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DRI's New President On The Future Of The Institute And The State Of Science


One of the constituents of the Nevada System of Higher Education got a new president this summer, but maybe you didn't hear about it.

The Desert Research Institute, based in both Reno and Las Vegas, is now run by Kristen Averyt, an environmental scientist with a background in marine science. 

“We’re all about understanding our environment and connecting what we care about in the environment to what we care about as a society,” Averyt said.

Averyt said the institute is working on a number of projects from understanding the snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and its impact on our water supply to western climate changes.

However, she said the research being done isn't just about collecting data. It's about looking at how the environment impacts society and what people can do to mitigate some of those risks.

“I think science is really going to be able to address critical challenges as we’re moving forward as a society,” she said.

Averyt believes science is going through a renaissance and is re-inventing itself to connect with people in meaningful ways. 

Part of that renaissance is helping people understand what scientists are doing. 

“We really as scientists are going through what I categorize as an existential crisis," she said, "We’re really trying to figure out how do we reconnect with people who are not scientists. How do we get people to understand what we do and why it matters to them in their everyday life.”

She said DRI has a stellar reputation in the scientific and research world and she would like to grow that reputation beyond just the world of science but into the rest of the community.

“DRI better be a household name pretty soon!” she said. 

Besides expanding the institution's reputation, Averyt wants researchers to do more with cross-disciplinary efforts. For instance, looking at how a person's genes and her environment interact to impact her health.

“Any problem that we’re facing today requires multiple people, multiple people from different places for expertise," she said.

Kristen Averyt, president, Desert Research Institute

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)