Episode 06: Growing food for our future — agriculture around the world with Kerri Wright Platais

This is a transcript of the Spur of the Moment episode “Growing food for our future: agriculture around the world with Kerri Wright Platais.” It is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.

Kerri Wright Platais: How do we build the next generation of leaders to study and to develop careers in agriculture in the future?

Jocelyn Hittle: Welcome to “Spur of the Moment” the podcast of Colorado State University Spur campus in Denver, Colorado.

Kerri Wright Platais: Agriculture creates wealth. It creates food security and it’s at the smallest farming family level throughout the world, as well as in the larger spheres.

Jocelyn Hittle: On this podcast, we talk with experts in food, water, and health about how they are tackling the big challenges in these areas. And in some episodes like today’s, we focus on members of the CSU community and their contributions to solving big global challenges. I’m Jocelyn Hittle, Assistant Vice Chancellor of the CSU Spur campus. And I am joined today by Kerri Wright Platais Welcome, Kerri.

Kerri Wright Platais: Thanks, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Hittle: So we are going to talk a little bit more about your career path a little later, but maybe you can tell us a little where you are coming from, how long you’ve been with CSU and what your role is with us.

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. I am currently the special advisor to the chancellor for International Agriculture at the Spur campus. As of July 1st, I will also add on Director of International Agriculture at Spur. I’ve been with CSU since 2018. And during that time I’ve had a split appointment where I also was working, have been working with Alan Rudolph as vice-president for research on campus at CSU Fort Collins. And that has been a wonderful opportunity to really blend research and our aspirations for Spur, and to be able to know what’s new and happening and interesting on the Fort Collins campus and how research will really impact our next steps and what we’ll be doing at Spur.

Jocelyn Hittle: In your role, both the one that you’ve had and the one you’re transitioning to here shortly, congratulations, by the way, can you say a little bit more about what you do? Like what is it that you have been tasked with in this role?

Kerri Wright Platais: Sure, well, part of it, it was a bit of a blank slate, which is super exciting and an exciting place to be. I came in from Washington DC, where I had been doing international development for 30 years with the world bank and a group called the CGIAR, which is the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research. So taking that information from the different research aspects and partnerships, collaborations that we had ongoing and folding that into what will we do at Spur? How will we catalyze? How will we participate? How will we ignite an opportunity around conversation, as well as engaging with collaborators and partners that are beyond our borders, both within the state, nationally and internationally. So we set to work really to understand a bit of a exercise on what was taking place on campus, so that we began to sort of build our baseline. And from that mapping exercise, we grew the global mapping and strategic outreach project, which is a collaborative activity across all three campuses, and which will produce the global map that we will feature at Spur when we open. So that became a really wonderful interdisciplinary transdisciplinary team, which has system leadership as well as leaders from Fort Collins campus, Pueblo and Global. So I can say a little bit more about that later.

Kerri Wright Platais: And then another part that we were talking about was what kind of platforms will we have, what activities do we want to bring in that really elevate our international agriculture conversation at Spur, which is such a unique opportunity to have a campus that’s actually focused on global food security. So through that, we also have engaged in several collaborations within the state nationally and internationally. And I can speak more to that also with a brand new collaboration that we are hosting at the CSU system called the North American Agricultural Advisory Network.

Jocelyn Hittle: That’s great. Thanks, Kerri for that overview. It seems to me that your work touches on a lot of different opportunities that both build on CSU’s strength of the systems existing work around agriculture, but also brings in more of an international focus, but sort of synthesizes and crystallizes some of that international thinking. So taking a step back with that in mind as you were thinking about coming into a university environment and thinking about international agriculture, what was it that was most exciting for you about bringing that international focus to what we’re already doing?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, let’s see, starting on one level, CSU, I’m actually a double alum. So to come home to Colorado after 30 years was just incredibly special. To be thinking about the impact as you say, CSU has been engaged in international work and research for many years. And so being able to highlight that and really get to know the good research that’s taking place, the excellent research actually. And I think COVID really in the last year, put us in a place where we really were able to highlight the excellence of CSU research activities. And that’s been told in national stories and how we went in and found specimen testing and how we kept our school open and kept people healthy and safe. And then there was also this amazing time of quiet actually on the international front, because people weren’t getting on planes and we weren’t traveling all over for our different destinations, but through zoom and through contacts and meetings and whatnot, we really actually moved the needle quite far in international discussions. And I think people were ready and also willing and uniquely engaged in looking past COVID what will we do next? What will we be thinking about and how will we make a difference? I think actually it gave us a chance to slow down, to look, to kind of test the waters and to think about the types of engagement we really wanna create now.

Jocelyn Hittle: So Kerri, even though we’ve been working through a global pandemic, you’ve been able to start some new programs as part of the new position that you have here within CSU. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’ve been working on recently?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, I would have to say specifically with the formulation of the North American Agricultural Advisory Network, we are the newest network to join the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services, which has an international NGO and has been in existence for 10 years. We have joined as a partnership between Canada, Mexico and the United States. And our focus is really on sort of how do we connect and support rural advisory services with sort of increased learning, knowledge sharing and advocacy for agricultural extension programs. We, partly because of COVID and I think just the serendipitous opportunity for these three countries to come together, the non secretary at hosted here at CSU system and at Spur, we were able to really engage with very high level leadership, ministerial level leadership across all three countries. So our current secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack serves as Ex officio for the United States. He was also matched by the Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau who serves as Ex officio for Canada. She’s the minister of agriculture and AgriFood for Canada with high-level leadership from Canada, as well as the current secretary of agriculture and rural development from Mexico, Secretary, Victor Villalobos and his team. So I think part of that dialogue and that conversation with high-level leadership and buy-in our focus in the next few years will be on bio-defense bio-security climate change with a special emphasis on water and soil health and management. And then on sort of how do we build the next generation of leaders to study and to develop careers in agriculture in the future, and specifically in extension. And we’ve got some great partners, including Together We Grow and other networks within GFRAS which actually are another 16 across the world. So we are the newest member to join and already to have an ongoing conversation that you can pick up with and be a part of and bring the United States and partners into is what we’re really excited about.

Jocelyn Hittle: As you mentioned, the North American Ag Advisory Network, sits within the Global Forum of Rural Advisory Services or GFRAS which includes extension work around the world. Can you say more about what it means to have the NAAAN, the North American Ag Advisory Network joining this larger network that includes extension services around the world?

Kerri Wright Platais: What’s so interesting about North America joining is in most of the places of the world extension services and service to farmers and small family farming systems is not necessarily linked with the education system or linked into universities. That’s very unique for the United States and part of the land grant university mission that we are a part of. And so, in fact, it doesn’t even exist across the board in North America, Canada has their own model and the way that they do things on a very provincial or state level is somewhat how their agriculture services are organized. In Mexico is through various ministries. So there’ll be different ministries that hold responsibility for farmers and climate change and for economic growth and whatnot, all merging together in different ways. So we are actually building a brand new model of what does this look like? What do we contribute to the other networks under GFRAS and what do we learn from them? And that information exchange is really going to be amazing. I think in the years ahead, we’re starting with the baseline survey the summer where we will be in touch with many different institutions and leaders across the three countries to really learn more about their systems, develop a baseline, and then begin to understand how we can contribute, how we can build on what already exists. We’re not working to reinvent the wheel, but we are working to sort of create some of that connective tissue across the three countries and what we can do effectively here in the United States to improve access to farmers and extension services, which is really doing quite well at the land grant system at the state level. But then how do we maybe enlarge the conversation and what do we learn from other farming institutions and opportunities throughout the world.

Jocelyn Hittle: It’s really quite an honor to have the NAAAN network be part of the CSU, be hosted by CSU and to have a home at Spur.

Kerri Wright Platais: Yeah. I am grateful to our chancellor because he has the big ideas that I enjoy when he says throws out big ideas and says, let’s go create something just like Spur. I mean, Spur and all the people and partners yourself included who have been a part of formulating this dream and creating this for so many years, for people like myself that have only really recently joined, it’s exciting to step into something that is part of something bigger than who we are, and to create that under formulation of collaborations.

Jocelyn Hittle: Well, and you certainly have played a big role in making it something bigger thinking about the Spur campus and it’s these concentric circles that we’ve talked about before around impact that we hope to have. So speaking of impact, what you just described as kind of what NAAAN is hoping to do now, kind of get some baseline, understand the lay of the land. What do you hope the network can do in the next, say one to two years?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, let’s see, I think we will be contributing to the conversation. I’m hoping through this baseline survey that we collect over the summer. We are also writing chapters. So the experts within each of the three countries have formulated their own writing groups. And we’ll have a background chapter on sort of the history of extension, how it’s come together, where it’s going, and maybe some of the challenges it faces. So we’ll be publishing a report by the end of the year. And the executive summary will come together. One of our opportunities to engage in kind of to launch the non really will be at the world food prize, which takes place in Des Moines, Iowa in October. And that sort of that Nobel peace prize of food production and productivity that was established in the time it’s in honor of Norman Borlaug, who’s considered the founder of the Green Revolution. And so the Norman World Food Prize Foundation has put together this program and gives out the award each year. And so we will be holding a secretaries panel dialogue as part of the Norman Borlaug international dialogue this year, where they will host our three secretaries and ministers and some of the early findings from our survey will feed into their conversation and into their dialogue and discussion. And then we will also host a NAAAN site event that afternoon in Des Moines. And we’re thinking of focusing that on our third thematic area, which is engaging in career development and how to get the best and the brightest minds into agriculture in the future.

Jocelyn Hittle: I’d like to talk about extension because we’ve said a lot about the work you’re doing, being related to extension. And maybe we can just say for those of our listeners who are not familiar with extension, the premise behind extension is to take best-in-class research outcomes and put it into the hands of practitioners. Traditionally, that’s been pretty focused on agriculture, but extension plays a lot of roles now, including energy efficiency and a lot of other topics.

Kerri Wright Platais: Community development.

Jocelyn Hittle: Community development. Exactly. So your work is helping to understand what that model looks like in other places and to help us sort of work collaboratively across borders within that framework of-

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, the NAAAN itself will take a look at sort of the models that exist and then begin through the thematic areas of biodefense and biosecurity. How do we respond to outbreaks and crises and disaster management? Where do we come together across borders, as well as in our states, how are we responding to climate change? What role is extensions in playing in water management and soil health, and then also the third area of working on career development and engaging and in training I think there’s lot of training that goes on through extension services. And I’ve been on the research side in my career and sort of connecting Ag policy to applications within research. And so the even engaging in the conversation for extension is new also for me, but it’s been fun to learn what’s in place, who’s doing what, and how can we create that dialogue or maybe help to improve the connectivity around it.

Jocelyn Hittle: So, let’s expand a little beyond the NAAAN conversation, which of course is a really wonderful part of the work that you are doing here. What are you seeing in International Ag right now?

Kerri Wright Platais: Yeah, I know it’s some, and again, COVID has played a role in all this. I mean, I think, economic opportunity agriculture creates wealth, it creates food security and it’s at the smallest farming family level throughout the world, as well as in the larger spheres of the sector of agriculture and education and research and whatnot. So what I’ve watched over the years and have been a part of in my earlier work at if pre the International Food Policy Research Institute, we had a program on scientific and technical partnerships in Africa, which I led, and we looked at emerging technologies throughout the CGIL system, what was like coming up and what should we be aware of and have on our radar and begin to invest in both public and private sector funding around. And actually one of those areas that we researched and looked into years earlier was African swine fever. And the work that’s taking place at ILRI which is the International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya. It was interesting to have discussed African swine fever and then to have seen the outbreak that took place in 2019 and 2020, which was heavily hit in China. China’s one of the largest pork producers in the world. And the stats were pretty astounding in terms of ASF is not in our borders. It’s not in the United States, but it’s something we never want to have here. And so how do you prevent, how do you have early detection? Where do we come together around that? At this point in time, 25% of the pig population has been impacted worldwide because of ASF. In 2019, 2020 alone, 6 million pigs were lost to that disease itself. So formulating that, knowing that that research was taking place in Kenya and being able to come to Colorado State and to learn about our work and our research. And so we had some of their researchers came before COVID and they were able to visit at our foothills campus. And Ray Goodrich oversees this work at our foothills campus in terms of putting them together with Edward Okoth, who leads the work in Kenya. And they now have an ongoing collaboration that we’re working on finding a vaccine for African swine fever. And it’s something where no vaccine actually exists yet. And yet there have been outbreaks of different varieties in Europe, in Russia, a big outbreak in China. So this is an opportunity where research at Colorado State actually is being intertwined and connected to international research to make an impact and a difference. So I would say that’s one opportunity.

Kerri Wright Platais: One health is another growing area of concern and something that Spur will tackle and address. So the health of animals, the health of humans, and where do we find that interconnectivity, how do we impact and are impacted by shared diseases or viruses and problems? And we’ve just lived through that with COVID. So I think some of what’s on the horizon has to do with access and scale, access to technology. I’m very aware that technologies in general, when you speak of Ag technologies are not neutral. Like we might think they are, but when you even just look into say, what would be considered more male oriented as a male access technology say in developing countries or female gender specific in the case of being production. So we worked on another project in Africa where traditionally beans are considered a woman’s crop and it’s because they have control then of the money that comes from the beans. It’s a high nutrition crops so they’ll be working to increase the nutrition of their family and their children. Whereas animal husbandry for the most part is considered a male in their domain. And so I think it’s important for us to think about when we research new areas or new problems who has access to that new technology, how will they get it? How will they learn about it, which is actually part of where extension comes in and how will we be able to share it across both across the world really with the world small farmers.

Jocelyn Hittle: And you hit on one of the topics that I think you have woven some COVID impacts and some thoughts about COVID and how it has shaped your work into a lot of your remarks. The other thing, of course, that’s very much on our mind over this past year is equity. And thinking about how we can continue to apply an equity lens to our work. And what you were just describing is maybe an aspect of equity that most people might not think about, which is what is still in various places around the world considered gender oriented when it comes to food production.

Kerri Wright Platais: No, it’s fascinating. And I think we don’t always think of it that way. And when you can kind of travel to the places and learn who has access to what technology who has the opportunity to earn income because of it and ultimately take care of their families and school their children and everything else. Yeah, so equity plays into so many different angles and aspects of agriculture productivity. Yes.

Jocelyn Hittle: I’d like to shift gears if we can talk a little bit about your path to doing this work. So as you know, at Spur, one of the things that we are seeking to do is to showcase careers in food, in water, in health, at the intersection of those disciplines, and to help young people understand the pathway that might get them there and to see themselves in roles they have never considered before. So I could imagine that a visitor might say international agriculture, I’ve never really thought about a career, but I love to travel, or I’m really interested in international work.

Jocelyn Hittle: And what was the path like for you to get where you are?

Kerri Wright Platais: That’s fun. Very winding. And it went through lots of different stages and changes and opportunities. I mean, when I think back on terms of how I, I ended up studying both political science and social sciences and agriculture agronomy, and crop sciences and pulling those together, didn’t it just happen. I think you have to follow and pay attention to sort of the magic moments in your life and the things that fuel your passion. And oftentimes it’s serendipitous moments that are just created or that you are awake up to and you’re aware of, and then you follow that path. And in 1983, I actually left CSU for a semester to go work in Haiti. And I knew I wanted to work in international development on some level, but I had never gone to bed at night hungry. Didn’t really know what that was like and felt like if I really wanted to dedicate a good part of my career to food productivity and an understanding and as well as Ag Policy that I need to do to experience it. And that was an amazing experience at 21 to be a part of that and to come back and to really realize that agriculture on so many levels is like the fabric that we’ve societies together, it in the bigger scope, it helps us to, I mean, without agriculture, you can’t even build a society for one thing and all the different cultures. And then by understanding equitable food production and how people have access to food and empowering their own lives and taking that on was a big part of my path. And so I think that working in international development has taught me quite a bit.

Kerri Wright Platais: And then it’s applications of what do we do with it. It’s not just what happens over in Rwanda or in Kenya. It has to do with what we’re doing here in the United States, our own research, our role, the access to food that we have, and then how do we translate that? But we’re a much smaller globe than we really think we are so interconnected. And what happens in our own Ag Policy affects others Ag Policies. And there’s so many interconnectedness that we’re seeing as a result of COVID with food productivity and access to food and migration issues. And some of that enters into climate change and how people can produce food in their own countries. So I think just looking at that bigger picture and having an opportunity to engage here in Colorado around it and to make sure we’re a part of that conversation at Spur and our results in our research activities are playing into that global dialogue is really super exciting.

Jocelyn Hittle: So it inspired you at some point to really realize that agriculture was part of these two different worlds that you had been studying at least academically. And so where did you get your start? What was the first job?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, let’s see, this is kind of a fun story. So I was a waitress at Bennigan’s Fort Collins.

Jocelyn Hittle: Okay, yes.

Kerri Wright Platais: And that’s how all good stories start.

Jocelyn Hittle: I’ve been to Bennigan’s Fort.

Kerri Wright Platais: Yes, and so graduate students walked in who had just received USAID money on tissue culture improvement. So drought tolerance and salt tolerance and whatnot. We had gotten a big grant and I sat down with them after work and learned a little bit more about what their research was going to be focused on and went in and actually spoke to the botany professor who’d received the award and he hired me. And so I stayed with the tissue culture for crops project up on campus, through my undergraduate work, and went to Thailand to Chulalongkorn University as part of a research exchange on sort of a gap year, working with them. And then I did my masters while I was working with this USAID project. And as a result of that, met some of the people from USAID who came and reviewed our project, our program, and then went to the world bank when I finished my masters and started work with the CGIR. So a waitress at Bennigan’s like that was a fun story, ’cause it all comes together.

Jocelyn Hittle: Right, you never know when that magic moment, which I think is what you called it might happen some day when you are at work doing something-

Kerri Wright Platais: Going now to listen and learn, and also tapping into your passions and just saying, this is something I’m interested in. I also think the career pathway, it gives you an opportunity to put different tools in your toolbox, take time to maybe be trained in something new, or be open to something different along your career path that eventually might take you in a new direction. But I think is an authentic way to sort of explore our career development over the years.

Jocelyn Hittle: Of the tools that are in your toolbox to use your metaphor about your career path and the skills you’ve acquired, what do you think has been one of the most surprisingly useful tools?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, I took a couple of years as a mediator and facilitator with the Meridian Institute several years back, maybe 10 or 12 years. And I think that was fascinating. It was a wonderful opportunity to just learn how to mediate, facilitate conversations. They are experts at what they do, and they’re a great group to work with. I knew I wanted to get back in more into research and research formulation. So I was only there for a few years, but I think in the long run, that was a skill set that I really appreciate. And being able to sort of set up a policy dialogue and to know the buy-in that’s needed. You don’t just come from top down and say, we’re going to do this in policy. It’s very much bottom up and you need to have buy-in and different partners and collaborators and people come together and ownership is so important and learning that and working in the work I did in Africa for the 10 years before coming to CSU was a big part of it. There’s listening and learning and understanding who has access, who has power, who has voice and then how to bring that altogether within the agricultural and food productivity context. So that’s been a wonderful learning lesson.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, so what you’re describing to me sounds like combining the scientific background and understanding what is the latest and greatest, and this gets back to our conversation and extension as well. And then putting that information in front of the people who you know have the capacity and the authority to truly make change and then facilitating that conversation so you really are making progress. I think you have to have both the data but also the people.

Kerri Wright Platais: Right.

Jocelyn Hittle: It sounds like you’ve really woven those together.

Kerri Wright Platais: Oh, well, thank you. Well, and I think finding partners is so important. People who share the vision, ’cause I can’t over state enough. I just think vision is so important in the work that we do, that you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, or you can begin to understand what this research is going towards and what who’s it impacting and who has voice and conversation in that dialogue. And that’s such an important part of, I think what’s coming out of what we’re creating at Spur and all the different components of people that are a part of that excellent chance and opportunity really to create something new as well as how do we tap into ongoing dialogues and work that’s taking place here in Colorado, nationally and internationally, how do you participate in something larger than yourself and how do you help create that opportunity for others to come into the conversation? And it really is an exciting part of what we do.

Jocelyn Hittle: So speaking of what we do more specifically, what you do, can you introduce us a little to what is a day in the life or a week in the life?

Kerri Wright Platais: Yeah, it’s a little bit split between probably two projects right now that we’re working on to help develop our international scope. And I’m sure it’s going to take on several others as we get going. So the non has been a big focus over the last several a year I guess, or so, and then the GMSO, so the Global Mapping and Strategic Outreach project is this wonderful compilation of people and leadership through the CSU System, CSU in Fort Collins, Pueblo, and Global. And we’ve really designed what we’re calling the global map that will sit at Spur and in our Terra building. And we’re working to tell the stories of sort of CSU innovation and research and how it’s impacting the world. The map demonstrates how research at CSU is relational. It’s intergenerational and it’s transdisciplinary. We’ll tell the different stories in a variety of different interests and experiences.

Kerri Wright Platais: And as you mentioned, Jocelyn, Career Pathways. So when people come to Spur and want to think about what would they maybe like to explore do or even just learn about, we hope that the global map will be one more fun exhibit to interact with and to learn about. And just as an example, some of the stories that we’re creating and it will have on the map, Brian Wilson, who works in sustainable energy and harnessing clean and affordable power to remote villages in Rwanda, Elizabeth Ryan is a toxicologist and oncologist studies one of the world’s most abundant foods in rice and how the brand of rice has the potential to dramatically improve gut health and reduce diseases. Yeah, I mean, it’s just little stories, Diana Wall, who is quite famous at front CSU and has had her work over the years, which unveils the secret life of soil and microscopic life in Antarctica and her work there, a woman Lumina Albert in other corners of the world has joined a global effort to combat human trafficking. And this is all research that’s taking place through CSU. And just our being able to tell the stories and to elevate the opportunities of what people can engage in and research in and the different areas. When I first started university, I didn’t even know agronomy was an area to study. So I think that being exposed to things and just learning, and even if you don’t see yourself in that particular area, what would you want to combine and put together in your course of studies to actually learn something new or develop into an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to education is so much more easily accessible now. And something that we really foster at CSU over the years and since I was a student. So it’s been fun to explore that.

Kerri Wright Platais: So I think that’s kind of my interaction and collaboration with folks is a little bit of my day in the life I could go on. I mean, one of our opportunities and what I love is kind of researching different areas of what, where our impact has been internationally. And shout out to Cara Neth who leads our communications, the MADEC for the GMSO who put some notes together for me. And I just think this is fascinating. Our role CSU, in the formulation of the peace Corps in the 1960s will be another story that we’ll feature maybe as a panel, or it will be in the global map. But the opportunity that came from that where a study actually conducted by CSU faculty who believed research and education as tools for building a better and more just world was important. That translated into the early formulation of the peace Corps. The idea was actually initially called point for Youth Corps study. Initially it was CSU researchers, Pauline Berkey Kretser, Andrew Rice, who later became a professor at American University and Maury Albertson who conducted the study. By 1960 it was in a campaign speech that President Kennedy gave at the University of Michigan. And then later it was actually dubbed the Peace Corps. So yeah, like a study out of our work became what formulated the beginning of the peace Corps. And we’ll have that story as part of the global map. And I love this quote from Maury Albertson that Kara shared, she said, we serve best by finding out what people want and helping them work to realize their dreams. And that’s from professor Albertson.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yeah, that is an inspiring, and it’s comprehensive that quote right and it really encapsulates a lot of what the land grant university is all about.

Kerri Wright Platais: Absolutely, and just to know that we had a role it’s interesting right now, apparently, I mean, 100,000 Americans have served in 44 countries as part of the program in its first 25 years. And Fort Collins actually ranks third nationally only behind Charlottesville, Virginia and Missoula, Montana in per capita peace Corps volunteers.

Jocelyn Hittle: Oh wow. I wonder how much of that is actually connected to people knowing this history, because I think it’s not well-known. So it may just be that Fort Collins is a very civic minded place.

Kerri Wright Platais: Yes, very top ranking. So, I mean, that’s just fun to be a part of all of that history.

Jocelyn Hittle: Okay, well, we only have a few minutes left, so I will just to ask, is there anywhere that you would point people for more information about your various projects you are working on?

Kerri Wright Platais: Well the NAAAN, our website is, it will be part of the Spur family. So we actually are on the Spur website now. It will be developed much more thoroughly in the next few months. So it’s kind of a framework right now.

Jocelyn Hittle: Wonderful, so the last thing that we will do is what we call the Spur of the moment question. So you have not been prepared for this.

Kerri Wright Platais: Okay.

Jocelyn Hittle: I promise it’s not a scary question. And sometimes I have been asking guests the same question. So I also have asked another guest this question, so maybe we can compare notes, but so I won’t ask you if you only had one album to choose because it’s too hard, but do you have a couple of favorite go-to albums that you like to listen to?

Kerri Wright Platais: Oh, that’s interesting. Yes, and my genre is very much back in the 70s and 80s probably in terms of that formative period that you love music and you embrace it. So after the gold rush, Neil Young, huge place in my life, Bonnie Raitt, anything with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown, those are probably my go-to artists and their albums. The ones that you still go back to and wanna listen to time and time again, even on Spotify now that’s how we do this.

Jocelyn Hittle: That is how we do it?

Kerri Wright Platais: Yeah. But and David Gray I’d have to say, as I enter into more, Abola, he’s actually from the, I suppose the 2000s also, but yeah, David Gray, “White Ladder” major he’s that I love.

Jocelyn Hittle: Well that is a great place for us to leave this.

Kerri Wright Platais: Well, this was fun. Thank you, Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Hittle: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for being here. Again my guest today has been Kerri Wright Platais with the CSU system office. Thank you so much for being with us, Kerri. And we will look forward to you all joining us for the next episode of “Spur of the “Moment.” Thank you. The Spur of the moment podcast is produced by Peach Islander productions. And our theme music is by Quetta. Please visit the show notes for links mentioned during today’s episode, we hope you’ll join us in two weeks for the next ‘Spur of the Moment” episode. Until then, be well.


Director, Native American Cultural Center, Colorado State University

Ty A. Smith, MBA, was born and raised on the Navajo Nation. He is Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Ashiihi (Salt Clan). Ty received both his baccalaureate degree (B.S. Mechanical Engineering) and master’s degree (MBA) from Colorado State University. He was a practicing engineer in the energy industry prior to becoming director of the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) at Colorado State University in 2005. NACC’s mission is to ensure a successful educational experience for students by providing support and services related to recruitment, retention, graduation, and community outreach. The office embraces and encourages a supportive environment based on the traditions and cultures of Native American peoples. Ty resides in Fort Collins along with his wife, Jan, and their two boys, Ty Jr. and William.

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Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board

As Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Becky carries out the policies and directives of the Board relating to the conservation, development and utilization of the state’s water resources, and works closely with the State Engineer, General Assembly, the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources, and the Governor on water resource issues for the State of Colorado. The Director acts as the representative for the state on interstate and intrastate water issues, including issues relating to flood control, water conservation and drought planning, water information, river restoration and environmental aspects of water management. As Director, Becky is involved with federal and state legislation pertaining to water resources and represents the State of Colorado on commissions and entities such as the Arkansas River Compact Administration, the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum, the Western States Water Council, and the Missouri Basin States Association.

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General Manager, Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority

John Entsminger is the general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which serves over 410,000 customer accounts, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is responsible for providing water to local agencies that collectively serve 2 million residents and 40 million annual visitors.  Prior to taking the helm of these agencies in early 2014, Entsminger was instrumental in the development of several groundbreaking regional and international water agreements. He has been appointed by Governor Sandoval to serve as Nevada’s lead negotiator on Colorado River matters.  Active in several national water associations, Entsminger is Vice President of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and is a trustee of the Water Research Foundation and the Desert Research Institute Foundation.

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General Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

With over 32 years of public service experience in the management of water, environmental and infrastructure programs and initiatives, Adel is an award-winning transformational leader anchored in integration, innovation, and inclusion.  Adel is a registered civil engineer with the State of California and a national Board-Certified Environmental Engineer with specialty in water.  

Adel was appointed in June 2021 as the General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the nation’s largest drinking water provider.  Adel is responsible for leading Metropolitan’s daily and long-term operations and future planning, providing safe and reliable water for 19 million people in six Southern California counties spanning over 5,200-square-mile service area with an annual budget of $1.8 billion, 1,700 employees and 30 facilities.

Previously, Adel was appointed in 2018 by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti as the Executive Director and General Manager of the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA).  Adel was responsible for managing, maintaining, and upgrading the City’s Street network including streets, sidewalks, trees, and bikeways with focus on safety, mobility, and sustainability. 

Prior to that, Adel was the Assistant General Manager for the City’s Bureau of Sanitation for 10 years where he was responsible for the wastewater collection system management, storm water and watershed protection program, and facilities and integrated water planning.  Under his direction, the City prepared an award winning 2040 One Water LA Plan “One Water.”

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Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society

Jennifer Pitt is the Colorado River Program Director for the National Audubon Society, where she works to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems in the Colorado River Basin. She leads the United States–Mexico collaboration to restore the long-desiccated Colorado River Delta and serves as the U.S. co-chair of the bi-national work group whose partners will, through 2026, implement existing treaty commitments providing environmental flows and habitat creation.

Prior to joining Audubon, Jennifer spent 17 years at the Environmental Defense Fund. With partners, she led the conservation community’s efforts to prioritize and implement restoration of the Colorado River Delta, and she worked with Colorado River stakeholders to develop the unprecedented Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, the first federal assessment of climate change impacts in the basin and the first basin-wide evaluation of the impacts of river system operation on water supply reliability and river health.

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Director of Program Learning and Influence, Water for People

With 20 years experience in non-profit management in international development, microfinance, and global education, Kimberly joined Water For People a dozen years ago to collaborate with teams around the world to end the global water and sanitation crisis. Through her work at Water For People she loves to share with others the impact a system strengthening approach can have in WASH. Everyone Forever is a holistic model to reach sustainable service delivery – not only focused on pipes and pumps and toilets – but all the elements that make that hardware work over time. She has lived and worked in Asia, Africa, and Latin America throughout her career and misses the clear blue water of Southeast Asia the most. While not working, Kimberly loves to spend time unplugged and with her family in the mountains or at the beach.

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Consul General for Canada

Sylvain Fabi (BBA, Bishop’s University, 1988) joined the Consulate General of Canada in Denver in October 2020. As Canada’s Consul General in the U.S. Mountain West Region, Mr. Fabi oversees a team of 17 people who work within Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Utah and Wyoming to strengthen trade and economic ties; enhance political, academic and cultural links; and assist Canadians visiting or living in the five-state territory.  He is also Canada’s chief negotiator for the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty with the United States.

Mr. Fabi joined the Trade Commissioner Service of External Affairs and International Trade Canada in 1992.  He worked in various geographic and trade policy divisions in Ottawa.  He was senior departmental adviser to the Minister of International Trade (2009 to 2010), Director for bilateral relations with South America and the Caribbean (2010 to 2013) and Executive Director of the North America Policy and Relations Division (2013 to 2015).

Mr. Fabi’s assignments abroad include trade commissioner at the embassy in Moscow (1995 to 1998), commercial counsellor at the embassy in Havana (2001 to 2005) and commercial counsellor at the embassy in Santiago (2005 to 2009). Mr. Fabi served as High Commissioner for Canada in Jamaica and the Bahamas (2015 to 2017). Before becoming Consul General in Denver, he was Executive Director, U.S. Transboundary Affairs Division (2017 to 2020). 

Mr. Fabi is married to Jany Joyal and has two children, Frédéric and Isabelle.

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CEO/Manager, Denver Water

Jim Lochhead was appointed Denver Water’s CEO/Manager in 2010. Lochhead leads nearly 1,100 employees at Denver Water overseeing work to provide a reliable water supply to the City of Denver and surrounding suburbs where Denver Water has service contracts. Lochhead also oversees the stewardship of a resilient collection, treatment and distribution system that includes 4,000 square miles of watershed land, 20 reservoirs, four treatment plants and more than 3,000 miles of pipe.

In 2014, Lochhead received the Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” award from the Colorado Water Congress, presented annually to a Coloradan demonstrating courage, dedication, knowledge and leadership in the development, protection and preservation of Colorado water.

In 2015, Lochhead received the President’s Award from the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, given to a person with a history of doing meaningful work in the field of water.

Prior to Denver Water, Mr. Lochhead was in private law practice, dealing with natural resource issues throughout the United States and internationally. He was also executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Lochhead has a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from the University of Colorado and a law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law.

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Colorado Attorney General

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser was sworn in as the State’s 39th Attorney General on January 8, 2019. As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Weiser is committed to protecting the people of Colorado and building an innovative and collaborative organization that will address a range of statewide challenges, from addressing the opioid epidemic to reforming our criminal justice system to protecting our land, air, and water.

Attorney General Weiser has dedicated his life to the law, justice, and public service. Before running for office, Weiser served as the Hatfield Professor of Law and Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, where he founded the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship and co-chaired the Colorado Innovation Council.

Weiser served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation in the Obama Administration’s National Economic Council. He served on President Obama’s Transition Team, overseeing the Federal Trade Commission and previously served in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice as senior counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division, advising on telecommunications matters.

Before his appointment at the Justice Department, Weiser served as a law clerk to Justices Byron R. White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the United States Supreme Court and to Judge David Ebel at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado.

The son and grandson of Holocaust survivors, Weiser is deeply committed to the American Dream and ensuring opportunity for all Coloradans. Weiser lives in Denver with his wife, Dr. Heidi Wald, and their two children.

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Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior

Tanya Trujillo is a water lawyer with more than 20 years of experience working on complex natural resources management issues and interstate and transboundary water agreements. She most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. Before then, she served as the Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California. She has served as Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at Interior. A native New Mexican, Tanya attended Stanford University and the University of Iowa College of Law.

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Acting General Manager, Seattle Public Utilities

Andrew Lee joined Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) in 2019 and is currently the Acting General Manager.  Andrew, who is a professional engineer (PE) and project management professional (PMP), has spent his entire 20-year career working on water, wastewater, and stormwater issues, with 15 of those years in local government for the cities of Seattle, San Francisco, and Bellevue.  Andrew is nationally recognized for his expertise in water/wastewater regulations, smart water technology, and asset management.  He is passionate about developing high performance organizations through an emphasis on shared leadership, employee engagement, diversity / equity / inclusion, and partnering with community.  Andrew is a member of the Project Management Institute and is involved in the Smart Water Advisory Network (SWAN), U.S. Water Alliance, National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), and Water Agency Leaders Alliance (WALA).

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Water Resources Specialist, CSU Extension and Western Colorado Research Center

Dr. Perry Cabot received his Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering and Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University. His research program focuses on innovative irrigation technologies, sustainable water resources management and crop consumptive use evaluation. He is the Lead Research Scientist at the WCRC-Grand Valley in its role as the western CSU campus unit focused on water resources, integrated cropping systems and climate-smart agriculture. He is also the Water Resources Specialist for the CSU Office of Extension and Engagement in the Western Region of Colorado.

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President, Family Farm Alliance

Patrick O’Toole has served as the Family Farm Alliance’s President since March 2005. O’Toole is a cattle and sheep rancher and hay grower with strong backgrounds in irrigated agriculture and Wyoming politics. Pat is on the Board of Directors for Solutions from the Land, Partnerscapes/Partners for Conservation and a representative to the Intermountain West Joint Venture. He and his family live near Savery, Wyoming.

O’Toole and his wife, Sharon, live on a ranch that has been in her family since 1881. It straddles the Wyoming-Colorado border and has long afforded O’Toole the opportunity to view some unique water issues first hand. Carbon County, Wyoming holds the headwaters of the Little Snake River, a Colorado River tributary, and the North Platte River, a tributary of the Missouri.

The family has strived for generations to nurture a healthy landscape and sustainable production of food and fiber. Usually the practices which benefit the livestock also benefit the wildlife. The native hayfields are flood irrigated, which provides habitat for birds and recharges the aquifer so the stream runs year-round. Five miles of Battle Creek run through the Home Ranch, and has been recognized as an Audubon Bird Area. The Ladder Ranch is a 2014 Leopold Conservation Award winner.

O’Toole is chairman of the Intermountain West Joint Venture, which advocates for habitat for migratory birds. He is an Advisory Board member on AGree—an initiative that tackles long-term food, conservation and agriculture policy issues. Pat and his family members are active in other solution-based agriculture and conservation organizations.

Pat and Sharon have three children, including a daughter, a son and six grandchildren living on the ranch. Another daughter lives in Phoenix.

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Special Advisor to the Chancellor & Director of International Agriculture, CSU Spur 

Kerri joined the Colorado State University System in 2018 and serves as Special Advisor to the Chancellor and Director of International Agriculture at the Spur Campus of the new National Western Center. The Center, opening in 2022, will focus on research outcomes and programs within the U.S. and internationally on the interface of food, water, and health (both human and animal) and serve as a place to gather, learn and encourage new agricultural innovations.

A thought leader in international agriculture development with more than 25 years of experience in the design, management, implementation, and scaling of innovative ideas, Kerri has a passion for formulating new ways to capture learning, share knowledge, and build effective partnerships and successful programs.

Her experience includes designing global policy dialogues, moving emerging technologies to market, and creating platforms for sustainable development and impact. Her partners and clients include groups such as The World Bank, The U.S. Agency for International Development, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Crop Trust, The International Food Policy Research Institute and other Centers in the CGIAR.

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Interim Director and Senior Water Policy Scholar, Colorado Water Center

Jennifer Gimbel is the Interim Director and Senior Water Policy Scholar at the Colorado Water Center. She is currently focused on Colorado River issues. Jennifer has experience in law and policy on national and state water issues. She was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water & Science at the Department of the Interior, overseeing the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation. She also was Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation and Counselor to the Assistant Secretary. Jennifer was the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the water policy agency for Colorado. As a water lawyer, she worked for the Attorney General’s Offices in Wyoming and Colorado. She has over 30 years of experience on water issues.

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Senior Water and Climate Scientist & Scholar, Colorado Water Center

Brad Udall is a Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist / Scholar at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center. His expertise includes hydrology and related policy issues of the American West, with a focus on how climate change is impacting the Colorado River. Brad was a co-author of the 2009 and 2018 National Climate Assessments and a contributing author to the 2014 IPCC 5th Assessment.

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Associate Attorney, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority

Ms. Becker has dedicated her career to the Navajo Nation and its natural resources.  She is currently serving as an Associate Attorney for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.  Prior to this position, she had the honor of serving as the Director of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources from May 2013 to January 2019, as an appointee of President Begaye and Vice-President Nez, after serving eleven (11) years as an attorney for the Navajo Nation focusing on water rights and natural resources issues.  Continuing her deep interest and passion for water, she serves on the Leadership Team for the Water and Tribes Initiative in the Colorado River Basin, as a Commissioner on the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, as an appointee of Governor Lujan Grisham, and on the Navajo Nation Water Rights Commission, as an appointee of Speaker Damon.  Ms. Becker is equally passionate about supporting artists and serves as a Trustee for the Institute of American Indian Arts and Culture (IAIA), as an appointee of President Obama.  Ms. Becker is a member of the Nation and lives on the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance with her husband and two school age children.

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