In celebration of GBI’s 25th anniversary, we’ve been reaching out to staff members, past and present, and asking them to tell us a little bit about their experiences with the Institute over the years. GBI’s Director of Development, Chris Warner, is one such staff member.
When did you start at GBI?
What is/was your role(s) with GBI?
Swiss Army Knife. During my 18-year career with GBI I have served in a variety of roles at GBI. I was first hired to develop and grow the Research Associate program in September 2005. I assumed the title of Program Director around 2008/09. I resigned that role in July 2011 when I relocated to Pennsylvania., at which point I served the Institute in more of a consultant role. In 2013 I was asked to take on a part-time Program Analyst role, in May 2015 I moved into a full-time role as Senior Program Analyst, and then in October 2017 assumed my current role as Director of Development.
During my tenure at GBI, I assisted with: establishing new offices just off UNR’s campus (across from the Record Street Cafe), as well the current office on Mt. Rose Highway; vetting and managing our current and only IT consultant (CMIT, now Leverage IT), including troubleshooting the server and phone system; managing software and field hardware; representing GBI interests within the Corps industry, agency leadership, and congressional delegation; staff mentorship; official representative on numerous The Corps Network groups (Corps Council member, chair of the Membership Committee, co-chair of the Gov’t Relations committee; Public Lands Service Coalition Steering Committee).
Describe your start with GBI. What was the experience like?
In the early years, when GBI was a much smaller operation, all staff supported all operations as and when necessary. For instance, it would not be uncommon if I was conducting vehicle safety inspections with ICVE staff for the NCC while our lead accountant conducted reference checks for new DT hires and the Executive Director wrote annual performance reports. The staff in those early years were few, but close knit. Friday afternoon happy hours at a local watering hole were not uncommon, and well deserved.
The Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) had recently been signed into law and land bills for eastern Nevada public lands were on the cusp of passage. Collectively, these pieces of legislation were instrumental in the conservation of Nevada’s public lands and GBIs ability to be a leader in that movement. In fact, GBI (along with ENLC) was written into these bills as a preferred partner, which opened up the opportunity for GBI to open an office in Ely, NV in 2008.
What were some of the greatest challenges that you faced during your time at GBI?
In the beginning, we were creating something new with the RA program, which meant that we had to create a lot of the rules/policies and otherwise figure things out as we went along. I was responsible for all aspects of the program: developing and maintaining partnerships, recruiting and hiring RAs, administering benefits and payroll, supporting project logistics, as well as attending to GBI administrative duties and personnel matters. While it is satisfying to see the dividends that those early efforts paid, at times the work was challenging, mentally trying, and outright frustrating.
Relocating the east coast in 2011 and serving as GBI’s first, and at the time only remote work offered its share of benefits and challenges. While I could accomplish what took 40 hours in the office in half the time from my home office, the lack of direct interaction with colleagues, partners, and members was a tough adjustment. Similarly, the remote work experience did allow me to offer an “outside” leadership perspective on matters that might have been otherwise clouded or jaded by office politics. The serendipity of my remote work experience was evident when COVID-19 hit and the world went into lockdown: with the exception of having my wife and kids at the house, which was actually no different than summer time, it was business as usual for me. While the challenges that COVID presented were many, it cannot be understated how much of a galvanizing force the pandemic proved to be for GBI (and the Corps industry more broadly). Among other things, we learned how to communicate and collaborate in a much more inclusive and diverse manner.
Do you have a favorite memory or fun story about your time at GBI that you’d like to share?
Many of my early memories involving GBI are of the work hard/play hard variety…especially the road trips along I-80 and Rt. 50, and to Vegas/Boulder City. These proved to be really strong bonding opportunities, both socially and professionally. Some more specific memories from the early days, include…
- GBI had a boat we used for more efficiently transporting crew members to various parts of Lake Mead to conduct restoration efforts. When the boat wasn’t in use at Lake Mead, it returned to Reno and we would take it out on Pyramid Lake for staff retreats while fishing for LCT.
- Catching first tracks at Mt. Rose before coming into the office and staff snowshoe treks in the Tahoe Meadows bring back many fond memories.
- There was also the time that nearly the entire GBI staff, which at the time was no more than a dozen, showed up at my front door for a holiday party my (now) wife and I were hosting singing holiday carols.
- Jerry and I called a meeting of BLM NV project partners ca. 2009 at the BLM NV State Office. During the meeting we indicated that we had received supplemental AmeriCorps funding through the ARRA and were seeking partners with project funding to leverage. Marc Coca announced he had $500k for a novel landscape-level monitoring pilot project. That seed funding and a partnership with the Jornada Experimental Research Station became the BLMS Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) strategy and what is today the backbone of the Ecological Monitoring program.
- On my birthday (July 26th) in 2007 or 2008 I attended the Desert Managers Group meeting in Big Bear Lake, CA. My intent was to co-present an update on our work with Dr. Don Sada related to a desert spring monitoring project we had been conducting within Mojave I&M Network parks. During a hosted field trip I became engaged in a conversation with a FWS employee named Linda Allison, who had recently been hired by the Desert Tortoise office to oversee the Line Distance Sampling monitoring efforts. It was this chance encounter, and some personal relationships I made through my (now) wife’s PhD program at UNR that GBI began running this annual monitoring effort and took over management of the BLMs desert tortoise recovery center. It is how Terry Christopher came to be an employee of GBI.
How has GBI changed/grown during your time with the Institute?
This question is almost unfair to ask, as the institute I was first hired to work for was an infant compared to today’s GBI. Seeing and being an instrumental part of its evolution over the past 18 years of its 25-year history has been nothing short of amazing. Specifically, seeing the RA program I was hired to develop and grow splinter into 4 independent programs (RA + Ecological Monitoring, BRF, and CRS) is testament to the quality of programming we provide…and I see the potential for at least one more offshoot in the near future! Having independent/stand alone CRS and NEPA programs were objectives Jerry and I conceived in the mid-aughts; seeing those programs finally stand on their own is quite satisfying.
From a staffing perspective, aside from the number of employees growing, I have witnessed a maturing of who the GBI staff are. Once a collection of, primarily, recent graduates in their 20s and early 30s who were not married and without kids, GBI is now a family-friendly workplace that welcomes the presence of spouses and kiddos (including those of the four-legged variety) at work functions, recognizes and embraces the complications that are associated with having a family, and is now able to offer benefits that are designed to support a career and family (i.e. retirement and life insurance). It is not that GBI didn’t or wouldn’t have supported those values in the early days, there was just less of a need and when that need began to present itself the institute was quick to respond.
Additional thoughts about GBI’s contribution, both at large and for you personally?
GBI has been, in my eyes, a mostly-silent partner in the conservation of Nevada’s public lands and, more broadly, those of the intermountain west. Organizationally we never chased the proverbial dragon, which I believe many of our organizational colleagues were guilty of at times, when funding priorities were not in direct alignment with our mission (i.e. the weatherization and green energy focus that followed the housing collapse of 2008). Instead, we have always remained focused on what we do best and allowed growth to occur simultaneously in both a targeted/directed and organic manner: this is how we developed, sustained, and grew the seven direct service programs that we operate today.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I served for two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the EPA in Philadelphia. That experience led to a policy fellowship at EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis, MD. Collectively, these two experiences solidified my desire to work in the environmental field, but I recognized that without formal education in the physical sciences my support would need to be in the policy/administrative arena. After completing a graduate degree in Environmental Policy at UNR, I was offered the opportunity to work at GBI. The benefit of 20/20 hindsight has allowed me to see that GBI provided me the opportunity to achieve my career objective(s) of supporting our environment while continuing to serve the public.