Being a PhD student at OU is challenging. In addition to the classes, there is research, writing papers, and helping teach other students, but Dorothy “Dolly” Na-Yemeh wouldn’t have it any other way. “There's always that joy when a student comes to you to say ‘oh I really liked your class,’ or the non-geography majors that decide they want to take more geography classes because it’s interesting.” Na-Yemeh said.
As a child, Na-Yemeh used to go into her mother’s garden in Ghana and eat the plants, herbs, and fruit. While her family thought it was odd, that never stopped her from gathering somewhat reluctant mouths. “I would taste them and go gather the kids in my neighborhood, teach them, and sometimes force them to eat the plants” laughed Na-Yemeh. “I had figure out what I wanted to be.” Na-Yemeh said. “Then I thought, what is the best way to teach people to solve problems? The closest thing was geography, so I just followed that.”
Though born in Ghana, Na-Yemeh complete high school in Kentucky due to her father's PhD work at the University of Kentucky. Afterwards she returned to Ghana for her undergraduate education at the University of Education in Winneba. One project she enjoyed was finding ways to improve the ability of geography students to use sketches and diagrams to illustrate graphical phenomena. Through the project she found students can be assisted to overcome this particular challenge and once they overcame, they performed better in geography. “This just fueled my passion for research and helping others.”
After graduating with her bachelors, she started working for her department in Winneba as a teaching and research assistant. She was also part of a research project on wetland conservation and the impact of the sea on livelihoods of fishing communities along the coast of Winneba. “I want to do research because I want to discover new things, figure out new things, and see how stuff works,” she said. This started her on a path toward her first master’s degree in geography at the University of Cape Coast. Then she went on to do a Master of Science in geoscience at the University of Western Kentucky. While there she worked with the Kentucky Mesonet to design geo-profiles for selected Kentucky Mesonet stations. These geo-profiles are described as “data about data.” This includes information like the station elevation, land cover, and other physical aspects. The main purpose of this work was to understand the character of some of these stations better. Weather conditions may be similar across an area but a weather station at an airport and one in a rural town should have vastly different landscape characteristics.
Na-Yemeh wrote her thesis on synoptic atmospheric conditions, land cover, and equivalent temperature variations in Kentucky. In layman's terms they “were trying to look at the different metrics of understanding weather” said Na-Yemeh. “For example, equivalent temperature is one of the ways people think is better because it incorporates other things such as moisture into the output. Moisture is a stronger indicator of how hot or cold it will be in an area, versus just using air temperature.” Around the time Na-Yemeh was working with Mesonet data in Kentucky, she was considering a PhD in applied climatology. She noticed a project at OU that looks at some of the services provided by the Oklahoma Mesonet and how people use them. “That's what brought me here,” she said. “The Oklahoma Mesonet is at the top of the industry and the closer you are to it the better.”
For her dissertation, Na-Yemeh is evaluating the benefits of OK-First, an outreach program within the Oklahoma Mesonet that is dedicated to providing weather education, safety, and access to critical real-time weather data. In addition, this semester she has a research assistantship with Dr. Mark Shafer at the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP). This project will look at the impact of extreme weather on military bases. There are five bases in Oklahoma and she will be trying to see what extreme events impact their daily operations as well as the cost. Her goal is to find a way to merge evaluating extreme events and evaluating the benefits of OK-First.
In the future she would like to work with either non-profits or in disaster management. Na-Yemeh is also considering teaching at a University. “Geography and the Mesonet brought me here, but my favorite part of OU is the people. Between our department coordinator, Emalee, the Mesonet and OK-First teams, there's a good support system here.”