By Published: March 1, 2021

Alumni are making a difference across the globe; meet a trio of them 

It’s no secret that the spectacular beauty and endless recreational opportunities of the Rocky Mountains lure herds of students to the University of Colorado Boulder. But it doesn’t take long for most to recognize that CU Boulder offers more than just a pretty backdrop and weekend fun. It’s also an environment that encourages innovation and inspiration.

After graduation, countless erstwhile ski bums, climbers and social butterflies are eager not just to achieve personal success, but also to make a difference in the world.

What follows are profiles of three of them: an atmospheric scientist who strives to increase the number of women and girls in science, a former English major who launched her own Earth-friendly and philanthropic business, and a former biology and art major whose sculpture aims to represent the rural, American “other.”

Precipitation’s passport

Even as a girl growing up north of Boston, Adriana Raudzens Bailey (MGeog’10; PhDAtmos’14) always had an interest in science and the environment. She loved reading about bugs and animals, and in sixth grade, even wrote a paper about the ozone hole.

“I always had a penchant for understanding how the world worked,” says Bailey, now a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s aviation facility in Broomfield.

Adriana Bailey (MGeog’10; PhDAtmos’14)

Adriana Bailey (MGeog’10; PhDAtmos’14)

That proclivity led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental science with honors from Brown University and to work for the Sierra Club.

When her husband showed her a job listing for a science writer at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at CU Boulder, though, she jumped at the chance.

“I’d done media work; I have a science degree,” she says. “So, I got into science writing and loved it.”

Working with scientists doing all kinds of research—“the critters that live on your fingers, earthquakes in Nepal, people dragging sleds across Antarctica,” she says, ticking off just a few examples—was exciting.

But it wasn’t until she traveled to the high, barren slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii to report on the first test of an instrument to measure isotopes in atmospheric water, being conducted by David Noone, then-professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at CU Boulder, that something really clicked for Bailey.

“It was a really cool and different way of observing Earth’s system and learning about the water cycle,” she says. She asked Noone if he were looking for graduate students, and when he said yes, she scrambled to take the GRE and eventually applied for and won a competitive National Science Foundation grant. Over the next five years, she earned a PhD in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. After postdoctoral stints at the University of Washington and Dartmouth College, she came back to work for NCAR.

I’m motivated to try to get people to see science as more than somebody in a white coat in a lab."

Today, she’s still hot on the trail of answers in Hawaii, capturing and measuring hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water to interpret what she calls a “passport” for moisture, a glimpse into where it has traveled.

“Water that evaporates in one region of the Earth may have traveled hundreds of miles before it reaches your home and falls as precipitation,” Bailey wrote in a recent abstract. “Using both real-world observations and com- puter models, scientists can track moisture as it moves between our atmosphere, oceans and land.”

Isotopes reveal where water has been, which helps scientists investigate how clouds form, the influence of climate on moisture transport and how moisture mixes with our atmosphere. Bailey says this information can “help us predict future climate change more accurately.”

Besides her research contributions, Bailey also strives to be an ambassador for science.

In 2019, Bailey became one of about 125 If/Then Ambassadors, an American Association for the Advancement of Science program to highlight women in STEM fields and serve as role models for girls.

“(Ambassadors) represent an amazing spectrum of fields, but I’m the only atmospheric scientist,” she says. “There is a woman mechanic for Southwest Airlines, people who design video games, science teachers—a full gamut of women who work in STEM.”

In that role, Bailey recently appeared on a segment of the CBS program Mission Unstoppable, hosted by Miranda Cosgrove, to explain her work.

“I’m motivated to try to get people to see science as more than somebody in a white coat in a lab,” she says. “I’m sometimes in a lab, but science is so much more than that.”

Holding up pants—and values

Jennifer Fait Perry (Engl’92) confesses that she was living a pretty sweet life in Bozeman, Montana, when things took a turn that helped refocus her priorities.

She’d already been a ski bum in Colorado and worked for a media-buying company in New York before she and her husband moved to Bozeman. There, she earned a master’s degree, worked as an academic advisor and adjunct professor at Montana State University, and became a stay-at-home mom.

Jen Perry

Jennifer Fait Perry (Engl’92)

But then, when her two boys were still young, she suffered a ruptured appendix. She got sepsis and spent two months in the hospital.

“I lay there thinking, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re just a goofball skiing and playing and doing nothing to contribute. What can you do with your life to give back?’” she recalls. “‘If I survive this, I’m going to change my life, be a better person and contribute to the world.’”

She kept that promise, began volunteering at a local nonprofit and became intrigued with companies that make a difference by donating a portion of their revenue to charitable causes. She began wondering what kind of business she might start when an idea popped into her head.

“When I was out running around, my pants were always falling down. I wanted a belt I could wear with my ski pants, hiking shorts and jeans,” she says. “One with no metal parts so I could leave it on through airport security, and made from sustainable materials so I wouldn’t contribute to pollution in our oceans and landfills.”

Memories of “rainbow stretch belts” and the “grippy” elastic on the powder skirt of ski jackets soon melded in her mind and the Jelt belt, an elastic belt with a flat, nonmetal buckle made from recycled plastic bottles, was born.

If I survive this, I’m going to change my life, be a better person and contribute to the world."

A year later she was selling Jelt belts. The name is a contraction of “Jen’s belts” and a sly reference to the silicone gel that prevents slipping.

But Perry’s hospital epiphany was about much more than starting a business—it had to be a company that could make a difference in the world. Producing and selling the belts was great, but from the beginning, Perry focused on giving back. Jelt belts are made from sustainable, recycled materials, manufactured by under-served women, including prison inmates and women living on remote Montana ranches. The company donates a portion of each sale—not net profits—to charity.

In some ways, Perry says, it’s unsurprising that she ended up at CU Boulder. When it came time to leave her native Orange County, California, in 1988, she had just one destination in mind: Colorado.

“I really wanted to get out of California, and Colorado always gave me that peaceful, easy feeling,” she says, chan- neling the 1970s-era Eagles. “I liked the snow. I liked the vibe.”

It turned out to be the perfect choice for her.

“CU was life-altering for me. I learned how to think outside the box. I was exposed to people from all over the country and all over the world,” Perry says. “Not only did it change me from the person I’d been growing up in Southern California, but when I moved there, I finally felt like I could be myself. I learned empathy, compassion, the beauty of having an open mind and even a thing or two about Shakespeare.”

‘Surveyor of the Anthropocene’

Having just graduated from CU Boulder, Aidan Patrick Welby (EBio, BFA Art’20) might be expected to head off to one of the nation’s “art capitals”—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.

But that’s not what he did. Instead, in late July he moved with two friends to the tiny town of Wallace, population 782, located along Interstate 90 at the base of Idaho’s northern “chimney” just a few miles from the Montana border.

Welby cutting a spruce tree

Aidan Patrick Welby (EBio, BFA Art’20)

Although hardly known as art capital—or frankly, known at all by the vast majority of Americans—Welby sees  it as a perfect place to continue his explorations of “peripheral” places and the relationships between land and people. Indeed, moving to such a remote place is a kind of kinetic, real-world reflection of his artistic vision. “Following urban migration, art in the United States has long been the privilege of centered areas, wealthy cities with large populations,” Welby says. “Part of my own practice stems from a desire to dismantle this model and create meaningful art in the periphery, the American rural ‘other.’”

Growing up in St. Louis, the self-described “Gateway to the West,” metaphorically prepared the way for his sculpture and writing.

“It’s the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. We are in the center of the nation, geographically,” he says. “This was the starting place for many of the white settlers moving west, and this is the identity St. Louisans are taught to embrace from a young age. What we are talking about is a narrative of exploration and discovery”—a border between urban life and untamed wilderness.

But that narrative, he says, is “naïve and Anglo-centric and potentially enables violence.”

As a boy, Welby’s family visited national parks in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and elsewhere. When it was time to go to college, there was no doubt which point of the compass he would follow. After he expressed his interest in art at CU Boulder, an instructor recommended he take a sculpture course.

“I had a fairly narrow understanding of what sculpture was or could be: three-dimensional objects built from stone or clay,” he says. “Of course, I was completely wrong.”

I feel really lucky that I ended up where I ended up.”

Making sculpture that conveys ideas through space, time and action turned out to be exactly what he was looking for.

Simultaneously studying ecology and evolutionary biology turned out to be symbiotic with his art practice: “One degree influences the other my education in science serves as a foundation for my sculpture and writing.” Living in Boulder gave him the opportunity to undertake a lot of “nondestination traveling, making eight-hour sojourns to nowhere and whatever is along the way.” He explored public lands across the West and the human communities with which they are inextricably entwined. Through those travels and evolving artistic practice, Welby found himself becoming more and more interested in vast scales of time and space, and the enormous scope and complexity of climate change. His work now—including his writing, drawing and photography—often examines the intricate webs between people, land, industry and government.

For example, after interviewing local residents and Bureau of Land Management staff in Conejos Coun- ty, Colorado, he pondered the contradictions in the very idea of public land and created Mogote Slope Public Claim, a 75-foot-by-75-foot “brand” on a sage-studded hillside.

“Every citizen has access to this certain acre of public land. But if the mineral rights are sold to Standard Oil, suddenly it’s illegal to put a shovel in the ground, or pick up a stone,” he says.

To express that conundrum, he created the sprawling, stark-orange piece using the simple, locally iconic symbols of a cross and concentric circles.

“You see these compositions, the quartered circle, the concentric rings, in the petroglyphs and sand paintings of Mesa Verde, in the division of center-pivot irrigated farmland, and sold in hardware stores as paper shooting targets—together they create a symbol that marks an object that will be perforated, destroyed,” Welby says. Welby says CU Boulder encouraged open-minded approaches to both science and art, allowing him to explore and develop the ideas that intrigued him.

“I feel really lucky that I ended up where I ended up,” he says.