The Society e-Newsletter
Special Transition Issue

Thank You, Roberta

Volume 39

Number 3

A Message from the Society President / A Fitting Gift of ThanksThank You, RobertaRoberta Spencer: A RetrospectiveRemembering Roberta's ServiceFrom the New Executive Director Mark NelsonThe New Society Office & Contact InformationSDS Professional Staff Team


Thank You, Roberta!

By David Andersen

I am very pleased that President Ignacio Martinez-Moyano asked me to craft a brief statement on behalf of the Policy Council thanking Roberta Spencer for her over 20 years of service to the System Dynamics Society.  

Roberta started to work for the field of System Dynamics even before there was a Society.  In 1981, while working as a very young administrative assistant at the University at Albany, she was asked to support the first ever meeting of System Dynamicists in North America held in rural Rensselaerville in Upstate New York.  After that event, she took time to raise her family and to manage an architectural firm near Albany, NY. 

In 1996, Julie Pugh, the inaugural volunteer Executive Director of the System Dynamics Society decided that it was time for her to retire along with her husband, Jack Pugh.  Jack had been serving as the Society’s Vice President for Finance since its founding in 1983. At that time, the Policy Council conducted a search among a small number of centers where System Dynamics was actively practiced in order to find a new home for the Society.  When the Society moved its home office to the University at Albany in 1997, Roberta came on board as its first professional (but half-time) Executive Director.  At that moment, Roberta Spencer accepted stewardship for our Society and has faithfully watched over our business until now when Mark Nelson, working with Capitol Hill Management Services, picks up where she left off.  Roberta has led the Society with a personal touch which all of us have experienced in so many ways.  

Our Society emerged as a welcoming community where all who share an interest in System Dynamics can come both to develop the field’s frontiers and to learn our craft from its basics.  Under her leadership structured programs at our annual conferences welcome new members and a number of colloquia, summer schools, and peer-mentoring networks have emerged to support new members just getting started in our field. 

We have become a professional society.  Roberta started out as a half-time employee, charged with making our conferences happen, getting the journal out, and developing new activities to help pay for a growing base of activities.  Almost all of these activities relied on volunteers with some host institution taking on the financial risk of mounting a conference every year.  With the move to our New Office, we have a full time Executive Director supported by a wide range of professional staff in support of all our functions.  

Roberta fostered an entrepreneurial spirit that always found ways to fund our activities and develop new programs.  From day one, dues and journal subscriptions could pay for only a fraction of the costs of running a professional society.  Roberta was always scrambling to find new ways to sell products or find sponsors to subsidize our core operations.  

Very importantly, Roberta’s many activities created financial buffers that allowed our Society to make it past a number of financial crises.  This first of these occurred during her first year in office.  She had inherited a Society that lacked sufficient funds to pay for even a half-time Executive Director.  I recall computing that we had less than two years to exist before going bankrupt in that first year.  I also recall that we posted a net profit after our first year!  Again, about half way through her tenure as Executive Director, the Society faced an existential crisis when we faced a “perfect storm” of a downturn in the financial markets coupled to a conference at a remote site that posted a major financial loss as well as a relative decline in new members.  Once again, we found ourselves less than two years from financial insolvency.  At that point, Roberta resolved to build the financial reserves that could carry us through all future exigencies.  

In order to make all of this work, Roberta was flexible and adaptive in creating new products to sell, trimming our financial expenditures to meet budget, and finding ways to “make due” on short notice.  Many of us still recall the most wonderful conference banquet in Palermo organized within a few short days with Roberta working with the local team and their resources to create an event held under open skies in an historic ruins.  I still wonder what would have happened if it had rained? 

During her tenure, the Society become a virtual and online organization as all of its major functions were moved from paper processes to internet-based operations.  As part of this transition all of our past conference activities and routine operations were scanned and integrated into our Society’s online presence. 

Throughout all of this, she kept all of us informed of the many, many activities of the home office through her comprehensive and current reporting of all our activities, especially in her omnibus annual reports.  I have always said that anyone interested in a good overview of what our Society is and how it functions should spend some quality time with the dense statistics and text in Roberta’s annual report to the Policy Council. 

As a final gift to the Society, this year Roberta has helped arranged for permanent and professional archiving of all our activities as the records of the past twenty two years are being passed on to the University of Albany’s library for permanent archival purposes. 

Fortunately, we do not yet have to say “good bye” as we say “thank you” to Roberta Spencer.  She intends to end her service to the Society as she started it—as a two year half-time employee—after she has stepped down as full-time Executive Director.  I am sure that we are all pleased that she will have extra time to spend with her parents in Florida as well as with all her grandchildren.  But we are lucky to still have half of her professional time devoted to developing special projects and funding sources, working in close coordination with Mark Nelson and our new team at Capitol Hill Management Services.  

Thank you Roberta! 

System Dynamics Society