Vicki Cowart was attracted to earth science because she could combine math and physics, subjects she had always liked, with outdoor activity. She focused on math and physics in college. Vicki earned a BS degree in Physics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, of Worcester, MA (1975). Her first contact with earth science was between her junior and senior years, when she worked for a small mining exploration company. She worked on data collected in gravity surveys, made and ran computer programs and had great fun. She went to graduate school at the Colorado School of Mines for a M.S. degree (1977) in geophysics. A summer job during graduate school included working with a portable seismic field effort in the Tetons in Wyoming; after several days in the Rockies on horseback and in helicopters, she was hooked.
After graduate school, Vicki joined the oil industry. She specialized in the seismic method, using sound waves to explore for oil and gas, by making maps of the subsurface based on seismic measurements. She spent several years interpreting seismic data before joining Schlumberger Well Services. After an oil company drills a well, Schlumberger tests and measures the well to determine how much oil is present and how best to develop or extract it. Vicki was involved in the seismic tests that occur in the well, or borehole seismic testing. Borehole seismic measures the velocity with which sound, or seismic energy, travels through rocks. The reflections of the seismic waves are used with other information to make images of the rocks around the well. Vicki explains how to use borehole seismic tests, teaches people about the technique, and solves problems related to it. It was her job to make sure the tests are done correctly and that the oil company client understands the information.
In 1993, after a 16-year career in the oil and gas industry, she became the Colorado State Geologist and Director of the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS). Vicki also served as President of the Association of American State Geologists. She is a Colorado Governor appointee as a Trustee of the Colorado School of Mines. In 2010, she received the prestigious Ian Campbell Award from the American Geological Institute.
Now, Vicki Cowart is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), a nearly century old affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). Since 2003, she has led an expert and dedicated staff to deliver high quality health care, complete sex education, and strategic advocacy across a four state region, annually serving over 100,000 people in 30 health centers and 40,000 people through the Responsible Sex Education Institute. PPRM is a non-profit health care and sex education provider that serves low income patients, despite receiving no federal or state support.
Vicki serves as co-chair for the PPFA-wide Ballot Initiatives Council, which provides expertise and funding to fight ballot initiatives in states that would limit or deny the ability of women to make their own personal reproductive decisions. Under her leadership, PPRM has successfully defeated three anti-abortion Personhood ballot initiatives (2008, 2010 and 2014) and in 2013, defeated the first-ever city ballot initiative intended to limit access to abortions in Albuquerque, NM.
Vicki is a leader within the Planned Parenthood community working to provide mid-to-long-term steady supplies of affordable contraceptives for all affiliates. She has served as Chair of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates Chief Executive Council and on the PPFA national board of directors. Last year, she was chosen by her CEO peers to receive the Ruth Green Award, given to one outstanding Planned Parenthood affiliate CEO each year.
Under Vicki’s direction, PPRM completed “Building the Future,” a $12 million capital campaign for system-wide improvements, including relocating and refurbishing eight health centers, and building new flagship headquarters, on budget and three months early despite a year-long campaign of protests intended to intimidate the builders.
She advises all secondary school students to take as much math, science and English as you can. The math and science courses will help you become a critical thinker and the English courses will help you communicate effectively. Take hard courses and challenge yourselves.
Vicki is married to a lawyer. She and her husband work long hours, but make opportunities to be together. They travel around the U.S. and abroad, often as a result of Vicki's job. Vicki and her husband do not have children, but have many good friends and family with whom they often do things. They ski, fish, garden, attend opera, and give dinner parties. They are involved in local politics, work with local charities and volunteer for non-profit groups. Working in a traditionally male-dominated field, Vicki believed it was important to take leadership roles in women’s organizations. To that end, she helped found the Association for Women Geoscientists, served as the organization’s first nationally elected president, and is an Honorary Member.