Sisterly Spotlight: Shannon Butler

Climbing the granite walls at New Jack City near Barstow, CA. PC: @tre._.vor 

Climbing the granite walls at New Jack City near Barstow, CA. PC: @tre._.vor 

Shannon Butler is the quintessential jack-of-all-trades. From fermenting, to baking, to climbing, her varied life passions are all woven from a deep love of science and teaching. After meeting Shannon, I was amazed by how these passions expressed themselves in virtually everything she did.

I knew I wanted to meet Shannon after Emily beamed about one of her graduate school projects where she studied bird behavior using robotic birds, (which yes, she made). A fellow nerd, I had to know more. After asking Shannon about the bird experiment, I soon learned that this barely touched upon all the different hobbies that made Shannon interesting! Shannon balances a life of a studied post-doctoral researcher at UCSD by day, and a badass rock climber as a weekend warrior. At UCSD, Shannon practices discipline-based education research in their biology department to study the most effective ways to teach sciences to her future students. Not only is she studying teaching practices, but she is a natural teacher in other avenues of her life. Shannon developed a love of climbing during her graduate school years at Purdue University. She quickly took on positions where she grew into the roll of a teacher, whether it was as a climbing instructor, consultant, or even a dedicated friend.

Shannon’s friend (Emily) described her as a “stupidly accomplished girl” while being one of the most badass climbers she knows. After being incredibly impressed by all of the hats Shannon wears (while still being able to get sleep every night), I was most struck by how humble she has been throughout sharing her story.

You can follow Shannon on Instagram @shanananananonb

Q & A

Tell us about yourself!

I’m 28-years old. My roommate is a cat. We live in a studio apartment near UC, San Diego. We moved here about 9 months ago. I came here for a job at UCSD. I’m a Post-Doc there now and I do discipline-based education research in the biology department. I recently acquired a couch and its been life changing. I enjoy baking sourdough bread, I raised my culture (bacteria and yeast needed for bread to grow from) from the air about 2.5 years ago when I lived in Indiana. It came with me to California.

Why did you choose your career? What brought you to teaching?

 I’ve kind of always wanted to be a teacher, I just didn’t know what kind. I like tell people true things that make them say “wow, that’s neat” and teaching is one mechanism to accomplish that. I really enjoyed teaching in graduate school. Right now I’m mostly doing education research, which is really interesting and I think will help me be a better teacher. I’ll be teaching Ecology at UCSD this summer and fall. I’m really excited for that.

How did you get into climbing and your outdoor lifestyle?

I was very much into cross-country/trail-running/triathlons in high school/college, which brought me outside a lot. I did cross country all through college, and track too. But senior year I quit Track in the spring and needed another physical activity to fill that gap. Some people in the Rose-Hulman (where I did undergrad) Climbing Club introduced me to climbing indoors. We would drive to gyms in Indianapolis or Bloomington on Friday nights to climb, and I thought it was really fun. They invited me to go climb outside at the Red River Gorge, but I declined because I incorrectly thought that climbing outdoors was dumb for some reason.

I started grad school at Purdue and they were just building a climbing wall there, so I continued climbing indoors. I went to the Red River Gorge for a camping trip with my best friend that next summer, with no intention of climbing. I didn’t really care about climbing outside yet. But we camped at Miguel’s and made some friends and they took us climbing, and I was hooked. I immediately enrolled in a class Purdue’ climbing wall to learn to lead climb. Once I had enough knowledge and gear and some friends who trusted me enough to belay them, I went back to the Red every weekend that I possibly could the next 4 years. I started working at the climbing wall at Purdue as an instructor and eventually a route setter. I took spring break trips out to places like Red Rocks, NV and El Potrero Chico, Mexico. I became a climbing consultant for the Purdue Outing Club for a year and led beginner trips down to the Red. It’s now my primary recreational/social/exercise activity. Moving to Southern California has made climbing outside a lot more accessible year round and I’m pretty happy about that.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I just have priorities. I take my weekends and holidays. Doing things I love makes me happy and keeps me energized and focused for work. But I also really like my line of work, so it’s not that hard to balance a bunch of things I really enjoy doing. I would say that the only category of my life that suffers in non-climbing social things… I really have very few friendships that don’t revolve around climbing…I’m ok with that for now.  

What three things/people/roles have contributed most to your success?

I’m not sure what success is. So I’m not really sure how to define the things that brought me to there, If I am there. I think I am always right where I’m meant to be.

Any advice for people in your position or those who are on a similar path?

I don’t feel that I’m in a position to advise anyone because I’m not exactly sure what path I’m on.

What are you working on now?

I recently started taking my kombucha down a different secondary fermentation path. I’ve always had a passion for fermenting (mostly bread and kombucha). And recently I decided I wanted to make a kombucha cider. The first batch turned out pretty well. It was a blueberry cider with a dry finish, I added some cascade hops and back sweetened with a little honey.

I’m also working on planning the Ecology class I’ll be teaching this summer at UCSD. It’s a quick moving course since it’s the summer, so I’m a little nervous that I might not be realistic with my timing of the material, either that I’ll have way too much to cover or way too much downtime, but I guess I’ll figure that out and adjust accordingly.

What are your favorite places to climb?

Red River Gorge KY,

Red Rocks NV,

New Jack City CA,

Joshua Tree, CA

Tiffany Le