December 1, 2023

6 to 8 pm

Happy New (Water) Year! A reflection on Water Year 2023 and a look ahead to 2024 

Are we still in drought?

Presented by Gigi Richard, Ph.D. 

The vitality of western Colorado relies on water. From growing amazing fruit to recreating on mountain snow and flowing rivers, water is the lifeblood of our communities. Recently, drought, declining reservoir levels, and the crisis on the Colorado River have been big headlines, but did the big snowpack of 2023 alleviate our crisis? Come learn more about Colorado’s water systems and current hydrologic status. 

Gigi Richard is an educator, water scientist, and civil engineer who is currently the Director of the Western Colorado Research Center at Colorado State University, one of nine research centers around Colorado that make up the Agricultural Experiment Station. Her 20+ year career in academia has included teaching and inspiring students about water, rivers, and GIS at Colorado Mesa University and Fort Lewis College.  Gigi’s research has focused on watershed hydrology in Colorado, from snowmelt-driven systems to intermittent desert streams, and human impacts on river systems in Colorado, New Mexico, and New Zealand. She holds a B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Colorado State University, all in Civil Engineering with a water focus. 


December 29, 2023

6 to 8 pm

Chestnuts Not Roasting on an Open Fire: How Plant Diseases Shape our Holidays 

Presented by Charlotte Oliver, Ph.D. 

The holidays are a time filled with tons of activities like making decadent, chocolatey desserts, drinking cozy mulled wine, decorating with cheery  poinsettia greenery, and lyrics like “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”. But, who roasted chestnuts and why don’t we now? Can we still mull our wine with citrus next year? Join us to learn how plant diseases have and continue to change our holiday traditions. 

Charlotte Oliver is a plant pathologist and the current Viticulture Extension Specialist at Colorado State University. Her primary role is interacting with the Colorado grape industry and providing timely educational resources for commercial and backyard grape growers as well as evaluating the presence and control of grape diseases across the state. Charlotte received her B.S in General Biology, M.S., and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology with a focus on wine grapes from Virginia Tech. 


January 26, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

Recovery efforts for endangered fish of the upper Colorado River and an introduction to the Palisade High School Fish Hatchery

Presented by Mike Gross (U.S. Fisheries & Wildlife) & Patrick Steele (Fish Hatchery Manager)

There are four rare fish species that have been swimming around the upper Colorado River in the Grand Valley for millions of years. Come learn about the importance of these unique animals and about local recovery efforts to conserve them including the Palisade High School Fish Hatchery partnership.

Mike Gross

Fish Culturist/Outreach Coordinator- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service- Ouray National Fish Hatchery-Grand Valley Unit
Mike Gross graduated from Humboldt State University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries Biology specializing in aquaculture. Since then, he has been deeply involved in recovery efforts for endangered fish living in the upper Colorado River basin while working with Colorado Division of
Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mike has extensive fish culture experience and a passion for teaching the youth about conservation. In 2018, he coordinated with Pat Steele from Palisade High School to create the Palisade High School Fish Hatchery partnership where students culture and release hundreds of endangered razorback sucker
yearly into the Colorado River.

Patrick Steele

Science Teacher/Fish Hatchery Manager/Football Coach- Palisade High School
Patrick Steele attended Palisade High School and then pursued a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and minor in Chemistry at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. After graduating from FLC in 1998, Patrick completed his teacher’s certification at Mesa State and began his teaching career in 2000.
He has always had a passion for the preservation and conservation of the great outdoors and loves having the opportunity to pass that along to his fellow students. Patrick met Mike at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery (Grand Valley Unit) in Grand Junction while on a field trip with his River Dynamics class.
They discussed the possibility of placing a fish hatchery at a school and Palisade High School seemed to be the perfect place. After years of planning and fundraising the hatchery was built. Since the first fish release in May of 2020, many students at PHS have been involved with the learning about the
endangered species within the Colorado River and the importance of the recovery efforts of these fish.


February 23, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

Can Bacteria Cause Cancer? Unraveling the causal link between the human gut microbiome on colorectal cancer

The human body is an ecosystem that supports multitudes of diverse microbes that both positively and negatively impact human health. Understanding how and when specific microbes impact human health is difficult due to the highly complex and dynamic interactions between microbes and their human host. As such, often only correlative and anecdotal conclusions can be made between the presence of specific microbes and the occurrence of both healthy and disease states in the human host. However, by studying the chemicals that bacteria produce and deciphering the biological impact these chemicals have in the human body we can begin to draw causal links between the human microbiome and disease sates in the human body. This talk will discuss 1) the human microbiome in general and its impact on human health and 2) a case study of how researchers discovered that a specific strain of E. coli can cause colorectal cancer in humans. The goal of this talk is to give the audience a better appreciation for the complexity and impact of the human microbiome on our health and provide an encouraging example of how collaborative and multi-disciplinary research can unravel even the most convoluted problems.

Kevin was born and raised in the Grand Valley. He attended Colorado Mesa University and earned his B.S. in Chemistry in 2016. He then went on to attend Yale University and earn a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. During this time he synthesized genotoxic natural products derived from bacterial members of the human microbiome and studied their carcinogenic capabilities. After his graduate studies, Kevin carried out his postdoctoral research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In the Fall of 2023, Kevin joined the chemistry faculty at CMU. In his free time he enjoys being with friends, family, the outdoors, and making sure his mountain bike stays in shape.


March 29, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

More tasty or more toxic? How climate change affects alpine plants and the mammals that eat them.

Presented by Johanna Varner, Ph.D.

If you’re stressed about Colorado’s hot dry summers, you’re not alone. Pikas are potato-sized rabbit relatives that live in Colorado’s mountains, and they are also feeling the heat. But climate change also affects the pika’s favorite food plants, particularly their phenolics and tannins, the same compounds found in red wine. Will changes in temperature and snowpack make the pika’s food tastier or too toxic? Join us to learn more about Colorado’s cutest mountain mammal and our recent work to understand how their food is changing.

Johanna “Pika Jo” Varner is an educator, scientist, and science communicator in the Biology department at Colorado Mesa University. Her research seeks to understand how habitat features and climate affect the stress and survival of pikas in isolated populations, with the goal of identifying better ways to protect these special animals. Johanna received her B.S. and M.Eng. in biomedical engineering from MIT before pivoting to study mountain mammals and earning a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from University of Utah.


April 26, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

Better Living Through Chemistry

Presented by Zach Kubin

Zach Kubin will be discussing a variety of events that come from his background of living as an expat and working in education and industry abroad. His talk will begin with a comparison of the medical systems of the Unites States, Italy, and China. Then, he will discuss how energy production, storage, and distribution are changing. Finally, he will finish with what this means for you as an individual and how you can use chemistry to improve your quality of life. 

Zach Kubin is an Instructor of Chemistry at Colorado Mesa University. He has experiences in human performance research, bridge component construction, biologics, and extensive experience teaching at all levels. 


May 24, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

Searching for Earth 2.0 from Western Colorado

What would it be like to live on another planet?  Are there any planets out there similar to Earth?  If so, how common are they?  If you’ve pondered these questions, scientists are now beginning to find answers. Join us to learn how CMU astronomy students are using local telescopes to help discover and measure properties of extrasolar planets (‘exoplanets’), some of which are potentially habitable Earth-size planets in our galactic neighborhood.

 Catherine Whiting is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Colorado Mesa University.  Her students use telescopes at the Grand Mesa Observatory in Whitewater, CO as part of a network of ground-based astronomers helping to confirm the existence of exoplanet candidates whose host stars have been ‘flagged’ by telescopes such as the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey (TESS) as potentially having at least one orbiting planet.  Catherine received a B.S. in physics, astronomy, and mathematics, an M.S. in astronomy, and a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, all from the University of Iowa.


June 28, 2024

6 pm to 8 pm

Mesa Counties Grand Rivers: A Story of Change

Joel Sholtes, PhD, PE

Asst. Teaching Professor – CMU / UC Boulder Engineering Partnership Program

Principal, Wash Water Science and Engineering, LLC

Joel Sholtes teaches water resources engineering at CMU. His professional and academic experiences focus on physical river processes  with applications to stream rehabilitation, riverine infrastructure management, and flood hazards. He is a founding member of the Grand Valley River Corridor Initiative, which works to foster collaboration and coordination of activities on the Colorado and Gunnison rivers within the Grand Valley. He also provides professional services related to river restoration and management. Prior to teaching at CMU, Joel worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, Sedimentation River Hydraulics Group.