Twenty Years of CUAHSI - Rick Hooper

Rick Hooper, March 11, 2021

As the founding Director of CUAHSI, I was around at the beginning when NSF offered us a tantalizing opportunity to move hydrologic science "into the big time" and to develop facilities like those that support research in seismology and atmospheric science. But realizing that opportunity we were given required us to advance compelling science questions (that is, compelling in the eyes of NSF) that could only be answered by making those investments. Furthermore, we had to demonstrate that a consensus existed within the community that those were the right questions to advance. This was a tall order, to say the least, and I (and the community) remain indebted to those who unselfishly gave of their time to define these facilities.

While many senior members of our community worked untold hours crafting plans and debating what those science questions should be, I noticed something else happening. Although the focus was on developing plans for these facilities, we had the opportunity to advance small initiatives in what was termed “education and outreach.” Different board members over the years had ideas of how CUAHSI could help. Robyn Hannigan said that she would gladly offer training classes but didn’t want to handle logistics. Hence, the first training classes were developed in which CUAHSI organized registration, housing, etc. so that professors could focus on the training. NSF provided modest direct subsidies (in addition to paying for staff time at CUAHSI) to allow partial scholarships to be offered to defray the cost of tuition for the classes. Steve Loheide envisioned offering for-credit seminars across multiple universities. This became the CUAHSI Virtual University. In addition, NSF encouraged CUAHSI to hold a scientific meeting. The Board wrestled with this—we had AGU, we had GSA, we had ASCE, did we need another meeting? In response, we developed a Gordon Conference-style meeting that had a few long-form talks and plenty of time for informal discussion held in a self-contained conference facility. This style complemented existing professional meetings.

These activities shared one important trait—they were initiated by community members to fill a community need. CUAHSI was simply a mechanism to address that need and to funnel resources to meet that need. NSF was receptive to these requests, particularly as we developed a track record of delivering effective programs and provided the resources as part of the annual budget negotiations with CUAHSI.

Before every 5-year renewal, CUAHSI’s performance is evaluated by a review board, consisting of both members from our community and other geoscience disciplines. One of my fondest memories of these rather stressful reviews is the remarks by a seismologist who was amazed at our education initiatives. “It’s like you are actually doing what the community wants!” he said.

I view building this community as the greater accomplishment of CUAHSI beyond its individual programs. I observed how grad students who had attended one of the early Biennial Symposia became professors and simply took the existence of CUAHSI as a matter of course. To them, it was always there—a resource to be used and called upon when needed. That was the best reward for that turbulent beginning