2023: The Year in Review

collage of Bill Lane Center students, events and programs from 2023

Dear Friends of the Bill Lane Center,

“Abundance” is probably the best word to characterize 2023 at the Bill Lane Center. At any given moment during the past 12 months, if you’d asked members of our small-but-mighty staff to describe the nature of our work, undoubtedly someone would have commented on our ambitious vision and the flurry of projects and programs that left each one of us incredibly busy from January through the present moment. While this kind of pace and rigor can sometimes be dizzying, it is also immensely gratifying to look back on the past year and witness the fulfillment experienced by our interns, researchers, students, fellows, and loyal public audiences, all of whom reap the benefits of our Center’s commitment to a thriving American West. We hope you enjoy these highlights from 2023, and we look forward to the bounty of scholarship and learning opportunities that 2024 will undoubtedly bring. 

Happy trails,
Your friends at the Bill Lane Center for the American West

Educational Programming

Under the direction of Corinne Thomas, who joined our staff as Education Manager in September of 2022, our undergraduate programs continue to stand out as some of the finest Stanford has to offer. Now in its 10th year, our flagship American West course brings together four distinguished scholars to offer students a cross-disciplinary perspective on the region’s culture, natural resources, land, peoples, borders, boom and bust cycles, and policy challenges. Since the Center was founded in 2005 by David Kennedy and Richard White, one of its main goals has been to cultivate future Western leaders. This course does exactly that, by introducing students early in their lives to the region’s rich history and prospects. After completing the course, equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the West’s past, present and future, many students go on to participate in our internship program, where they bring their knowledge to bear on contemporary challenges facing the region. 

A woman wades in a river and holds a fish in her hands.
West Intern Serena Turner, who spent the summer working at the Deschutes Land Trust, catches a large brown trout during a fish salvage.

In fact, this year, we sponsored 19 summer interns to work at 17 host organizations across eight western states as part of our West Internship Program. These students worked with mentors to gain practical experience in fields ranging from conservation to museum curation to education and outreach. One of our interns, Carly Taylor, had such a positive experience in the program that her host organization offered her a job at the end of the summer. Carly looks forward to serving as the Natural History Institute’s new Communications Coordinator where she will continue her work “advanc[ing] conservation efforts and the fight against climate change.” 

With our partners at the Precourt Institute for Energy, the Haas Center for Public Service and Stanford in Government, we also offered seven Shultz Energy Fellowships for students to work in energy-related public service positions in the West. Read more about our robust internship program, and check out our Out West student blog to hear the students reflect on their experiences in their own words. 

Another fellowship program we proudly supported this year, in partnership with the Stanford Office of Sustainability and the Doerr School of Sustainability, is a new initiative called The Living Laboratory Fellowship Program for Sustainability. The program provides Stanford students real-world leadership and project management opportunities that meaningfully advance Stanford’s operational sustainability goals. As such, it’s a win-win collaboration where students gain practical experience in sustainability work while the university (and the planet) reap the benefits of the fellows’ innovative ideas.

Sophomore College students take a group selfie while on a hike in the Pacific Northwest.
Sophomore College students pause to take a selfie during their adventure through the Columbia River Basin.

We capped off 2023’s educational programs with a bang, taking 12 sophomores and two Sophomore College assistants on an experiential learning seminar through the Columbia River Basin. Led by professors David Freyberg and David Kennedy, the Sophomore College (SoCo) course “River and Region” explored the crucial role played by the Columbia River in shaping the Pacific Northwest. With a packed itinerary that kept students and staff on the move, the 2023 SoCo cohort met with dozens of stakeholders whose livelihoods depend on the river’s water and energy resources. During their time in the field, students learned invaluable lessons about the practical, social, environmental, economic, and political issues surrounding the development of these resources in the Pacific Northwest. For more images from Sophomore College, scroll through the Bill Lane Center’s active Instagram feed at @billlanecenter



Faculty and students at the Lane Center took on a number of fascinating research projects in 2023 that trace the West’s intricate cultural, political and environmental contours. In a first-of-its-kind joint polling project looking at Westerners’ attitudes toward significant socio-political issues in the United States, the Bill Lane Center partnered with the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), Arizona State University, and the University of Houston to produce four new reports this year. The series kicked off in June with the release of a survey examining changing attitudes on abortion in Arizona, California and Texas. The second report covered public opinion on transgender legislation and policies, followed by a report exploring political affiliation in the three states. Economic migration out of California was the subject of the final report, released in October. 

Collage of 2023 research assistant headshots
Seventeen of our summer research assistants. We supported 32 RAs in total.

Remarkably, this year the Center also supported 32 student researchers pursuing 13 different projects all related to Western land and life. Summer is by far our busiest time for research assistants. Twenty-three of these dedicated young researchers worked with us up to 40 hours per week during summer quarter on topics falling into five broad categories: reducing wildfire risk; water and climate resilience; climate change mitigation and energy; technology and public policy; and arts and humanities. With an eye toward preserving and restoring an American West ravaged by climate change, and a keen interest in elevating the region's rich arts and culture, these research assistants give us hope as they work toward building a brighter and more sustainable future for the region. Their impressive projects are summarized in this article, and several students reflected on their work more personally in our Out West student blog. Here is Lee Rosenthal’s piece on electric vehicle charging stations and Lilly Salus’s post on problems related to wildfire insurance in Marin County. Bethany Lorden also gave us a refreshing take on the poetry of the Rocky Mountains in this blog post about a "cowboy poetry gathering" she attended in southern Wyoming during the course of her research.


The Bill Lane Center team poses for a photo at the Ninth Annual Rural West Conference
Members of the Bill Lane Center team at the Ninth Annual Eccles Family Rural West Conference in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Since 2012, the Bill Lane Center has been convening the Eccles Family Rural West Conference with the aim of sharing knowledge and gathering stakeholders to discuss key challenges faced by rural communities. Our annual conferences have taken us to nine Western states - Idaho, Utah, California, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, and most recently, Colorado. This year, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, expert presenters took on the broad topic of "Human and Ecosystem Health in the Rural West." Over the course of four panels and a keynote, speakers shared knowledge and experience on a range of issues broadly related to health: sustainable ranching, including regenerative grazing and carbon sequestration practices; rural health in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the impact of the Colorado River Basin crisis on California and the West. For a more detailed look at the ideas, problems, and solutions discussed at the conference, we invite you to check out our comprehensive write-up. Stay tuned for more information about our 2024 conference to be held in Tempe, Arizona.

While the Rural West Conference centers issues of rurality, our annual State of the West Symposium, produced in partnership with SIEPR, takes stock of the economic and fiscal health of the Western region. The 2023 symposium on Friday, May 19, marked the 10th joint program between the Bill Lane Center for the American West and SIEPR. It focused on relations among the North American West’s three sovereign nations – the United States, Canada and Mexico – with special attention to the continuing crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. If you missed it, SIEPR has produced a full write-up of the 2023 State of the West Symposium: Navigating Borders in North America, which includes links to the agenda, charts about trade and the border, and video of all of the speakers and panels. 

Three people standing together, facing the camera and smiling
From left to right, Blas Pérez Henríquez, Preeti Hehmeyer, and David Kennedy pause for a photo together at the 2023 State of the West Symposium.

Immediately following State of the West, in a whirlwind weekend, the Bill Lane Center held its annual Stanford to the Sea hike. Though damage from the winter storms required us to reroute the afternoon portion of the hike this year, the daylong adventure was just as glorious as ever, concluding with a meal at TomKat Ranch, made possible by the generosity of Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor. Melissa DeWitte of the Stanford News Service has joined the hike for many years, and we were grateful to receive her reflections on the experience, from scouting out possible trail alternatives after historic flooding this winter, to telling cringe-worthy jokes along the route with Lane Center friends and affiliates.

In addition to these large-scale conferences, the Bill Lane Center hosts a number of smaller lectures and book talks throughout the year that draw audiences from across campus and the wider community. Popular events from 2023 include author events with Los Angeles Times journalist and Pulitzer finalist Rosanna Xia, who spoke about her new book on the vanishing California coastline, and with Gerald Warburg, who penned a hopeful story about grassroots activism that succeeded in protecting Point Reyes and the Golden Gate headlands from massive subdivisions. Many joined us for an October event with Clay Jenkinson as well, The Buffalo, the Badlands, and Ken Burns, where Jenkinson shared about his lifelong interest in the buffalo and his participation in several Ken Burns films. We are especially grateful to John and Catherine Debs for their support of this program, and for the dinner they hosted at their home prior to the event.

A man in glasses holding a camera chest-level, photographing himself in a mirror.
Photographer Arthur Tress joined Lukas Felzman for a "Studio Visit" in April, sharing about his creative life and work. Photo by Arthur Tress.

With the addition of our Studio Visit series, we also injected new life into our ArtsWest initiative this year, bringing audiences into the studios of creatives working in different media. Lane Center Affiliated Scholar Lukas Felzmann, an educator and artist himself, hosts this online series, interviewing artists, writers, and thinkers about their creative process and inviting questions from the audience. 

We look forward to hosting more ArtsWest events in 2024, beginning with a conversation on January 6 about Patrick Martinez’s solo exhibition “Ghost Land,” presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICA SF). With Tony Bravo, the San Francisco Chronicle arts and culture reporter, Martinez will discuss how his latest work pays homage to urban landscapes lost and destroyed. Join us in San Francisco to experience Martinez’s most ambitious and expansive presentation to date. And be on the lookout for a future collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver as well.

Many of our wonderful 2023 events were recorded and are available for viewing on our website. To find them, navigate to Past Events and click on the individual events you’re interested in viewing. 


Our online magazine, & the West, continues to publish insightful journalism that not only investigates issues facing the region today, but also looks over the horizon to the future of the American West. Felicity Barringer, her student interns, and Geoff McGhee spent the year tirelessly reporting on critical topics like wildland firefighters’ mental health care and compensation; the profound impacts of climate change on the insurance industry; and the citizen scientists who documented massive die-off in Oakland’s Lake Merritt due to harmful algal bloom. To read more of this exceptional reporting, check out the magazine online at any time, or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Threads and Facebook. 

While we are immensely proud of our in-house journalism operation at the Lane Center, we also offer opportunities for freelancers or reporters working for national and regional media outlets. Through our annual Western Media Fellowship, we support storytellers examining crucial aspects of the West, its land, its people, its history, and the impact of the forces that power its economies. As such, we were delighted to have named Janet Wilson and Julia Simon as our 2023 fellows. Wilson worked on two groundbreaking stories investigating the few California families who use more Colorado River water than some states. Her reporting reveals, for the first time, who the top individual and corporate farmers are in Imperial County, and raises important questions about equitable water delivery.

Simon, NPR’s Climate Desk editor, used her fellowship to pursue a story on mining for the green energy transition. While copper, lithium, and other metals offer promising climate solutions,  mining them for use in green technologies threatens dwindling water supplies in the American West. Her report, “Mines for climate-friendly technologies face growing water scarcity in the West,” aired on NPR’s Morning Edition in September.

For 2024, we have selected Brandon Kapelow as our Western Media Fellow. We look forward to his proposed piece on why western regions have the country's highest suicide rates, a compelling story Kapelow will tell through photography and text.

Staff Updates

Headshot of Research Manager Esther Conrad, smiling at the camera wearing a turquoise sweater
Esther Conrad, Lane Center research manager

Yearlong, we feel immense gratitude for each member of the Bill Lane Center team, which thrives under the competent and warm leadership of Associate Director Kate Gibson. September and December marked the one-year anniversaries of Corinne Thomas and Tina Lathia, our education manager and events manager, respectively. In a short time, they have each taken impressive ownership of a large portfolio of programming that demands intense effort, organization, energy and heart. The entire Lane Center family is grateful for all they’ve contributed to this community in just twelve months.

We also added another new staff member, Esther Conrad, who joined as our research manager in March of 2023. Given that the Center sponsored an astounding 32 research assistants working on 13 different projects this year, Esther certainly hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped. Managing our American West Working Group (Friday research seminars), all of our research assistants, our Dee Fellowship program and more, Esther has taken Lane Center research to new heights, and we couldn’t be happier with how she “completes” the team. 

Book cover of Cowboys and East Indians by Nina McConigley
Find reviews of Western literature on our Instagram channel.

Surabhi Balachander, part-time program coordinator at the Lane Center, continues to pursue her PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. We are capitalizing on Surabhi’s love of reading by co-publishing her fascinating book reviews of Western literature on our Instagram channel, @billlanecenter. You can follow Surabhi’s “bookstagram” at @surabhi.reading, or simply look for the colorful book posts on our Bill Lane Center account by searching the hashtag #WesternReads. 

Cover of Bruce Cain's book, Under Fire and Under Water: Wildfire, Flooding, and the Fight for Climate Resilience in the American West

In other book news, Bruce Cain, director of the Bill Lane Center, was delighted to bring parts of our research agenda into print this year, publishing a new book on the politics of adapting to climate change. “Under Fire and Under Water: Wildfire, Flooding, and the Fight for Climate Resilience in the American West,” began as a talk he delivered for the Julian J. Rothbaum Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Oklahoma in 2019. The book launched in November, and Cain had the opportunity to discuss it at the Commonwealth Club of California just a few weeks ago. A recording of that conversation is now available online.

We look forward to many more wonderful adventures in 2024, and we hope you will be here to share them with us. Whether it is attending one of our many events, participating in our programs, serving on the Advisory Council, or supporting our research, teaching and reporting, we appreciate your ongoing connection to the Center. From all of us to all of you,  best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a bright new year.