Let’s Roll the Credits on SciWri 12!

By Karl Leif Bates, Duke Research

There’s always a great risk in calling people out by name for recognition, because you might leave someone worthy out. Yet we have no choice but to name the names behind ScienceWriters 2012 because some tremendously selfless and energetic performances went into it.

I remember it quite clearly: Russ Campbell and I were standing around at one of the ScienceWriters 2007 functions in Spokane and he innocently said “Why don’t we host this thing?” Not knowing what I know now,  I agreed that it seemed like a good idea, especially if we did it as a shared, regional effort.

Rather than just one university hosting, as is usually the case, we decided we wanted to show the science writing world what a fantastic collection of scientists and science communicators North Carolina has assembled. The story we wanted to tell was about the collaborations between campuses and the collective R&D might of the entire region. The — dare I say — synergy.

This shared, collaborative approach added some complexity to the planning, to be sure, but it also made our fundraising a lot less onerous for each member, and it gave us a ready-made army of smart volunteers!

So, let’s roll the credits on ScienceWriters 2012, shall we? Here they are, in no planned order:

Jenny in crisis-management mode on Sunday evening, as we prepared Sandy contingency plans.

Jenny Weston of NC State Engineering, took on more than her share of marketing, communications, catering, tours and raucous, irreverent laughs. Her team rounded up 7 buses, 24 classrooms, 30 students and more than 400 box lunches to make Lunch with a Scientist a huge hit.  Jenny’s shop also took the lead on designing and producing all the wonderful collateral marketing pieces we used to brand the event. Designer Natalie Brown created the mountains-to-sea triptych logo and then Candice Wallace spun it into a striking campaign that included bags, shirts, lab coats, folders, nametags, stickers, banners, bus signs, etc.  Thanks also to NC State’s Jaine Place — one of our very first collaborators way back in 2008 —  and to Steve Townsend of PAMS and Nate DeGraff of engineering.

Having hosted this meeting during his tenure at Arizona State, James Hathaway of UNC-Charlotte was our consigliere in all matters.  He was able to guide us on the finer points of our plan as well as glad-handing in the hotel lobby and driving a van full of venus fly traps across town. And then, with a cooler full of beer and NC barbeque, he led the Tuesday  “Piedmont Tour” to Kannapolis and the NC Research Campus.

Russ Campbell of Burroughs Wellcome Fund called his job “Karl’s wing man,” and that he was, helping on fundraising, site visits, party planning, banner-hanging, and mental health calibration. He also hooked us up with GBW Strategies, the procurement wizards behind the Oxford Gastropub Halloween party and several of the added touches that made the meeting truly sensational.

We might have to do a separate post to thank Sakiya Lockett, our office manager at Duke News and Communications. She reconciled a mountain of receipts, toted swag bags, ran all the signup lists, became a regular at the Kinko’s in downtown Raleigh, missed her family for three days, and never once complained. Her new middle name is “we can do that.”

Ashley and Robin sort luggage tags with El Presidente’s help.

Duke science writer Ashley Yeager  picked up all sorts of new skills, from tour-planning to tips book editing, swag-bag stuffing to prancing around in a lemur suit. Yet she did it all with her characteristic energy, grace and charm.  The 30-hour trip to Beaufort was flawlessly executed, even though she felt bad about being the meany who had to keep everyone on schedule.

Which leads to our boss, David Jarmul, Associate VP of News and Communications at Duke, who encouraged us to do this meeting and then let us spend inordinate amounts of time organizing it. He looked pretty smashing in the lab coat too.

Katie Mosher of NC Sea Grant was the host of the Beaufort tour, our first financial backer, and our most tireless cheerleader from start to finish. Her deep network in Beaufort and Morehead City made the overnight trip a brilliant success, from discount hotel rooms to a hurricane Plan B that was almost better than the original program.

Jim Shamp and Robin Deacle of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center connected us to great tours of Medicago, Arborvax and Agile Biosciences. They also turned us on to a source of grant-funding.  And then to top it all off, they produced “the best door prize since elementary school,” in the words of one guest: living venus fly traps, labeled and packaged for travel. Special thanks to Becky Westbrooks of Southeastern Community College and her students for producing 500 of the amazing little plants, improvising travel-ready packaging (with help from the local Burger King), and then hauling them up from Wilmington a day early as Hurricane Sandy approached. (Hat tip to Scott Huler  for providing a warm spot in his Raleigh shed overnight.)

Ed Kang of NIEHS delivered the Tips Book

Cathy Clabby, who fell ill and unfortunately missed most of the meeting, was our principal talent wrangler for more than a year. She marshaled all the nominations for New Horizons Speakers and winnowed the list down into something CASW program director Ros Reid could actually consider. But nothing went to waste. Cathy then helped turn those nominations into the fabulous Tips Book, edited, designed and produced by Ed Kang and Robin Mackar at NIEHS. We  gave people nearly 90 story ideas on paper (and thumb drive) even before the tours and science talks!

Thanks also to all the folks who tossed in their nominations for speakers, the tips book and Lunch with a Scientist speakers. In addition to those named elsewhere here, that list includes  Ellen James of the Duke School of Nursing, Michael Windelspecht of Richochet Productions in Blowing Rock, Zoe Hoyle of the USDA-Forest Service in Asheville, Robin Smith of NESCent, and Ernie Hood, president-for-life of SCONC and host of Radio in Vivo.

Lisa Bistreich-Wolfe  and Patrick Gibbons of RTI International were part of the planning group and pitched in with a Friday tour of their campus and the remote parking lot. But what they really deserve a standing ovation for is that spectacular slideshow of Triangle science that ran all day at RTP and on screens in the convention center. Holler at me if you’d like a copy. It is fantastic.

UNC’s participation in the tours and lectures fell to newly arrived Thania Benios, who took over where Patric Lane left off. Without having enough time to learn much of anything about her new campus, she put together a good tour of nanotech and helped us line up some excellent Lunch with a Scientist speakers. Her boss, Mike McFarland, was a great supporter and participant in the planning process as well.

Whitney and Marla organized the party and then had more fun than anybody!

Saturday’s awards gala at the Nature Research Center was a massive team effort in itself. Marla Broadfoot and Whitney LJ Howell, aka The Twin Towers of Awesome, were the planners and co-hostesses charged with creating our flashiest, most impressive and highest-attended social event . They negotiated catering and sweated details like coat rooms and centerpieces. More important, Whitney secured free beer and wine for the entire thing!  Added thanks to the crew at NRC and the Museum of Natural Sciences for rolling out the red carpet for us: David Kroll, Helen Chappell, Brian Mallow, Holly Meninger and event planner Carla Davis. Brent McCraven made sure the Daily Planet show worked just as we envisioned, and Skip Elsheimer of AV Geeks provided the awesome “hype reel” of chimps and human babies.  The fantastic jazz band was from NC Central University’s music faculty, led by Dr. Ira Wiggins.

Mega-lemur Chris Smith contributed two fabulous personal tours of the Duke Lemur Center. He led a very successful behind-the-scenes tour on Friday that had people raving, and then when Sandy clobbered everyone’s travel plans, he calmly produced up to 50 more tour openings for Tuesday morning. As his alter-ego Maky, he also showed “that lemur is one f@$&( good dancer” at the Halloween party, in the words of a tweet.

Sir Walter’s amazing giant lab coat outside the convention center was the work of the NC State Textile & Apparel program: Design, patterns and multiple tall-ladder fittings by Kate Carroll, with help from  Debra McLendon, John Knox, and Cynthia Istook.

Marty Martin, AKA, Marty the Bus Man of FM Enterprises, helped us move 500 people around an entire region seamlessly in comfort and style. He is quite simply the best in the business and a delight  to work with, besides.  Thanks to Lori Hedrick at BWF for telling us about him!

Nate and Cathy on the registration desk at the RTP on Friday.

Linda Rozet is the conference center manager at RTP.  Did you SEE that gorgeous party on Friday afternoon?! My goodness, it looked like a wedding.  CFO Linda Hall, Amanda Frystock and Darren Danko were a huge part of the event’s success, and their bosses, Liz Rooks and Bob Geolas, were on hand to personally greet our guests. Thank you, RTP!

Last in the alphabet but first in our hearts: Anton Zuiker, Bora Zivkovic and Karyn Traphagen, aka Science Online, were a huge help to us at every step: sharing what they had learned from their meetings, volunteering to guide our guests, finding the missing Wolfline buses (awesome play, Karen!), and of course tweeting their thumbs off in real time so that we had an amazing online presence: 6.7 million impressions in five days. We didn’t trend, but we hit the folks who care about science, for sure.

Anton also pulled some impressive strings in his foodie network to arrange the delightful Dinner with a Scientist outings on Monday night.

Thanks finally to everyone who wore the lab coat, if only briefly, to show people around. Our guests LOVED that touch and begged us for the coats. And when Raleigh closed two streets on Saturday without warning, the coats (and Helen Chappell) saved our party guests from ending up lost. I’m sorry we didn’t order enough for all of you to keep one;  I hope you all got pictures!  The two coats we raffled raised $256 (a very cool number), which was donated to a classroom in Jacksonville, NC through the Donors Choose program.

THANK YOU ALL for contributing to this fantastic team effort.  (I told you it was a long list! And I apologize if I’ve left anyone out. Let me know.)

We can all be very proud. And clearly, SCONC has become a force to be reckoned with!

So, let’s do it again in, say …2030?