Humanities Festival Biographies

Humanities Festival 2024 Biographies

Valerie Bayer​

Valerie Bayer is the founder of the Northern Rockies Nature Journaling and Naturalist with Brushes, a nature journaling teacher, master naturalist, and a nature journaler since 2009. Her mission is to provide educational opportunities through nature journaling to people of all ages that will engage them with nature and each other. Her vision is for individuals to engage in experiences which will lead to a richer understanding and stewardship of the natural world.

Adam Blackler, Ph.D.

Dr. Adam A. Blackler is an associate professor of history at the University of Wyoming. His first book monograph, entitled An Imperial Homeland: Forging German Identity in Southwest Africa, appeared in September 2022 in the Pennsylvania State University Press’s series “Germans Beyond Europe” sponsored by the Max Kade Research Institute. Among Dr. Blackler’s other recent publications include a co-edited anthology, entitled After the Imperialist Imagination: Two Decades of Research on Global Germany and Its Legacies and a chapter in the multi-volume collection, A Cultural History of Genocide. He was the recipient of the University of Wyoming’s Extraordinary Merit in Research Award in 2022. Dr. Blackler is presently researching a second book-length project, entitled “We remain loyal to the Fatherland!”: Outposts of Empire in Weimar Germany, which explores how imperial adherents publicly
assuaged their humiliated national ego against a backdrop of military defeat, political collapse, and economic catastrophe between 1919 and 1933.

Ricia Anne Chansky, Ph.D.

Ricia Anne Chansky is a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez where she directs the Oral History Lab @UPRM. She is the Senior Climate Justice Fellow at the Humanities Action Lab, an Assembling Voices Fellow at the INCITE Center at Columbia University, and a partner in the Archivo de Respuestas Emergencias de Puerto Rico. She currently directs oral history and digital humanities projects funded by the National Endowment
for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her research focuses on the intersections of storytelling, national identity, and social justice.

Amy Fitzsimmons, M.F.A.

Amy Fitzsimmons is a dance educator and choreographer originally from the Chicago suburbs. She is currently a full-time tenure-track dance faculty member at Casper College. Prior to relocating to Wyoming, Amy earned a BFA in Dance from California State University Long Beach and an MFA in Dance from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. During her graduate studies Amy accepted competitive teaching and leadership roles including graduate teaching assistantships and summer dance assistant director. Her creative & scholarly research
seeks to untangle how the use of technology and social media disrupts or inhibits a sense of community, and asks how dance practice and performance can provide unifying experiences in an increasingly polarized and digital world. Amy is certified in the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum Pre-Primary through Level 5 and is a current NDEO member. She has been on faculty at the American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School, as well as an instructor for Momentum Dance Center, Lifetime Athletic, and WEBBY Dance Company in Southern California. Her most recent choreographic credits include CC’s Fall 2022 production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. She looks forward to presenting Pencil’s Down! as a part of Theatre & Dances’ 2024 season.

Anthony Gamroth

Gamroth graduated from Casper College in 2006 with an A.F.A. in Photography and an A.A. in Anthropology. After graduating with his Bachelors of the Arts from The Evergreen State College in 2009 with emphasis in studio fine art, Anthony shifted his focus to classical dance. He trained and danced for Ballet Northwest in Olympia, Washington from 2011 to 2018. He danced cavalier roles in classical ballet including Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty, Espada in Don Quixote, and numerous Nutcracker roles over the years including the Nutcracker Prince, Snow King, and Dew
Drop Cavalier. He also worked for numerous contemporary guest choreographers from all over the country during this time. In 2014 he performed in Seattle's annual Against the Grain: Men in Dance festival. From 2015 to 2017 he was a company dancer for Seattle based contemporary group DassDance and performed at multiple venues and taught at partnering workshops throughout the Puget Sound. In 2018 he moved back to Casper and joined Wyoming Dance Arts and was a company dancer until 2021.  He currently teaches ballet and contemporary dance at 307 Dance Academy, runs a yoga practice out of Titanium Fitness, as well as teaching classes for Casper College's community education program. In 2022 he began work with Opera Wyoming to bring a dance component to the organization. Some of his fondest experiences as a professional were performing dance with live music and collaborating with musicians. Opera Wyoming has amazing talent and he believes the dance corps helps to round out the diversity of talent within the organization. In summer of 2023 he choreographed Opera Wyoming’s production of The Sound of Music. Rabbit marks his theatrical directorial debut.

Russell J. Hawley

Russell J. Hawley is the education specialist at the Tate Geological Museum at Casper College in Wyoming, where he gives tours and produces artwork for museum displays. He also contributes a paleontology question and answer column to the museum newsletter. Russell has worked at the museum since 1997, and has been digging up fossils in Wyoming since 1990. He illustrated Islands in the Cosmos: the Evolution of Life on Land by Paleontologist Dr. Dale Russell. His one-man art show, ‘A Thousand Unnamed Worlds’, was on display for two years at the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne.

Tina Opp 

Tina Opp is a ceramic artist and beekeeper from southwest North Dakota. Her wood/soda-fired sculptures are inspired by the natural world, especially the world of bees. After earning a Masters in Agricultural Economics from University of Wyoming, she completed an Associates of Fine Arts at Casper College, continued her study of ceramics at Utah State University, spent time as an apprentice blacksmith in Montana, and is a recent graduate of Cohorts.Art, just named Ceramic Project of the Year by Ceramics Monthly.

Susan Rogers, Ph.D.

Susan Rogers holds a doctoral degree in behavioral neuroscience from McGill University (2010). Prior to her science career, Susan was a multiplatinum-earning record producer, engineer, mixer and audio technician. She is best known for her work with Prince (1983-1987) but production/engineering credits also include David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies, Geggy Tah, Nil Lara, Robben Ford, Tricky, Michael Penn, and Jeff Black. In 2021 she became the first female recipient of the Music Producer’s Guild Award for Outstanding Contributions to U.K. Music. She teaches psychoacoustics and neuroscience for Berklee College of Music, Boston. Her book on music listening for W. W. Norton is titled This Is What It Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You.

Cat Urbigkit

Cat Urbigkit is an author and photographer based on a western Wyoming sheep and cattle ranch. Much of her work is focused on the connection between animals (both wild and domestic) and the humans who share the same wild landscapes, and the kinship she feels with pastoral people around the globe. She’s the author of Shepherds of Coyote Rocks: Public Lands, Private Herds and the Natural World, among other titles.

Julia Whyde

Julia Whyde earned a B.A. in Spanish from the College of St. Catherine and an M.A. and Ph.D in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington; she is proud to work at Casper College. Growing up in Wyoming instilled a love of exploration and adventure, motivating factors in her continued pursuit of knowledge and experience of the world. Her scholarly work focuses on similarities in describing the non-human Other/other in medieval apophatic mysticism, “Mountains and Rivers” poetry in the Chinese poetic tradition, and Anglo-American Nature writing. Those scholarly interests have deepened and expanded to include horror, weird fiction, and a more intense interest in phenomenology.  Julia lives in Casper where she collects too many books; dissects David Lynch movies with her ever-patient husband, Frank, and daughter, Eleanor; loses almost every family game of continental rummy; eats her parent’s tomatoes and zucchini; and looks forward to winter hikes at Alcova followed by a burger at the Sunset Grill.

Jodi Youmans-Jones

Jodi Youmans-Jones is currently the coordinator of the dance program, the National Association of Dance Accreditation coordinator, and one of two resident choreographers for the Casper College Department of Theatre & Dance. She graduated from the University of Wyoming with her B.A. in Theatre and Dance and from the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana with her Masters in Fine Arts-emphasis in Performance and Choreography. She was a member of the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble and has worked with such artists as Bella Lewitsky, Bill Evans, Loretta Livingston, Cleo Parker Robinson, Beverly Blossom, Stephen Koester, Frank Hatchett, Robert Dicello and Kurt Stamm. Her choreographic credits include Theatre productions such as The Tempest and A Christmas Carol; original contemporary ballets such as Grapes of Wrath, African Sanctus, Carmina Burana, Social Motion-Events affecting us from 1960-2010, Charlotte’s Web-An Adaptation, A Merry Mixed-Up Christmas and last year’s Humanities Festival presentation circlesWEshare. She has also choreographed over 50 productions on the musical theatre stage including Chicago, West Side Story, Chorus Line, Evita, Singin’ in the Rain, Legally Blonde, Oklahoma, Footloose, Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia, Frozen Jr., and most recently The Drowsy Chaperone. Her teaching credits include all levels of ballet, modern, jazz, fosse, improvisation, composition, musical theatre, dance history and tap. Jodi’s work has worked in several states across the nation and many of her students have gone on to perform across the nation including Broadway and the west coast. She has taught at multiple American College Dance Festivals all over the country, and has done artist in residency stents in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Jodi was awarded the Judith Bailey Scully Award for Teaching Excellence, Who’s Who in Collegiate Teaching, nominated for the Rosenthal Teaching Excellence Award twice, and was awarded the Rosenthal Teaching Excellence Award in 2018. The dance program at Casper College was granted accreditation in September 2013 from the National Association of Schools of Dance and is the first Junior College dance program to have such an accreditation. Jodi serves as the coordinator of this accreditation and is an NASD Site Evaluator for accreditation. She has coordinated poetry in motion for the 2014 Casper College Book Festival and presented in the Casper College Humanities Festival in 2015 and 2016 with her concerts Revolution of Spirit-the Arts and Culture of Wyoming and Carmina Burana respectively. Jodi is an active member of both the Casper College campus, working with the new students and new faculty, and the Casper community. She has held positions on several boards in the community as well as teaching or coordinating dance to community organizations like Casper’s Children Theatre, The Boys and Girls Club, the Casper Rec Center Ice Skaters, Dance Evolutions, Rising Star Dance Studio, Spirit Dance School, Rocky Mountain School of Dance, and KaLarks Gymnastics. She most recently was a choreographer and performer for the Mercer House fundraiser.