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December 2005 - January 2006

Offsite but not unseen:
UCAR's non-Boulder staffers stay in touch

Sundt and Potter

Nick Sundt (left) and Sean Potter of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. (Photo by Dave Dokken.)

When Kelly Sponberg (JOSS) heads to Niger or Cambodia to help national environmental services connect with rural customers, the fact that he's with UCAR opens doors. "When I'm working on projects that have a lot of different partners, being part of the UCAR community turns out to be advantageous," Kelly says.

Kelly is one of about 100 UCAR staffers based outside the Boulder area. They work at labs and universities across the nation, with more than half of them clustered in the mid-Atlantic states (see map). Although they're under the UCAR umbrella, some of them have never even set foot in Boulder.

Nearly all of UCAR's offsite staffers report to two UOP programs: JOSS and the Visiting Scientist Program. Working closely with NOAA, NSF, and other agencies, JOSS and VSP place staffers in positions ranging from postdoctoral researcher to senior scientist, and from administrator to project manager or director.

UCAR staffers have become a valuable part of the employee mix at federal labs and national project offices. As VSP director Meg Austin points out, for example, not all federal labs have the ability to host international scientists. "Through VSP, UCAR is able to attract leading scholars worldwide to spend time collaborating at U.S. labs and research institutions," she says.

The D.C. contingent

Kelly's home base is in Silver Spring, Maryland, at NOAA's Office of Global Programs, which sponsors a variety of activities in support of NOAA's climate and global change research. Nearly a dozen JOSS staffers work there.

Kelly's tasks include helping meteorologists in developing countries take advantage of community FM radio and the Internet, and bringing climate and hydrology information into remote areas. UCAR's offsite staffers often draw from diverse funding sources; in Kelly's case, his program gets support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. "As a UCAR employee it is very easy for me to work across offices and agencies," he says.

"I think UCAR's a great organization to work for, regardless of where you're physically located "

—Sean Potter

Meanwhile, only a couple of blocks from the White House, nearly a dozen other UCAR staffers, mostly from JOSS, are based at the coordination office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, where they prepare and distribute reports on global change science and coordinate research for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).

Whether one's employer is UCAR, NOAA, or some other entity doesn't make a big difference in day-to-day operations, says CCSP Webmaster Nick Sundt (JOSS). When a product needs to go out, the whole group pitches in. "Nobody ever says, ‘I can't do that—it's not in my job description,'" Nick says.

Administering benefits from a distance

Many offsite staffers give UCAR high marks as a remote employer. "The people in Human Resources have been incredibly helpful and accommodating," says Gabriel Vecchi, a VSP scientist based in NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. "That has allowed me to concentrate on my research without worrying about red tape. And the benefits are exceptional."

The HR staff in Boulder strives for face-to-face interaction with the larger offsite groups. Delaine Orendorff, the main point of contact with the D.C. contingent, makes regular trips to the East Coast to meet with offsite staffers and federal managers. Last fall, Cyd Perrone and Laurie Carr explained the new health care plans in person to D.C. staffers. Though not everyone can access Kaiser Permanente, UCAR's indemnity and high-deductible health plans with CIGNA are available to staff nationwide.

If there's a major downside to working offsite, it's being denied perks that locally employed colleagues enjoy, such as special deals on gym memberships, bank accounts, and public transportation. "This town is very university centric and expensive, and not having those perks is noticeable," Gabriel says about Princeton.

Working offsite doesn't mean missing out on all the fun, though. UCAR makes an effort in the D.C. area to replicate the annual staff celebrations in Boulder sponsored by the Employee Activities Committee. Last summer the CCSP group gathered for a barbecue and went to a Washington Nationals baseball game. And a little touch of Boulder typically goes out to JOSS and VSP employees in December. "Every year during the holidays I look forward to getting a card from the VSP gang," says Greg Fall, an offsite visiting scientist and programmer.

Where they work

There are now far more staffers on the Foothills and Center Green campuses than at the Mesa Lab, but few UCAR employees realize just how much farther the workforce extends. There were 101 staffers outside Colorado as of this fall, working in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The map below, with data provided by HR and UOP, shows the number of staffers in each state.

Dialing in

Of course, the Internet and e-mail make basic communications a lot easier. Like everyone else in the organization, offsite staffers receive daily Today@UCAR announcements—as well as the occasional notice about a car with its lights left on in a Boulder parking lot.

The suite of online services available from the NCAR Library is particularly helpful for staffers like Greg, who's worked at the National Operational Hydrological Remote Sensing Center in the suburbs of Minneapolis since 1999. "Unlike most academic environments, our center has no library of reference materials or scientific journals on site. Consequently, online access to the library has been very helpful," he says, especially for graduate courses that he's taken remotely.

At the University of Wisconsin, VSP/NOAA postdoc David Lorenz uses the library's electronic journals. "It's almost like I'm in Boulder," he says, "except that there are no mountains or hiking trails out the back door."

Sean Potter, a JOSS employee at the USGCRP office in D.C., says he will miss UCAR. He's leaving to become a freelance writer and consultant in New York. "I think UCAR's a great organization to work for, regardless of where you're physically located." he says.

• by Bob Henson

Also in this issue...

The 2005 Outstanding Accomplishment Awards

Offsite but not unseen:
UCAR's non-Boulder staffers stay in touch

A TWERLE reunion

Predicting hurricane damage

Atmospheric science books for all ages

CGD research shows that permafrost may thaw in this century

New CG library

Just One Look: Santa


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