate their time between home and work,” she remarks. “I wonder if this is a shift that holds more broadly?” For many, fewer travel and work commitments have opened up time for more personal interests. From her own experience she says, “Not having the opportunity to travel has revealed to me that it can be quite exhausting! I really, really enjoy it, but I think that it might lead me to reprioritize how I approach conferences in the future. I’d like to get a handle on what the membership is thinking, and if this experience has changed what they would value from the UCOWR community moving forward.”
Are hybrid conferences the way of the future? Kelly tells us, “I would rather be in person! I think my approach would be just to be more selective about choosing one conference per summer – it would be UCOWR, for me. I enjoy it for a number of reasons!” But for conferences in general she says, “if I really couldn’t be there in person, I would probably favor the hybrid format…I don’t prefer the virtual experience. But some people love it – I’ve heard some rave that they can do more and attend so many more presentations. I think it’s just different modes for different people, and maybe that’s useful information, too. Maybe we can expand our reach and our audience by having those different modes of engagement.”
Despite recent challenges, Kelly is optimistic for the coming year for UCOWR. “I hope to see us transitioning toward a more normal mode of operation by next spring… But it’s possible we’ll just have to be really flexible and adaptable, and I think that has been a good lesson learned over the past couple of years, too.”
Kelly will be navigating much of her term as UCOWR President from France, as she is about to begin a year-long sabbatical as Invited Professor at Paris Dauphine University (an arrangement postponed from last year due to Covid 19 restrictions). Kelly joked at a recent UCOWR board meeting that “my first order of business will be to convert our operations entirely into French!” and in fact, does aim to become fluent over the year. Her UCOWR colleagues may be surprised to learn that Kelly is well on her way to being trilingual. She studied Spanish for over ten years – her entire student life and beyond – and began studying French about ten years ago so she can speak the language with her French sister-in-law and her two French-speaking nephews.
We at the UCOWR home office wish Kelly a fantastic sabbatical experience, and, as the pandemic situation gradually abates, look forward to working with her and all the Board of Directors to steer UCOWR through the coming year of transition and adaptation.
Read more about Dr. Kelly Cobourn here: