ScienceOnline2010 – interview with Russ Williams

Continuing with the tradition from last two years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2010 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January. See all the interviews in this series here. You can check out previous years’ interviews as well: 2008 and 2009.
Today, I asked Russ Williams from North Carolina Zoological Society and the Russlings blog to answer a few questions.
Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?
I’m an English major from Northeastern Pennsylvania who works at the North Carolina Zoo (24 years executive director, N.C. Zoological Society). I try to stay somewhat current, despite my age (north of 60). For example, I am listening these days to music by Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Radiohead and Pole Cat Creek, along with the oldies (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Hank [and Lucinda] Williams, Coltrane and Bach).
Started personally blogging about zoo animals and issues about five years ago. (Took an intro course in blogging at UNC-Greensboro by G’boro blogfather Ed Cone (Word Up). Found I was learning much from Google searches, and then by following the blogs and tweets of certain science journalists and bloggers, conservation researchers, etc. (The blogs and tweets of Wild Muse/@tdelene and you, BoraZ, are favorite sources.) Flickr and YouTube have provided much for my blogs and tweets too.
Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?
Had no idea I’d work for a Zoo. (Even named a son Noah; would never do that to someone by plan!) Growing up, I knew I would have a career in advertising, like my father. Did do some retail advertising (broadcast and newspaper) after graduation – early 1970’s. Didn’t like it. Backpacked in Europe for two months. Returned to work with weekly newspapers. This led to public relations/communications for non-profits. This led to fund raising. This led to North Carolina (United Way in Winston-Salem, 1980-85). This led to the NC Zoo Society – 1985-now.
Result: accidental zoology tinkerer.
What does it mean to be the Director of the NC Zoological Society? What does the job entail?
Always remember that I have about 100,000 bosses, in about 27,000 NC Zoo Society member households. Our staff tries to provide excellent customer service to our members and to be their “champions” when it comes to getting a good return on their investments in the Zoo in general or a very specific program, like Field Trip Earth (recognized as a Landmark website by the American Association of School Librarians – one of 21, including Google Earth, Library of Congress, NASA and Smithsonian Education).
What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?
Proud of my small role in how the NC Zoo and Zoo Society have grown and the creation of both Field Trip Earth (our educational website featuring journals and other media offered by conservation researchers around the world) and Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park (the largest such gathering, offering and breeding of rare and endangered ducks, geese and swans in the world).
Really enjoy helping folks accomplish what they want to accomplish for the future of the NC Zoo through “The Lions Pride“, a grouping of people who have made planned arrangements for their Zoo, mainly through wills.
Capital campaigns, like Project: Pachyderms (African elephants and southern white rhinos) and Project: Polar Bears also meet my need to attain goals requiring some considerable preparation and effort. (I’ve also plodded through a few full, running marathons and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, at 55).
NC Zoo has something else unique about it – the Zoo School! Can you tell us more about it?
A “magnet” Asheboro City high school, the Zoo School is right on site here. It uses the Zoo as a teaching tool not just to study biology and geography, but for all learning, making use of the Zoo for English composition and communications, mathematics, business and many other studies.
What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2010 for you?
Appreciate your prodding, Bora, to demonstrate Field Trip Earth at ScienceOnline2010. The Charlotte Observer science editor attended our demonstration and the result was an 85-column-inch article in both the Observer and Raleigh News & Observer by T. DeLene Beeland, whose Wild Muse blog and tweets were already favorites of mine, introduced by your RTs, Bora. I want to take in more of the sessions the next time. Only got to one session (other than our own series of demos) and it was exceptional.
It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview. I’ll see you at the Zoo soon….and at ScienceOnline2011, of course!
Russ Williams pic.jpg