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July 1998

A CIRES matter: Paul Sperry's career takes him from mesa to campus

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my last eight years as associate director [of ACD] but for a couple of years have felt an urge toward expanding my horizons. My interest is not to move away from something but toward something."

Paul Sperry, flanked by ACD diretor Guy Brasseur (left) and Paul Crutzen (right, from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany.) (Photos courtesy of Paul Sperry.)

That's how Paul Sperry explained himself last month in an open letter to the staff of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES). Paul wrote the letter as a "homework assignment" for CIRES director Susan Avery when he emerged as one of two finalists for the post of CIRES executive director. His letter--along with the strength of numerous recommendations and 18 interviews--got him the job, which he began on 26 May.

ACD won't be quite the same without Paul. He started out as an associate scientist in 1978, studying acid rain, Arctic haze, and photochemical reaction rates. Along the way, Paul picked up a master's degree in systems management at the University of Denver. Paul's unique coupling of scientific and administrative skills made him the candidate of choice for the position of ACD associate director, a slot unique across NCAR divisions.

At CIRES, Paul moves into a workplace about half the size of NCAR (there are roughly 500 people affiliated with CIRES) and a position of high responsibility as the day-to-day manager of CIRES activities. Paul reports directly to Avery, former chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees, who is "one of the reasons I took the job."

"For those of you who may not know," he explains, "CIRES is a research institute jointly sponsored by CU and NOAA's Environmental Research Laboratories. CU provides the infrastructure, NOAA/ERL provides core funding, and they share the resultant intellectual synergy." Additional funds come from other federal agencies, the state of Colorado, and the private sector.

Much like NCAR, CIRES is a nexus for a variety of disciplines: chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, geology, hydrology, oceanography, and others. "It's quite an eclectic and heterogeneous place. I see CIRES as an emerging voice in a world seeking answers and am intrigued by the prospect of becoming a part of its leadership," says Paul. "I see no real surprises in a role quite similar to what I'm now doing, but with enough differences to make it interesting."

Paul finds the folks at CIRES "exceedingly friendly and helpful, with a very strong sense of teamwork." He loves his new office, nestled in the center of campus just south of Norlin Library, but he notes that with researchers scattered in offices across town, "there's no single [physical] point where we all come together." Another difference is that there's no base funding analogous to NCAR's NSF support. "Coordinated research programs can be harder to build from hundreds of individual grants," Paul notes.

You may see a good deal of Paul even though he's officially left NCAR. "During the interviews, people asked if I could help them build stronger collaborations with NCAR." As for his old position, there's no current plan to replace Paul per se. Most of his budgeting duties are being divided between ACD administrators Teresa Rivas and Brad Crysel. "It's a natural progression for their careers," Paul notes. Deputy division director Mike Coffey now supervises ACD computing and engineering. Science program planning and some of Paul's other roles, such as producing the ACD Strategic Plan, will be parceled out within the division or put on hold for the time being.

The CIRES building on the CU/Boulder campus.

To cite change as the theme of Paul's life these days is an understatement. After 15 years working at The North Face in Boulder, Paul's wife is changing jobs as well. One of Paul's sons, who also works for The North Face, is being sent to Salt Lake City to head up sales in that region. Paul's other son, who recently finished his kinesiology degree at CU-Boulder, is moving to San Diego to start work with a biotechnology firm. "And my mother-in-law is in the process of moving to Boulder. The only component of the family remaining unchanged is our cat." •BH

Postscript: Paul adds that the most exciting moment in his 20 years at NCAR was "beating Maurice Blackmon by a nose in the Up-the-Hill Races last fall."


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