Notes from the March Board Meeting

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Welcome to Notes from the Board, where we will share the latest news from the OTS Board of Directors.  In this issue, we will report on the March 2019 meetings of the Board of Directors, including the public Annual Meeting held on March 16, 2019.

First, help us congratulate new Member Director, Gabriel Macaya (UCR) and new Stakeholder Director Muriel Poston (Pitzer).  Ivan Sandoval (UNA) and Kyle Harms (LSU) who had been previously appointed to fill board vacancies due to resignations were also elected to new terms as Member Directors.  At the March meetings, the Board of Directors also elected to new terms as Stakeholder Directors, George Middendorf (Howard), Bryan Heidorn (UArizona), and Jim Prager and also elected officers for the new year:  Board Chair — Beth Braker, Secretary — Chelsea Ward, and Treasurer — Jim Prager.

Second, thanks to all who attended and participated in the Annual Meeting at the University of Costa Rica.  The Annual Meeting included symposium talks on March 15 by some of OTS’s most active researchers, followed by a reception with our UCR colleagues.  If you would like to listen to the talks, they are posted on the OTS website at:  https://tropicalstudies.org/portfolio/annual-meeting-scientific-program/

Shortly before the Annual Meeting, John Kress resigned as the Board Chair of OTS and the Board of Directors asked George Middendorf to serve as interim chair for the March meetings and he did a great job.  Thank you, George.

The Annual Meeting on Saturday, March 16 included multiple staff reports. Interim Director of Field Stations Amanda Wendt reported on the state of the Field Stations, with emphasis on continuing to improve services offered to researchers, and developing clear plans to address health and safety concerns.  Our OTS Education Consultant Nora Bynum reviewed the state of OTS education issues.  Faculty-led academic groups (“FLAGS”) and the NSF funded REU program are bright spots in OTS undergraduate education program.  We are re-evaluating the semester offerings for undergraduates, and at this point are emphasizing the South Africa undergraduate semester program  “African Ecology and Conservation.”   Vice President for Philanthropy Jim Boyle gave an update on fund raising, and was optimistic about reaching the goal of $1 million this fiscal year 2019.  Interim CEO and Treasurer of the BoD Jim Prager spoke about finances.  The Board has endorsed Prager’s proposal to ensure OTS sustainability by focusing on field station operations and research and graduate education and taking a “pause” in some of OTS’ undergraduate Costa Rica program offerings.

Retiring Board members, Sabrina Russo and Lena Struwe, were recognized and thanked for their long service and support of OTS.

Following the reports from staff on Saturday, small breakout groups convened to discuss some of the larger issues facing OTS:  Education, Finances, Communication, and Costa Rican relations.  Institutional representatives, guests, staff and board members took part in each of the working groups.  After lunch, each group reported out and submitted comments and reports that will be assembled and sent to the full Board of Directors for their review and consideration.

As a complement to the Annual Meeting, the Board of Directors held a virtual meeting on March 28, 2019 to confirm the election of the new Member Directors and to complete the election of the board and board officers for the coming year as described above.   Also at the March 28 board meeting, the board had a thorough review and discussion on the various new partnership options for OTS.  These partnership discussions will be continuing over the next few months or year with the goal of stabilizing OTS’ finances and ensuring the sustainability of OTS field station operations into the future.  The board also discussed its board committee structure and discussed the revitalization of a field station advisory committee, to work under the leadership of Susan Cordell, our board field station committee chair, and Amanda Wendt, the Interim Director of Field Stations.  Also, Interim Chair George Middendorf asked Chelsea Ward to chair an ad hoc Committee on Communication and lead discussions on how to ensure better communication between the Board and other OTS constituencies.