No overview of GBI’s 25 years would be complete without the voice of Jerry Keir. Jerry co-founded the Institute and served as its executive director until just last year. No one has seen GBI grow and flourish the way that Jerry has.
What was your role(s) with GBI?
I was the co-founder with Sanjay Pyare and the CEO for 25 years. I helped establish the nonprofit model within the University and supported the development of programs with aid of many supporters, including faculty, graduate students, interns, volunteers and eventually paid GBI staff.
Describe the founding of GBI and the impetus for starting the Institute.
Sanjay Pyare and I were graduate students. We thought establishing a clearing house for student involvement in field studies seemed like a need at the time. In 1998, we taught an interdisciplinary course through continuing education. Course title: The Great Basin Institute. From then, we added several additional courses that led to grants and agreements to fund student projects. GBI was built from that idealistic yet practical notion.
What were some of the greatest challenges that you faced during your time at GBI?
There weren’t too many terrible challenges, actually. Some of the more notable difficulties were those associated with accessing agency funding, enduring government shutdowns, and solving labor shortages while mobilizing a 600-person seasonal workforce. Of course, there were the uncertainties and anxieties that accompanied stock market crashes, the Great Recession, a few megafires and the global pandemic. Good times, otherwise. We still had lots of fun despite these challenges, mostly because of the great sense of hope and possibility that drove the organization.
Do you have a favorite memory or fun story about your time at GBI that you’d like to share?
One of my favorite memories involve recruiting our Board of Directors to support research in central pacific Mexico. They suffered the tropics along with the students admirably (e.g. camped near a swamp filled with crocodiles, endured swarms of mosquitos, ate suspect meals prepared with questionable sanitary methods). They demonstrated true loyalty to our educational mission and inspired my work then and to this day. I was lucky to have these people in my work and life.
How has GBI changed/grown during your time with the Institute?
As it happened, GBI has grown by no small measure to become something far greater than anything Sanjay and I had imagined. From a few University field study courses, GBI has evolved in sophistication and complexity to provide a wide range of natural resource support services. Lots of wonderfully positive changes in that evolutionary story, but one thing never changed: a shared commitment to our mission to advance environmental service, education and outreach. What a wonderful outcome.
Additional thoughts about GBI’s contribution, both at large and for you personally?
The Institute is so diverse in so many ways yet still makes sense, remaining cohesive and practical. GBI is singular in this compelling manner, and, to my knowledge, it is unlike any other organization in the country. I am still amazed how that came to be. I have been very fortunate and most grateful to have served with all those who allowed for that to happen.