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Featured Spotlight Story: Hannah Gard, SoM Student

Hannah Gard reporting news in-front of Sarkeys Energy Center
Hannah Gard, SoM Student

Maybe you’ve seen Hannah Gard; she’s been on tv more than once. Gard worked as the weekend meteorologist for KSWO 7News in Lawton during the 2021 spring semester. She’s also interned for KKTV 11 News in Colorado Springs, and she currently works as a freelance weather producer at CNN. She’ll be pursuing a broadcast position once she graduates, something she’s wanted to do since she watched the meteorologists covering Hurricane Katrina. “I told my mom that I wanted to be out in a hurricane getting eaten up by the wind and yelling into a microphone,” Gard recalls.

Initially, she pushed the dream aside because she did not realize that meteorology was a degree she could pursue. She first considered journalism because she had a talent for interpreting English literature and writing. It is when she took a tour of Texas A&M, where she saw their meteorology building, and it showed her that she could, in fact, study meteorology in college. Though she was not initially enthusiastic about visiting OU as a prospective school—she was not enamored with the flat topography of Kansas, and thought Oklahoma would be more of the same—one look at the National Weather Center and mention of OU Nightly during a tour changed her mind. “I thought it was really cool and the building was awesome, and it seemed like I had so much stuff to get involved in.” 

And get involved she did. Fast forward three years and now, Gard is an anchor and a senior weather producer for OU Nightly. She has also been involved with OWL and OU SCAN.

Juggling her classes, internships, and clubs taught her many valuable lessons, especially those in time management. “And I learned how sacrificing other activities to gain experience was important,” she said. “I think before I took [the Lawton position], I was kind of apprehensive about it because I was not going to have time to do anything else, and was that going to be a problem. But I realized gaining that experience was so valuable and so worth it. I had a lot of fun doing it and I learned so much.” 

Perhaps surprisingly to some, Gard’s favorite memory and college experience was that of the long review sessions for her intro class with Dr. Mike Biggerstaff. She acknowledges that it sounds tedious, almost horrible, but credits it with being a great experience. “It was just so fun to go to them and eat pizza and sit there with my friends,” said Gard. “We could sit there and all hang out in the giant lecture hall. It would be four hours long and we would leave at 11:30 at night… That was the most fun for me.” 

Gard encourages current students to put themselves out there and interact with their peers. She believes this is a time to take risks, learn as much as possible, and to engage with the other minds in the program. To students who are considering a career in the broadcasting field, she suggests getting involved in clubs and groups like OU Nightly and really learning the science behind forecasting. 


Find out more about Hannah here

Featured Spotlight Story: Randy Peppler, DGES Faculty

Randy Peppler with friends behind a table with various prized fruits and vegetables
Randy Peppler, DGES Faculty

Dr. Randy Peppler has been at OU since August of 1995. In that time, he’s held a wide range of positions, from research to management to academia, and he’s still involved in all these areas.  

He came to the university as the Assistant Director of Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS—now the Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations, CIWRO) and as part of the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program. Currently, he serves as the Associate Director of CIWRO and works as a professor in DGES. 

Peppler has a bachelor’s and master’s in atmospheric science, a master’s in industrial engineering, and a doctorate in geography. And like so many others, he has the weather event that drew him to meteorology: the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. “I can still remember that day vividly,” he said. “Starting that day I become fascinated by [weather].” Not a decade later, the 1974 Super Outbreak occurred. In both cases, the storms came close to where he lived. 

In his professional career, however, he hasn’t studied tornadoes as weather phenomena, but as risks to human life, and how that risk impacts people. “As time went on, I got more interested in the societal impacts of all the things that we study,” he said. “My interest in societal applications and wanting to do research in that area led me to seek a PhD in human geography.” He finished his doctorate at OU in 2011, and began his work teaching, something he always wanted to do. He’s been teaching Environment and Society nearly continuously since 2014, along with other courses. 

When it comes to teaching, he’s always working to keep up-to-date on current teaching methods and the latest research in relevant fields so that he’s always improving. He also strives to present the many worldviews that come into play in his classes in a very balanced manner. 

On top of everything else, Peppler volunteers as the faculty advisor for Green Week (the University’s week-long celebration of Earth Day); serves as the faculty advisor for the GES club; and, alongside Dr. Angela Pearson, co-directs the Environmental Sustainability Working Group at OU, a group invested in providing interested students with research mentoring and professional development. “Helping mentor those students and helping them do research projects is probably the most fulfilling thing on the research end that I’m doing right now.” 

Peppler says it’s clear that environmental sustainability will be a significant part of the future of atmospheric and geographic sciences, not only because of the importance of Earth’s sustainability, but because of the job opportunities for students. 

And though geography and meteorology are important subjects to him, he encourages students to take as many courses outside of their major as possible in order to achieve as rounded an educational experience as possible. 

As for recent college grads, he says to always be open to opportunity. “What you think may not be something that would be along your path, maybe it is,” he said. “I never imagined I’d be teaching these classes 20 years ago… I was just a support scientist on a couple of grants. You just never know.” 


Aditi Singh, DGES Student

As a child, Aditi Singh liked to sit her siblings in front of a rolling blackboard and teach them, making sure to check their notes. For the daughter of a professor, academia has always been part of her life: the books, the piles of papers, the constant educating of oneself. 

Singh’s interests are varied and rich. She began her education in India, studying gender, the environment, and human rights at the University of Delhi, followed by a master’s degree at Ambedkar University Delhi focused on the environment and development aspects in urban and rural spaces. Here at the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES), she combines these interests to research the relationships between humans and the environment in urban spaces. 

“I was very much interested in understanding the relationship between the natural environment and cities,” said Singh. “As I come from a social science background, I was inclined towards understanding the human angle of cities-environment relationship as compared to the scientific aspect. That's why I have chosen human geography as a discipline for my Ph.D., situating myself as a political ecologist.” 

After completing her first two degrees, Singh knew she wasn’t done with the academic life; she said that she loves sitting in a classroom as a student, listening and taking notes. Singh’s co-advisor from her master’s program introduced her to Dr. Mary Lawhon, Singh’s DGES advisor for the first two years at the University of Oklahoma. At present, Singh is working with Dr. Laurel Smith, Singh’s chair, and with Dr. Ryan Stock, Assistant Professor at Northern Michigan University. 

Singh first came to the U.S. in August of 2018 when she began her Ph.D. here at OU. She considers herself an explorer, and values exposing herself to different cultures and institutions to better understand the use of space. 

“The way the system works, the way a city works, I think, is definitely different in India compared to the U.S.,” Singh said. 

Singh is immersing herself in academia. She said because getting a master’s degree is such a quick, two-year program, the research experience is over almost as soon as it’s started. Now, she has the opportunity to dive deep into the process. In addition, for the first time she was an instructor of a 3000-level course – Environment and Society ─ during Spring 2021. 

“You wonder what [the students are] taking away from this course, you feel the responsibility differently,” Singh said. 

When it comes to teaching, Singh acknowledges she doesn’t have all the answers to the environment and society. No one does. 

“You always have to be open to unlearning things, not just learning, but unlearning,” said Singh. 

She says to never stop questioning why something works the way it does, especially when it comes to the environment and who has the power to shape what a sustainable environment looks like or should look like. 

After completing her degree, Singh plans to continue working in academia. She said that her time in Delhi developed her love of the buzz of people and thoughts around her. 

“So, I think I love academia for that. You’re teaching, you’re researching, you are attending conferences. You’re connected to a whole different world of institutions and organizations,” Singh said. 

Andrea Gordon, A&GS Undergraduate Student
Andrea Gordon, A&GS Undergraduate Student

March 15, 2021

Andrea Gordon was interested in schools that had top-notch meteorology and music programs, and because of that, the University of Oklahoma was a top contender. Her first impression of OU was that it was insanely hot, likely because her initial campus tour was in the middle of July with the temperature hovering at about 110 degrees. For a native Minnesotan, that was quite a change. Aside from the scorching temperature, OU’s close-knit and supportive environment sold her. “I really enjoyed the combination of the big school versus small school feel about it.” She says the excitement of OU football games on the main campus paired with the more laid back National Weather Center created the perfect balance for Gordon. 

Being from Minnesota, it’s only fitting that snow is what first inspired Gordon’s curiosity in weather. Not originally interested in working in the meteorological field, she cycled through several career choices before settling on meteorology, “I kind of went through phases of what I wanted to do when I was younger, I wanted to be an author or an eye doctor or physical therapist, but I finally landed on meteorology.” While downhill ski racing, she became interested in how varying weather conditions affected snow conditions and skiing strategy – this began her focus in meteorology.

During her first two years at OU, she double majored in music and meteorology while playing the flute for the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band. She discovered that both areas of coursework required a significant amount of time and energy, and she realized she enjoyed meteorology more and wanted to focus her energy there. Gordon is set to graduate in Spring 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in meteorology with a minor in music. After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to pursue a career as a research scientist. Although she hasn’t made up her mind about where she will attend, OU is one of her choices. 

Her time in the School of Meteorology has been full of exciting opportunities. Right after her freshman year, she got a position as an undergraduate research assistant with Dr. Cameron Homeyer and the Convection, Chemistry, and Climate research group. “When I was working in that group I really discovered how much I enjoy research, and so that kind of fueled my interest in graduate school.” Additionally, she is a student ambassador for the School of Meteorology, a shift leader for the Oklahoma Weather Lab, and participates in Weather Friends. 

Her undergraduate years have also included many conferences and workshops. She says a particularly impactful event was the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Undergraduate Leadership Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. “Meeting and being mentored by NCAR scientists as well as touring the NCAR facilities opened my eyes to the vast amount of opportunities within atmospheric sciences. It was also a valuable experience where I learned a lot about different leadership styles and dynamics.” Gordon also presented her own research regarding the climatology of transport pathways for overshooting convection at the 2019 American Meteorological Society Conference. 

Gordon says her biggest mentor at OU is Associate Professor of Meteorology, Cameron Homeyer. “He's just been incredibly supportive and a super awesome advisor and a really great scientist, I feel like I've grown a lot, and I've learned a lot from him. He's helped a lot on the academic side, but I think I've also learned a lot about perseverance through him.” She says working for Dr. Homeyer for the past three years in the research group has been a great experience. 

Gordon’s advice for current or future A&GS students is to get involved with different organizations that support their interests as they find out what they’re really passionate about. She also says that utilizing professor office hours is incredibly beneficial, “I know it can seem really intimidating, but all the professors are really supportive and willing to help if you just make the first step.”

Andrews Korah, A&GS Graduate Student
Andrews Korah, A&GS Graduate Student

February 16, 2021

Andrews Korah has experienced extreme highs and lows – literally. After moving to Oklahoma last year to pursue his degree at the University of Oklahoma, Norman’s extreme temperature fluctuations reminded him of his home country of Ghana. Korah has always been interested in studying extreme weather conditions, so it is only fitting that Oklahoma’s weather made him feel right at home. 

Korah is originally from Wa, a town in northern Ghana. In 2017, he received his undergraduate degree in geography from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science in Kumasi, Ghana before moving to the United States to pursue his Master of Arts in geography from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2020. 

Korah wanted to further his education after receiving his master’s degree and he says OU’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences was a perfect fit based on faculty interests and an emphasis on diversity. 

“I was looking for programs that best aligned with my interests in research. When looking it seemed like the OU faculty and staff had the same interests that I did, especially Michael Wimberly,” he said. “My final decision came when I got an invitation for graduate recruitment week where I learned that OU is very diverse and my program department and the faculty and staff had a lot in common. They were very excited to work with me, so I really felt like a part of the community.” 

Those extreme temperature fluctuations in Ghana truly helped shape Korah’s academic interests. The region of Ghana that he grew up in experiences a lot of weather issues – specifically extreme highs and lows; Korah hopes to study how those extremes affect daily life. He also hopes to expand his research to explore why many people move to urban centers and how this rapid expansion will affect future conditions. 

He sees the fields of geography and environmental sustainability incorporating more research on climate, allowing for key collaborations. 

“Due to climate change, I’m anticipating needing more research that brings different expertise to the table to work together on solving environmental issues,” he said. “I would think there will be a lot more collaborations in the future between the different experts in their own field to influence future policies.” 

Korah is very passionate about diversity and he says the program at A&GS facilitates many different backgrounds and cultures. 

“We have a lot of people here at OU that come from different backgrounds,” he said. “I don't want to impose my views on anyone, so it is important that when I interact with others that I understand where they are coming from and that I am learning from them.” 

In the future, Korah hopes to be a professor or researcher in the field of urban analysis. Although Korah’s future plans are still solidifying, he has one very happy reason to celebrate amid any uncertainty: he and his wife recently welcomed their first child. He still hopes to travel back to Africa in the future to apply what he’s learned in order to help others. 

“My main thing is to go back to Ghana and contribute to the society there,” he said. 

When asked for advice for current and future students, Korah says always work hard, remember that nothing is too hard to accomplish and never be scared to pursue your interests. The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences has many professors and staff members that want to see you succeed and will make sure you meet your goals.

Sophie Plassin, DGES Post Doc
Sophie Plassin, DGES Post Doc

December 14, 2020

Sophie Plassin was ecstatic to read the job offer to work on a research project in Oklahoma. Originally from France, she had always dreamed of traveling to the United States to grow academically, while immersing herself in an English-speaking language. When research exploring the effects of climate change in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin presented itself, she knew it was a perfect fit. The project is funded by the USGS South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Plassin received her MSc from Purpan Engineering School in Toulouse, France in 2009, and her PhD from AgroParisTech, a graduate school of the Paris-Saclay University in 2018 prior to coming to Oklahoma. Plassin has been a post-doc interdisciplinary researcher on the basin project at the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences since 2017.

Plassin has a wealth of related experience that helped fuel her passion for her research at OU. Before beginning her PhD, she worked as a coordinator in the Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development in Southwestern France. This region has been suffering from recurrent and severe drought, causing them to adjust their cropping practices. “I was in charge of supporting farmers to find alternatives, and during that time, I realized how important it was to find sustainable agricultural strategies for water use.” She says she saw the importance of this issue as it relates to her research at OU, as agriculture represents more than 80% of the water withdrawals in the Rio Bravo Basin – which is already experiencing water-scarcity.

Another reason she was drawn to this challenging project was its involvement with building a socio-economic model for a large, binational river basin with a complex network of dams and diversions. Plassin not only mentions the project’s relativity to her field of study, but also its profound impact on her perspective. “The project opened my mind and now I have a bigger picture when thinking about agricultural and environmental challenges.”

Plassin says there are three main takeaways from her time at A&GS. The first is her expanded knowledge in her field, “My CV has improved a lot during my time in the United States - I had the chance to attend many international, national, and regional conferences and workshops, and I have developed a lot of my geospatial and programming skills.” The second takeaway is the project itself, with its challenging, yet rewarding work, “I saw this kind of research as a key frontier in socio-environmental modeling, and I am now well positioned in this topic.” The third aspect that stuck out to Plassin was her wide network of colleagues and support system, “Being in the U.S. has been a wonderful opportunity to develop my network on the other side of the Atlantic. I know I have developed trustful and long-term relationships that I could rely on for my future scientific collaborations.”

Plassin says there are three faculty members from the Department of Geographic and Environmental Sciences that played a critical role in her growth. She says Dr. Jennifer Koch is her role model – it meant a lot to Plassin that Dr. Koch invested in her professional and personal development by sending her to conferences, involving her in cutting-edge research, and letting her co-instruct courses. Dr. Randy Peppler also had a profound impact on Plassin, as he invited her to guest lecture in several of his courses and encouraged her to submit an internal proposal to NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) that was successfully funded. Dr. Renee McPherson similarly played a key role in her support system at OU and invested in Plassin’s academic development.

What’s next for Plassin? She’s recently accepted a position as a research scientist for the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment – which is the French equivalent of the USDA. She will continue research in her field of expertise with emphasis on climate change resilience in sustainable agriculture. 

When asked for advice for new or current students in the College of Atmospheric Sciences, Plassin had some words of wisdom to pass along: “Follow and listen to the people who trust in you! I have been lucky to have always worked with supervisors and mentors who have trusted in me and pushed me to give the best of myself and not be afraid to take on any challenges. If I had listened to the negative people around me, I would have never come to the United States or even followed a path in academia.”

José Montalva, Graduate Student, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, sits in a canoe with his two daughters.
José Montalva, Graduate Student, Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability

October 19, 2020

As a native Chilean, José Montalva never expected to end up in Oklahoma – his love brought him here, but his passion for conservation biology helped him truly put down roots. During a field campaign, Montalva fell in love with a researcher whom he later married. After several moves, faculty positions, and two children, Montalva’s wife landed a tenure-track position at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma. After moving their family to Oklahoma, Montalva decided to pursue his own graduate degree, and will graduate with a Master of Science in Geography and Environmental Sustainability from OU in the Spring of 2021.

Although Montalva’s undergraduate background is based in biology, his masters research within OU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability shifted gears to focus more on a different passion – bee conservation! During his coursework, he’s learning the necessary skills to understand the distribution of species through modeling patterns. Montalva’s used these tools to study species invasion, as well as shrinking distribution of endangered species, and has already received widespread recognition for his research on this topic.

Previous research reported only 200 species of bees native to the state of Oklahoma. Montalva’s recent findings point to a much higher number – around 400 species in total! He says the lack of information on the diversity of Oklahoma bees is the main reason for the underestimation. Montalva’s work with other researchers resulted in an updated inventory of the state’s native bee species through a variety of tools including photography, mapping, and blogging.

Montalva’s revelatory findings created a significant local impact at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Upon visiting the zoo’s pollinator garden, he discovered a bee on the current endangered species list. Because of Montalva’s discovery, the zoo plans to increase bee habitat areas. The zoo is also partnering with the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma to help the scouts care for, create, and maintain pollinator habitats. Montalva will continue to work with the zoo to create informative plaques within the pollinator garden. These plaques will help guests identify the different varieties of bees and will include steps people can take to assist conservation efforts in their own lives.

Montalva’s passion for this topic is evident in his perseverance and continuation of efforts well beyond his thesis work. Montalva plans to explore his research throughout the entirety of Oklahoma, where he expects to find new bee species in each area of the state. Montalva’s plan to discover and map these different types of native bees will help preserve and formulate crops. Understanding the different species present in the state is key to sustainability, and he hopes his findings will educate those in the agriculture industry on how to utilize these pollinators. Montalva already has published work available on this current research, check out one of his recent bee brochures (pdf)!

Montalva’s advice to prospective students is to make friends who share similar interests. His friend, Filo, kept him accountable for due dates and paperwork, and took him on social ventures like finding the best “insider” spots in Norman. Montalva says that networking is important and can lead to funding opportunities that cover costs associated with field work and related research.  He credits OU faculty members as encouraging his academic pursuits, giving special recognition to Dr. Bruce Hoagland, a Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability.  Montalva especially values Hoagland’s old-fashioned naturalist approach of cultivating biodiversity lists and surveys of Oklahoma: this unique approach led Montalva’s family on many camping and hiking trips around the state with the dual benefit of conducting research while enjoying family time.

Taylor Stephenson, OU Meteorology Senior
Taylor Stephenson, OU Meteorology Senior

Academic and research facilities are an important factor in making the decision on what university to attend.  Just ask Taylor Stephenson who fell in love with OU’s meteorology program after her visit to the National Weather Center (NWC).

Now a senior in the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, Stephenson says strong connections with classmates were crucial to her success.  “Studying with friends makes learning the material much easier…I’ve done much better on tests after a group study session, than when I studied alone.”  She strongly advises incoming students to take hold of group connections and use them to their advantage.  “Metsgiving”, an annual student gathering in the School, is one event Stephenson remembers fondly as providing a place to see classmates outside of the classroom while sharing amazing food!

Stephenson also credits her success to professional networking opportunities found in the College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences.  Stephenson landed a prestigious internship with The Weather Channel in the summer of 2019.  She was hired as a Weather Producer after meeting the Vice President of On-Air Talent when he spoke to her meteorology class.  Stephenson remarks that her internship provided a fun and amazing way to see her work being broadcast to the nation.

Academic struggles can happen to anyone and Stephenson was no different.  She credits Shelby Hill, the School’s Coordinator of Undergraduate Programs, with helping her through all of the “ups and downs” noting Hill was always open to help in any way she could.  Scheduling classes can always be a mammoth to tackle but Stephenson said she was never worried when she had Hill’s help, “Without her, I really would have struggled…She also reassured me when I doubted my academic abilities.”

Stephenson’s experience is proof that the right connections can lead to success.  Stephenson urges students to network and take advantage of the support offered by faculty and staff who are there to help students navigate the academic experience and find career building opportunities outside the classroom.

Four people stand by the UCAR building sign, which has been incorporated into the end of a large and sturdy retaining wall. 3450 Mitchell Lane. FL0 BLDG. FL3 BLDG. FL1 BLD. UCAR University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
Jorge A. Celis Rodriguez visits NCAR.

A love for research brought Jorge A. Celis Rodriguez to the University of Oklahoma. Celis is currently a graduate student pursuing his PhD in geography after recently completing his Master of Science in geography with a concentration in geospatial technologies from OU in December 2019.  Celis received his Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering from El Bosque University in Bogota, Columbia in 2017.  Celis wanted to continue his education at OU after being engaged in a meaningful undergraduate capstone project with the OU Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing Laboratory (HyDROS) group.  Celis's capstone project was focused on drought detection using multiple eco-hydrological indices based on remote sensing data.

Celis credits Dr. Hernan Moreno, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES), as being the mentor that made a difference in his education at OU.  Dr. Moreno serves as Celis’s PhD advisor.  The research conducted in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences has given Celis an appreciation of the many fields where research can be applied and how research can produce societal benefits to many sectors.  Celis said, “The geospatial technologies emphasis has helped to take advantage of new platforms and technologies to enhance engineering techniques that were limited by the amount of data and the area of the study region.”  Celis has compared current algorithms with NASA missions and the physical foundations to understand their limitations.  “It has opened a research field where we can replicate some of the coarse satellite estimations with higher resolution.”

During the summer of 2019, Celis was awarded a $500 scholarship from the NSF sponsored Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) that allowed him to travel to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Foothills Lab in Boulder, Colorado.  While at NCAR, he participated in a June 2019 training workshop focused on the use and applications of the Community WRF-Hydro Modeling System.

Celis's favorite memory at OU thus far has been hearing from his committee “You are approved!”  after successfully defending his MS thesis.  When asked by his committee about the future of the environmental sustainability, geography, geographic information science, and meteorology professions, he replied with saying that “technologies are advancing at a high pace”, and that “analytical parts of the problem” should remain a strong focus.  He believes this will foster a deeper understanding of problems and lead to models being developed to process and manage data.  Celis encourages students and graduates to be organized, confident, not afraid to ask questions and to think about where they want to be in 20 years thus allowing a clearer picture of the path to success.

Elizabeth Leslie sits on the edge of the National Weather Center sign, wearing her graduation cap. OU, National Weather Center, NOAA, 120 David L. Boren Boulevard.
Elizabeth Leslie, School of Meteorology Senior

As a recent Spring 2020 graduate from the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, Elizabeth Leslie has had quite the senior experience. Earning her Bachelor’s of Science in Meteorology, with a minor in Communication, Leslie is ready to take on the world amidst a global pandemic. Leslie began her interest in OU within her junior year of high school, her family was worried that the distance between Virginia and Oklahoma was too great. Leslie remarks, “…my mom wanted me to really understand how far Oklahoma was from my home state…That plan kind of backfired because I absolutely fell in love with OU (and so did my mom).” A tour of the National Weather Center is what hooked Leslie into overcoming the distance between states, and sealed her college commitment to OU.

While volunteering at many events such as the National Weather Festival, Leslie looks back on her times as a meteorology student with great fondness. Leslie has been part of a student group known as the “Weather Friends”, which have meteorology students dress up as different weather-themed superheroes. “Children who I interacted with knew quite a bit about the weather and also were interested in learning more. Watching the smile appear on their face when they answer a question correctly was extremely rewarding, and they really did think we were all superheroes!”

Leslie reflects on the impacts of receiving her degree from A&GS, “Pursuing a degree through the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences exposed me to many possible career paths that alumni have taken…Student organizations such as SCAN and OWL have helped by inviting speakers from various backgrounds to speak with current students. In addition, professors are accessible to talk to about research opportunities and career paths.” Along her journey at OU, she received many interactions with different mentors. Mentors such as James Hocker and Andrea Melvin from the Oklahoma Mesonet, and Dr. Daphne LaDue with the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms. She mentions that these mentors helped to “strengthen her communication skills” and guide her through her own senior research projects.

In her opinion, the future of meteorology professions will be heavily weighted towards communicating weather information effectively. “I may be slightly biased… I have already seen this with various research projects coming out of the NWC and beyond, and I really believe that these skills in the social sciences will become more and more important.” Leslie’s advice to all incoming A&GS students mentions, “…take advantage of all the opportunities provided through the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences! There are so many amazing people and events that you can attend to learn something new!”

Lené Le Roux stands on some stairs, holding a mircophone, delivering a presentation.
Lené Le Roux, PhD Candidate, DGES

Proving that distance learning can really work, Lené Le Roux is pursuing her PhD in Geography while living in Johannesburg, South Africa.  She began her academic journey at the University of Pretoria in South Africa where she received her undergraduate degree for Town and Regional Planning in 2009.  The journey to OU was inspired by Le Roux’s advisor, Dr. Mary Lawhon, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability.  Le Roux says that the impact of pursuing a degree through the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences has been nothing but positive.  “Studying through the Geography discipline…has given me a much wider and more critical lens – something I was craving after qualifying and working as a professional urban planner for 12 years.” She credits Dr. Lawhon, Dr. Joseph Pierce, Dr. Laurel Smith, Dr. Darren Purcell, and Dr. Anthony Levenda as mentors that have made the biggest impact on her education while at OU.

Le Roux is currently conducting fieldwork for her eight-month research project from Johannesburg, South Africa.  She notes that the empirical study, “looks to uncover how shared space is used by marginalized people, such as informal traders, the homeless, partially employed (e.g. construction and domestic workers), unemployed or those self-employed through recycling and guarding cars.” Using this research, “they expect to find that some land-use regulations, socio-technical infrastructure and urban plans require marginalized people to (re)negotiate their place.”  Le Roux anticipates learning about logics of place-making, and the ideals, visions, and decisions that inform everyday city life and urban design and planning.

This past summer, Le Roux was nominated to attend the Graduate Student Summer Residency at the National Humanities Center (NHC) in Durham, North Carolina. A cohort of 55 doctoral students from around the United States gathered for two weeks to engage with research, teaching, and learning in the Humanities.  She was the only geographer among the students who were engaged in studying history, literature, sociology, religion, anthropology.  The students considered ArcGIS Online as a teaching medium and as a valuable tool for visualizing research in the Digital Humanities. 

Le Roux has been an urban planner for 12 years but is on her way to becoming an urban geographer.  She hopes to see more clearly in the future “how the geography discipline informs ways of thinking about the city and urban invention.”  The advice that Le Roux has for recent and upcoming graduates is, “Always be open to unlearn the things that don’t serve you and society.  Be ferocious in discovering yourself and the world you live in.” 

Jay Wimhurst at Spring 2019 commencement. Graduate College. The University of Oklahoma. 1890.
Jay Wimhurst, PhD candidate, DGES

Jay Wimhurst has come a long way, over 4,000 miles to be exact, to study at the University of Oklahoma where he is currently pursuing a PhD in Geography.  Wimhurst received his Integrated Master’s Degree in Meteorology and Climate (MMet) in 2017 from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.  He chose the University of Oklahoma for graduate school after taking part in the exchange program offered by OU and Reading’s meteorology departments during the 2015-2016 academic year.  He enjoyed being on the OU campus and everything OU had to offer making it an easy decision to return to the University for graduate school.  Wimhurst completed a Master’s in Environmental Sustainability at OU in May of 2019 prior to starting his PhD studies.

 During his exchange year at OU, Wimhurst met Dr. Scott Greene, Associate Director of the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES).  He knew right away that he wanted Dr. Greene as his graduate advisor because of their shared research interests.  “I knew I wanted to continue studying beyond undergrad so it just made sense to take the opportunity that had been presented before me,” Wimhurst said.  Wimhurst cites Dr. Green as the mentor that has made the biggest impact on his education.  “I have heard so many horror stories about students and their advisors having a bad rapport or even disliking each other, so I am very grateful to have an advisor whom I get along with very well and together we have produced such interesting work.”

When asked what impact pursuing a degree through the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences has had on his education, career, and professional accomplishments Wimhurst responded that there has been many surprises that have crossed his path.  These include having the opportunity to be a Graduate Teaching Assistant.  “I have been a TA for a couple of undergraduate classes offered by DGES which have shown me how much I love watching and assisting in other students’ success.  Because of this I recently decided that I want to pursue a teaching career in college environments.  This is something that I did not expect I would want to do when I started graduate school.”

Wimhurst has had other exciting opportunities during his academic career.  He has been able to attend major annual conferences led by the American Meteorological Society and the American Association of Geographers to present his research.  This past fall Wimhurst was thrilled to have his first journal article published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.  “These experiences have afforded me so much growth as an academic and as a person, for which I feel very accomplished,” said Wimhurst. 

DGES Associate Professor Dr. Laurel Smith praised Wimhurst on his attendance at the 2019 Summer School on Sustainability Climate Risk Management run by the transdisciplinary research network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM) at Penn State University. Conference sessions discussed details of climate modelling processes, consideration of ethics and epistemics when conducting research, and applications of computer programming modules to address practical environmental modelling scenarios.  Wimhurst was able to make numerous contacts with other climate scientists as well as people working in industries adjacent to, but integral to, climate science.  He intends to apply what he learned at the Summer School to his dissertation with a focus on what he gained from environmental modelling sessions.  Just how far Wimhurst will go is anyone’s guess and the Department and College look forward to the journey!

Claire Burch
Claire Burch, Graduate Student, DGES

Claire grew up like many other children- loving being outdoors and surrounded by nature. It didn’t take her long to see that the Earth needed people who stand up to protect it! Little things add up to big changes and that’s what led Claire to the sustainability and conservation program at The University of Oklahoma.

Claire Burch is a St. Louis, Missouri native who began her academic career at Miami University just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. She co-majored in Zoology and Environmental Science with a minor in Geography. Burch got a lot of hands on experience spending every summer of her undergraduate education interning at local zoos including the St. Louis Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, as well as two summers at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her favorite position was at the Cincinnati Zoo. “That's where I was introduced to sustainability in general,” said Burch. “It was actually voted the greenest zoo in America a couple years ago. They have a sustainability department and I worked as a curatorial intern for a fairly new curator who also had the greenest exhibits. I worked a lot with the sustainability department and talked to them to see how you integrate energy efficiency and water efficiency into zoo keeping. It was an amazing combination of everything I loved.”  

She decided to attend OU for graduate school last year because of her now-advisor, professor Rebecca Loraamm. “I emailed probably 30 different professors in various labs asking about openings, explaining my research interests and she had the best response. I was very excited from the beginning and she had tons of ideas and opportunities for funding,” said Burch. “I accepted the position here without actually visiting because at that point the program was a good fit. Once I came here for a visit and I thought, ‘I like this more than I thought I would.’” For her master’s degree Burch steered herself away from a strong zoology focus and moved toward sustainability and conservation. Much of her past work in zoo conservation and sustainability influenced her current interests. For her thesis work, Burch is researching what people know about the interactions between biodiversity conservation and wind energy development. “It’s a survey with 35 questions evaluating what environmentally conscious individuals know about wind energy’s impacts on biodiversity conservation. There's a common misconception that turbines kill lots of birds and cause habitat fragmentation. We are beginning to get the evidence of what people believe versus what is actually true,” said Burch. She focuses on environmentally interested individuals because it is a smaller group, i.e. it is more feasible for a thesis. They also represent a unique group because they may be supportive of one method over the other. This survey may shape how they perceive wind energy development or biodiversity conservation.  

Through this research she has found that she is really interested in public perception and how we engage with the environment as well as how we can continue to develop more sustainably. Burch recently returned from a workshop in Dublin, Ireland oriented around resource extraction. It was specifically addressing the mining industry and social science. “Do people know about mining? Resource extraction? What are the perceptions of mining and how do we continue to engage with communities when we do these activities?” said Burch. “I was in the community engagement and environmental activities workshop. We attended lectures taught by mentors and broke up into different workshops that were each sponsored by a different organization,” said Burch. “We were sponsored by one of the mining industry companies that was also sponsoring the event. Then we spent the week breaking down how we engage communities, best practices, and worst practices.”

After her Dublin workshop, Burch found there are also a lot of interesting things happening with domestic mining in the United States. However, public perception will be her underlying theme. In the future, she wants to do research for a nonprofit or the government. “There are a lot of human dimensions’ officers in various government organizations. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has an officer that does surveys,” said Burch. She wants to focus on doing surveys, talking to communities about conservation, and about what would make them want to be part of the positive change she so desperately wants to see.
Burch plans to attend a waste conference in October. Though this arena is unfamiliar to Burch, she is excited to learn another aspect of sustainability. She will be doing a poster session on sustainability curriculum together with fellow OU grad Student, Heather Stelter. The goal of the talk is to encourage sustainability in curriculum at other universities. Burch’s other projects include research with Dr. Loraamm using ecological modeling programs to map disease distribution and a potential project with the OU Center for Risk and Crisis Management. She is also part of the Earth Observation Science for Society and Sustainability certificate at the university. This EOS3 program is part of a national traineeship program through the National Science Foundation, which includes four classes aimed at advanced training in interdisciplinary communication, leadership, and data science skills. One course Burch is involved with for the EOS3 certificate has been doing research in southeast Oklahoma on public perception around water resources and they will finish their publication soon.

Dorothy “Dolly” Na-Yemeh
Dorothy “Dolly” Na-Yemeh

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.”

Heather Stelter
Heather Stelter

Back in high school Heather Stelter thought that recycling was a hoax and that green initiatives were a waste of time. Today she has done a complete 180 and is working to implement sustainable practices in the fashion industry. She began as an undergraduate at the University of Northern Colorado studying American military history and African textile history. She cites her studies in African textile history as what drove her to go into textile preservation. While in college, Stelter visited many museums around the world but said the National Museum-Decorative Arts and History of Ireland was her favorite museum because of the unique textile history in Dublin. Their culture emphasizes sustainability for clothing and it’s ingrained in their way of life. Due to the poverty that plagued Ireland “part of the reason they were able to care for clothing is because it was so expensive, and it was very inaccessible to a lot of people” says Stelter. People had to learn how to repair clothing, and take really good care of what they had because they didn't have much. One aspect of Stelter’s research is figuring out how to get consumers to care about their clothing again in a world full of affordable fast fashion. The ease and accessibility is what consumer love, but fast fashion creates billions of pounds of textile waste per year, which usually ends up sitting in landfills or being burned and creating pollution.

After college Stelter began working at the Greeley History Museum in Colorado where she helped preserve a textile collection that had been left in storage for two decades. Textiles are extraordinarily expensive and difficult to maintain, mostly because sewing, darning and repair are skills most people don't have anymore. Finding someone who has that specialization is really tricky but Stelter already had many of the skills needed. The Greeley collection included about 1,000 textiles and were anywhere from 20 to 130 years old. Prior to her arrival, the collection had been moved from building to building, stored in lockers, and musty old moldy buildings. “The fact that this clothing was still intact is a testament to how well it was made in the first place and how well it had been cared for throughout its lifetime” said Stelter. She said that “working with those piece and helping to put on exhibits...really got me interested in how we extend lifetimes of current clothing.” The Greeley Museum also has a centennial village attached in an attempt to make living history possible, part of which includes replicas of clothing. “We did this whole display before I left on 100 years of dress in Greeley in the Union Colony, and people from all over Greeley...would come in. People had stories about remembering seeing their grandmother in that or having seen an aunt or a friend wear something. It was a really cool connection, and to see people have those fond memories of clothing really sparked a lot of my study for sustainability.”

After leaving the Greeley Museum, Stelter worked full time for a women's athletic wear company called Athleta. Athleta was one of the first B Corporations in the United States, which means the company puts as much money into the environment as they do creating and advertising their products. This includes supporting fair labor practices, being credible and transparent about their sourcing, and making materials that are either from recycled objects or are recyclable. “It's a really rigorous process, there's a lot of vetting to it, so to have earned that tag, to be a B corp is a huge deal and it really means you are buying from one of the most sustainable companies you can” said Stelter. She mainly focused on community outreach programs at her branch, working to bring fitness and healthy diets to girls and women. Though she enjoyed her work, Stelter felt like pushing sales goals was counterproductive to her belief that consumers should purchase less and waste less clothing.

She settled on OU for her masters degree because of the notable sustainability program. Many professors have long sustainability careers and were pioneers in the Oklahoma Wind Initiative, which has pushed Oklahoma to be the 3rd highest wind producing state in the US. Though there is no specialization in fashion sustainability, Stelter doesn't see it as an issue. “There may not be anybody here who focuses on fashion but there are people here who focus on agriculture. Well agriculture directly laces over a lot of my research because I have to look at cotton production, I mean we even look at flax, hemp, and pineapple production...there's a huge cross over. Same thing with people who focus on employment initiatives and fair labor practice, which directly overlays with the fashion industry.” Sustainability is the nexus that has many different aspects. There's so much overlap of subject matter in sustainability that it doesn't really matter what you study.

Since Stelter’s main goal is to involve consumers in sustainable practices, her thesis is developing an app for your phone that will let you scan and enter the information from the “Made In” tag on any piece of clothing you're buying first hand or from a second hand store. The app will give 2 scores, says Stelter, “the first score is a sustainability score so it’ll tell you how environmentally friendly the garment is overall, from where it was produced to what fibers were used in it. The second score is a lifetime expectancy, so lifetime expectancy would help you understand about how many washes the item would last you, whether its durable or not.”

This idea is based on the tagging that Patagonia and Athleta currently have where they discuss the perks of their clothing. It’ll tell you if the garment is water resistant, naturally grown, and even pesticide free. Stelter is also proposing in her thesis that companies add a wash expectancy to their tags. Whenever you would pick up a piece of clothing in a store, on the bottom of the price tag it would say about how many washes you would expect it to last and whether or not that's worth your investment.

Unfortunately, sustainability in fashion is still in its infancy. “10 years ago this wasn't a conversation you could have with anybody” said Stelter. “A year ago we were still talking about how many bags Burberry (a high end clothing retailer) was burning and that it was ok that they were burning them because it was preserving their integrity as a brand. Just 2 months ago Burberry announced that they are no longer burning bags, so this is all very new.” In February 2019 Stelter attended a United Nations sustainability fashion summit, which kicked off Men’s Fashion Week in New York. “It's really cool to go and kick off fashion week with a bunch of designers and students within the industry” said Stelter. The summit was hosted by the ethical clothing company Slow Factory, who has completely stopped production of any clothing until they can find a way to produce items that are totally circular, meaning they won’t end up in the waste cycle. The summit had panelists who were designers, textile developers, and fashion industry professionals, but it also included biologists, NASA Astronauts, MIT Lab researchers, and environmentalists in the discussion. They reminded the industry of the role of global stakeholders and reemphasized that sustainability cannot touch one industry without touching the other. “You can't just talk about reforming how clothing is made or wasted without talking about how people are treated, without talking how people are educated, or how we forward science” said Stelter.

Stelter plans to complete a PhD that focuses on furthering her app and in the future she wants to work as a professor teaching general sustainability. “I really think it should be something that's taught the same as an English class. Everyone has to learn it at some point and I think unless we start teaching it that way, we’re never going to see people fully get into the circular cycle.” She hopes to develop both professional and student programs that allow people to learn sustainability and increase their knowledge or ability as the field grows. This summer she will be interning at the company Natural Fiber Welding that produces products such as natural plant based leather, free of synthetic glues or binding. They are currently working on developing a fully cotton yarn, welded together from other recycled cotton fabrics. With this yarn, they can create a cotton sewing thread, unlike the usual polyester or silk, which can create fully recyclable garments. Stelter will be their sustainability intern, creating samples, testing products, helping with Life Cycle Analysis, and assisting with their cradle-to-cradle program.

 Katherine Ho
Katherine Ho

Katherine Ho has always enjoyed maps. Throughout her childhood, she and her family visited multiple national parks in the western half of the United States. Ho recalls receiving maps of these parks at each stop, and as a "really nerdy kid" she was also drawn to the maps in the "The Lord of the Rings."

While taking a geographic information science course as an elective at the University of Oklahoma, Ho realized there was an opportunity for her to apply this interest to her career and switched her major to GIS.

"I didn't ever know that it could be a career, and I just thought it was a fun thing that I liked," Ho said. "It was really nice that GIS course happened to be one of the classes I took."

In this major, which is located within the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, Ho learns how to use spatial data to help make decisions. For example, someone with a GIS degree might help a restaurant decide where to open a new location by mapping out current locations and looking at some demographics, she said.

This year, Ho serves as the president of the OU GIS club, and she has also worked at the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling, or CASS, since October. One aspect Ho enjoys is that it is an interdisciplinary research organization, meaning people from across all different majors contribute to the work. Ho works under Dr. Laura Alvarez on hydrology-based research, and one of the other students she works closely with is a computer engineering major. The organization also utilizes drones for atmospheric monitoring projects, so Ho has been exposed to that area of science as well.

"It's really a mixed bag of different perspectives and skills, so it's cool to work with other people and see what they're doing," Ho explained. "I didn't know anything about drones or anything before I started working there, so it's been a crash course to learn how drones work and how the sensing process works, but it's been super fun."

The senior from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, will start OU's Master of Science in geography program next fall and wants to research natural resource management. She said this interest also stems from her family's national park trips.

"Just being exposed to that a lot as a child and doing all the hiking and seeing the natural environment made a big impact on me," Ho shared. "I think they're really important and as much as we can protect but still allow people to see and learn from all of this country's natural resources would be really great."

 Parker Fleming
Parker Fleming

Small waterways dotted through Oklahoma are home to a diverse set of creatures, but culverts may pose a problem for fish trying to sustain their population. During the summer of 2018, Master's student Parker Fleming slugged tirelessly through 68 streams, all to keep our east Oklahoma fish swimming. He has a special affinity towards fish and is passionate about doing sampling and research.

    Fleming describes his work as “biogeography” a subfield that focuses on the geographical distribution of plants and animals. During his senior year, Fleming applied to work with professor Dr. Thomas Neeson, an OU geography professor who also has a biology degree and specializes in conservation biology. Dr. Neeson received a grant from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife to study “the effects of road culverts and different types of road barriers on fish populations across eastern Oklahoma” says Fleming. “There is a lack of a data set and a lack of fish.” The main concern is that fish have to travel upstream to reproduce in the spring, so if these culverts are blocking their path it may uncover why there is a declining fish population.
    Properly made culverts are structures that allow water to flow under a road, railroad, trail, or other obstruction. Because east Oklahoma is home to logging and farming, some culverts are makeshift and may just be large concrete slabs without proper openings. Even good culverts don’t guarantee the rivers and streams underneath are thriving. In some cases, to try and rectify slowed water velocity, small waterfalls are designed in the culverts that prevent fish from swimming back upstream to spawn.
    From May to August, Fleming and his team of two undergraduates drove across the state to analyze the culverts by collecting various pieces of information. They were analyzing the dimensions of the culverts, stream width, obstructions, and water velocity upstream and downstream. They would also sample fish by scooping a large net through the water, counting how many fish they caught, the number of different species, and the length of each fish. Another part of the project was a “mark and recapture study” where they tagged about 50 fish at each site on one side of the culvert with a visible tag in their dorsal fin.Then they would revisit the area and sample again on the opposite side of the culvert to see if any fish with the tags had made it accross.
    Over the next year Fleming will analyze the data collected and determine conclusions on how the culverts are functioning. By doing this study and developing a dataset Fleming and Dr. Neeson will be able to report to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife any culverts that should be rebuilt by public works projects.

Story written by Kelly Jones


Dr. Purcell with his arm around a friend; in the middle of three rows of raised garden beds.
Dr. Darren Purcell, DGES Faculty

September 15, 2021

As a child, Darren Purcell thought being paid to learn would be the perfect career. He was an amateur astronomer with an interest in becoming an astronaut, so getting a PhD was a path he planned to take. Now, Purcell is an Associate Professor with OU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. He jokes that, back when he was interested, space suits weren’t made for 6’4’’ people, and there wasn’t lasik surgery to fix his eyesight. 

Though he always loved hard sciences, particularly physics and astronomy, soft sciences interested him as well. He had initially planned to pursue a PhD in astronomy, but early on in his career he found that he excelled in his geography and regional studies courses. He got his bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Kentucky before getting his PhD at Florida State. In between his master’s and his PhD, he did a year at Old Dominion in a graduate program for International Studies—with a Fulbright Student Fellowship to Hungary—before realizing the new program wasn’t quite what it was supposed to be.  

Purcell worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Florida A&M, but 9/11’s impact on the tourism economy in Florida was sharp enough that cuts had to be made. He worked as an adjunct at Florida State afterwards, and then the Florida Department of Education, before finding his way to OU. It was the only academic job he could find at the time, but it was also one that played to his strengths: teaching and advising. “This seemed like the perfect job, and in many ways it was my dream job,” he said. “I can’t believe I get to do what I do.”

He’s interested in popular geopolitics, political geography, and specifically East-Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union. He also researches media and communications geography, in particular humor and late night comedy. He’s published an article about how the Arab Spring was covered during late night shows. Now he’s examining the depiction of China in late night comedy, how that has changed over recent decades, and how that change in tone is a reflection of American sentiment. 

He rolls his eyes at the idea, once expressed by Bill O'Reilly, that young people are getting their news from these programs. He says that research shows people that the people following these shows are already also following the news: the jokes don’t work if you have to explain them. 

In his freetime, Purcell enjoys gardening, getting out to basketball games, hiking, and checking out Norman’s monthly Art Walk. 

Purcell has two pieces of advice for students. First, that they don’t see professors as intimidating. “Yeah, they’re busy… but get to know the professors. We do actually have lives and hobbies.” And second, that students utilize the free subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times available through the university and to keep learning (especially the difference between an OpEd and an article). 

Andrea Gordon, A&GS Undergraduate Student
Mike Wimberly, A&GS Faculty

April 20, 2021

Michael Wimberly always had an interest in the outdoors, so it’s only fitting that he pursued environmental science. He grew up outside of Washington D.C., where he saw rapid population growth, expansion of housing developments and a plethora of green space. 

“I think those are the sorts of things that sparked my interest in scientific approaches to studying the effects of urbanization,” he said. 

This interest eventually led him to a professorship at OU’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences within the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. 

He holds a B.A. in environmental science from the University of Virginia, an M.S. in quantitative resource management from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. in forest ecology from Oregon State University. After earning his undergraduate degree, he was hired by an environmental consulting firm based in D.C. where he worked on issues relating to air pollution utilizing technical computer modeling. He says he learned a great deal from this experience. 

“It’s what inspired me to go back to graduate school to get additional education and eventually pursue a PhD; I could work my way toward having more independence in developing and leading research programs,” he said. 

Wimberly says he wasn’t initially interested in a career in academia but pursuing graduate school helped him learn how to truly focus on his research. 

“I think it was grad school and my research experiences that sparked my interest in pursuing an academic career,” he said. 

He says he wanted to teach things relating to his own research and since this involves highly technical topics such as computer programming, geospatial analysis and spatial statistics, Wimberly fit best at teaching at the college level. As for what made Wimberly come to AGS, he says it was a combination of the strong reputation, supportive environment and collaborative colleagues. 

“The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences has a quite strong national and international reputation, so when the opportunity arose I applied for a position. You know, when I came here and met people it was delightful. When I got here and looked around and started talking to people, I thought, ‘Wow, you know, this is definitely a good place and a place where I think I can flourish in terms of my career,’” he said. 

Throughout Wimberly’s career, his research has covered many complex topics. When he was at the University of Georgia, he had the opportunity to collaborate with some veterinary parasitologists on tick-borne pathogens across the Southeastern United States. 

“They needed someone who had experience with land cover and land use, remote sensing and climate biogeography to help them analyze the data. They would take the information and use it to develop risk maps where humans would be most likely to get these pathogens,” he said. 

He says it was a good fit for his background and research because it directly relates to ecology by utilizing his understanding of the organisms, types of hosts and how their distributions are related to forest cover climate, human land use and a variety of other factors. Recently, he’s been researching mosquito-borne diseases including the West Nile Virus. 

“I currently have a NASA project where we work in multiple states such as South Dakota, Michigan, Louisiana and Oklahoma. I’m working with their state departments of health to take tech surveillance data and combine it with meteorological data sets and remote sensing data sets to make predictions,” he said. 

The data found in this research can help determine the severity of the West Nile Virus outbreak for each year. 

“I've done similar work in Ethiopia with malaria for a long time by working with their public health surveillance systems - taking that data and combining it with various sources of data and using it to develop an outbreak prediction system,” he said. 

Wimberly was also part of a team that developed a web-based app to give West African decision-makers access to summaries of historical land cover and land use change data. 

“We're really trying to work across the broader spectrum to both generate new knowledge and better understanding of these environmental phenomena and how people are affected by the environment advice,” he said. 

He also mentions the importance of tool development, training and partnerships with various public health and forest management organizations. Regarding the future of environmental sustainability, Wimberly says building foundational science is imperative going forward. 

“Where we are right now is trying to address more directly some of these environmental challenges and answer questions about climate change, human population growth and habitat loss, ” he said. 

He adds that collaboration is key in this field of work. 

“I think we're also challenged to try to do something about adapting to or mitigating the impacts. That leads to the types of projects that are difficult for individual people to do just by themselves. So, it's more about being ready and prepared to work in a collaborative environment – to be able to work with other people who have different disciplinary and cultural backgrounds is essential.” 

When asked for advice for current students in this field of study, he says flexibility is extremely important. 

“Think of your degree more as a license to think for yourself. It's not going to be something very narrow and specific that we've prepared you for at the university, simply because the world is changing so quickly. The problems are evolving so quickly. The hope is that we give you a bag of tools and the capacity to be able to do things,” he said.

Alexandra Bradford, A&GS Alumna
Brittney Johnson, A&GS Staff

April 20, 2021

As the newest Academic Advisor for the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, Brittney Johnson’s heart for helping students succeed — paired with her compassionate and caring nature — make her a valuable addition to the AGS team. 

Although a newcomer to the AGS staff, Johnson is certainly no stranger to the University of Oklahoma. A native Oklahoman, she grew up about 30 miles south of Tulsa in the small town of Becks and says her Oklahoman upbringing shaped her love of OU. 

“I'm the youngest of five siblings and we all grew up as big OU fans. We watched the football games, basketball games, gymnastics and so on,” she said. 

Johnson always dreamed of graduating from OU and she achieved her lifelong goal by earning not just one, but two degrees. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2011 and graduated with her Master’s degree in higher education in 2013. 

During her sophomore year at OU, Johnson remembers a friend pointing out her enthusiasm when talking to her peers about what courses and majors to pursue; that friend even encouraged Johnson to look into the field of academic advisement. She said this conversation planted the seed of studying higher education and academic advisement as a career path and being an academic advisor just “clicked.” After she discovered her calling, Johnson interned with the Price College of Business and was a graduate assistant in the Athletics Department, where she worked closely with advisors. 

Her first full-time academic advisement job came in 2012 at OU’s University College, where she worked for eight years. In this position, she gained valuable experience advising first-year students. 

“I took it as a mentor role, I am here to coach students and to help them solve problems. Any issues they may have, from their roommate in the dorms to how to get involved. What's the bursar's office and what does that mean? And different things like that. So really, I just saw it as I'm here to help students by any means necessary,” she said. 

She says working with first-year students was both challenging and rewarding, allowing her to mentor and support them during such a transitional life event. 

In her position as academic advisor for AGS, Johnson gets to continue supporting OU students. She will be performing degree checks, mentoring students on the remainder of their degree and keeping them on track for graduation. She says the skills she gained at University College directly transfer to her new role. 

“I think that one of the misconceptions of upperclassmen is that they have it all figured out and we know that for many students that's not the case. Sometimes it just takes a little bit longer for 

things to click and register for them for different reasons, so I know my skills will translate well in those instances.” 

She says she is excited to mentor students studying the interesting majors and professions within AGS. Johnson says now is the best time to be pursuing these fields because topics like climate change and clean water access are increasingly important in today’s society. 

“I think understanding humans and understanding our culture and how we impact the earth and how we can give back to the planet – all of the majors within the College relate to that for sure. Even more now, it's extremely important going forward that we produce great individuals to go out into society with these majors,” she said. 

As for advice for current and future students, Johnson says the number one thing is to ask questions. 

“There are always individuals who are doing what you did, and you can learn from their experience. It can be hard and intimidating to ask people questions but most people are willing to help others. And that's something that I've learned as I've gotten older, that, oh, this would have been so much easier if I asked at the beginning. Just ask for help,” she said. 

Current and future students of AGS will likely hear many more of Johnson’s words of wisdom during advisement appointments, and she hopes to provide a safe and caring environment for all students.

Shawn Riley, Computer Systems Coordinator
Shawn Riley, Computer Systems Coordinator

January 20, 2021

“It’s like they met me and then wrote a job announcement, so I immediately applied.” Shawn Riley is currently the Computer Systems Coordinator for the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, and his previous experience made him the perfect match.

Before starting in his position at OU, Riley earned two degrees from the University of Missouri. He received an undergraduate degree in 2007 and his Master of Science in Soil, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences in 2010. After graduating with his masters, he worked at Baron Weather in Alabama where he helped develop new products, filled in as weather forecaster, and helped redesign their developmental initiatives – even instituting a change management system. Riley’s experience at Baron Weather has come in handy at OU.

He was in the process of looking for a new position when he found exactly what he was looking for. The OU position was advertised as an IT specialist with a background in meteorology, and Riley instantly knew it was the job for him. It blended both of his interests perfectly; the job incorporated his interest in computer science as well as his passion for meteorology. 

The day before he started his new job, Dave Parsons, the Director of the OU School of Meteorology (SOM) at the time, met with some broadcast students about their desire to make improvements to the meteorology broadcast program. This meeting sparked Riley’s first task on the job: get a broadcast system. After discussing potential options and vendors for such a system, they chose Baron Weather, which was Riley’s previous employer. 

After acquiring the state-of-the-art broadcast program, there was one small problem to address: how would they teach students how to use it? The answer was clear, it had to be a class taught by Shawn Riley. This led to instituting a brand-new course called Practical on Broadcast Software, which instructed students how to use the Baron Link System. To this day, Riley still teaches the course every spring, and it is the sole meteorology elective for broadcast students at the university.

This new course and broadcast program also sparked a valuable partnership between the College of Atmospheric Sciences and OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The University’s student-run news program, OU Nightly, was using PowerPoint to make their forecast graphics at the time, which is not the industry-standard and created a gap in knowledge upon graduation - there needed to be a solution.  Riley took it upon himself to meet with Dave Parsons and Dean Berrien Moore to initiate this partnership. “It became clear that while there was a minor in Broadcast Meteorology offered by the Gaylord College specifically  for meteorology students, there really wasn't a working relationship between the two colleges .”

After successfully establishing this new partnership, Riley started helping with weather segments at OU Nightly and hasn’t stopped since: “I'm helping the OU Nightly team getting the meteorology students to figure out how to effectively use the graphics, how to tell the story, and also how to provide a critique.” The deans of both A&GS and Gaylord have expressed that this partnership is one of the best in the university.

Riley also spends his time as an advisor to the Oklahoma Weather Lab (OWL). He encourages students in OWL to incorporate broadcast students to the point where the afternoon OWL shift is in tandem with the OU Nightly show. He also reiterates how much he enjoys the weather lab and emphasizes its diversity on campus, “The students take pride in it. I take pride in it. We've tried to be a little bit more encompassing in reinforcing that you do not have to be a meteorology major to be in the weather lab, the weather lab is open to anybody who is interested in the weather.”

Riley says the future of broadcast meteorology is changing rapidly, with an emphasis on social media and creating a personal brand, “So one of the things that we encourage is that the students who are interested in broadcasting in particular create professional social media. So students are  starting to build their brand now.” He says in the next decade or so, more people will be getting their weather from things like Facebook or a Twitch stream; broadcasting is certainly moving more towards the new types of media.

When asked for advice for new or current students within the college, he says you should always try new things, even if you’re not quite sure what you want to study yet. “Give it a shot. You know, you might have fun for a little while...I mean, you have a passion, but you never know what your real passion and your degree is going to be. Don't be afraid to try. Don't be afraid to experiment. Don't be afraid to sample everything that this college offers because this college is uniquely positioned to offer things that you aren't going to get anywhere else.”

Riley closes by talking fondly about both OWL and OU Nightly, and invites alumni to contribute feedback. “If any alumni wish something would have been done when they were in school and have ideas to enhance what we offer, please let me know. I’m always looking for new ideas.” His commitment to both programs and desire for improvement is tangible in his words and actions, and his contributions have added immense value to the School of Meteorology and the college throughout the years.

Aisha Owusu, Assistant Dean of Student Services
Aisha Owusu, Assistant Dean of Student Services

December 14, 2020

A linear career in meteorology was never in the cards for Aisha Owusu, but she was determined to begin, like most, by obtaining a degree in Meteorology from OU. Owusu HEARTS everything that deals with the coupled interactions between the atmosphere and ocean – the science, the natural events, the effects on society, AND the data. It’s all together amazing, wondrous, complicated and terrifying (especially the storm chasing part).

After working as a student employee for the Couch Cafeteria for two years, she was selected for a Research Experience of Undergraduates (REU) Internship through the Norman, OK, National Weather Service, under the direction and mentorship of Daphne Zaras. It was there that she began to stem a passion for weather and climate justice – her REU project, subsequent AMS poster presentation, and McNair Scholar Conference presentation focused on Weather Hazard Awareness in the Oklahoma City Hispanic Community. In this capacity, she was able to use her Spanish minor and love for weather to conduct surveys at community centers, translate information and understand the accessibility, availability, and use of pertinent and life-saving weather forecasts. After the completion of her REU project and up until her graduation, she conducted tours of the different NWC research facilities and documented beta testing procedures for the Radar Operation Center (ROC).

Upon graduation and with the overall scarcity of jobs accompanying the subprime housing and financial crisis in 2007, Owusu jumped at the chance to gain ANY community-engaged and shift-work experience. She engaged in short stints with the Chickasha Nation for a soil-atmospheric campaign launching and tracking radiosondes, and then worked as a National Weather Service Observer at Dallas Love Field Airport. Nearly seven months after graduation, she landed a position as an Operations Marine Meteorologist (or a Voyage Planner Risk Communicator) at Weathernews America, Inc. This position allowed her to utilize her shift-work experience, route ships all around the world, provide short-term forecasts, and afforded her the ability to travel to Japan early in her career, where she engaged with the global Weathernews team and facilitated trainings. Working in the business of fuel economy piqued her interest and caused her to explore a career within weather derivatives at an investment bank – Goldman Sachs in London to be exact. However, after making it to final round interviews and then being rejected as a trader, she was invited back for 12 rounds of interviews over three months for a position within the Goldmann Sachs Human Resources department focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion work, specifically, recruitment, retention, and the career development of marginalized and underrepresented students within Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Until this time, Owusu had only been moonlighting within the realms of career development by offering help to friends, families, and peers. After two years at the financial powerhouse, Owusu left to join Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), a non-profit based in New York City that helps high-achieving and underrepresented students of color prepare for the rigor, cultural nuances, fit, competitiveness, and rewards (and disappointments) of corporate America.

However, after taking a four-year hiatus from meteorology and an eight-year break from higher education, she decided to pursue her Master’s degree in Climate and Society (C+S) from Columbia University. Via a chance pizza-slice encounter at orientation with manager and life-long mentor and entomologist, Madeleine Thomson, Owusu was able to utilize her multifaceted work experience, focus, and interest in weather and climate justice to pivot into accelerated research, thesis work, and employment in the nexus of climate and weather, and climate-data democratization.  As Health and Climate Consultant for the World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization and Climate and Health Research Officer for the Climate Information for Public Health Action team at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, she focused on using climate services, products, and tools (e.g. ENACTS) to help African countries interpret and integrate climate data into sound health policy. She also worked with meteorological agencies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda to help improve the quality, availability, accessibility, and use of climate data. She created country specific climate and health training for various public health agencies and ministries of health to understand how climate variability and change affect the transmission of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Immediately after returning from maternity leave, she also started teaching and advising for the C+S Program at Columbia.

Although she loved living in New York City and the climate services work/field within Columbia University, the cost of living and an eagerness to be near family brought her back to her roots in Dallas, Texas, as a Career Development Advisor at SEO. this time she worked remotely, managing a cohort of over 500+ students hoping to land summer internships in bulge bracket investment banks and private equity firms.

While in New York City, Dean Moore brought Owusu back into our college by inviting her to be on the A&GS Board of Advisors. Owusu does not sugarcoat the fact that she was eager and happy to graduate from SoM and A&GS after the completion of her undergraduate studies. Although she was privy to a world-renowned education in meteorology and some life-altering mentorship, Owusu felt entirely disconnected from the SoM and the AG&S as a whole due to subtle microaggressions and racism, lack of representation, lack of comradery and social interests with students, and lack of career development and support.  She never met or knew anyone whom she could emulate or who was symbolic of her future. This was true at OU, but also during her employment within the National Weather Service, the private/public weather industry, and the international climate services industry, and it also applied to the broader community of the American Meteorological Society. However, with time and maturity, she came to realize that returning to OU and A&GS was only right – that SHE wanted to be an agent of change. She often quotes 44th President, Barack Obama, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

The connective and consistent threads that run through her multifaceted and non-linear career in meteorology, climatology, and beyond have been centered around career development and advisement; diversity, equity, and inclusion justice; and development. She believes that she can directly relate to students because she was once in their shoes, literally. Although there have been many changes, she understands the college and its programs. She believes, with the assistance of the robust and knowledgeable A&GS faculty and staff, that she can help in all efforts of getting students to where they WANT to be. She knows that ALL students CAN work and grow within the intersection of atmospheric and geographic sciences and society – be that through research, domestic/international development, entrepreneurism, or the public/private, NGO, and NP industries. She offers herself as an embodiment of this.

Owusu is a proud mother to a three-year daughter who has MADE her understand the importance of establishing boundaries and the power of humility, empathy, and patience. At the moment, “me” time has become a foreign word. However, she would not have it any other way and loves to take adventure walks and play music with her daughter while they simultaneously live out their dreams of being concurrent Marvel mutants and superheroes (primarily Storm), ballerinas, and astronauts. When not with her daughter, you can find her unabashedly wearing the color purple in much of her clothing and hair, soaking up the sun, reading science fiction or mystery novels when she can find a moment, and doing everything within her power to help students develop, shape, and actualize their purpose and achievements.

She is well aware that she has Mary Anne Hempe’s shoes to fill and legacy to maintain, but she is ready to learn and grow from the A&GS community, and contribute to its success.

Mary Anne Hempe, Assistant Dean for Student Services
Mary Anne Hempe, Assistant Dean for Student Services

November 17, 2020

Mary Anne Hempe has dedicated her career to serving students at the University of Oklahoma (OU) for the past 29 years. Her co-workers, peers, students, and friends will bid her a fond farewell at the end of the current fall semester as she begins her retirement. Hempe is currently the Assistant Dean of Student Services for the College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences (A&GS) where she has been an employee since the College’s inception in 2006. Hempe’s service at OU included positions in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Gaylord College of Journalism.

Hempe’s retirement will leave a huge void and her shoes will be hard to fill. Anyone spending more than a few minutes with Hempe immediately feels her passion for and recognizes her dedication to every student who has stood before her. Hempe’s greatest source of pride in her role as a student counselor is knowing that her support and mentorship to students who were on the brink of failing, struggling academically or personally, ultimately helped them achieve their goal of graduating.  Hempe happily remembers and celebrates every student with whom she’s met from those who struggled to those who excelled. Hempe is proud to say that her actions helped change the structure of advising at OU and is confident that resources will continue to grow after her departure.   

A Fine Arts graduate from Central Michigan University and Western Illinois University, Hempe worked at Oklahoma State University for nine years as first Assistant, then Associate Professor of Theatre.  When questioned as to why she made the move from Stillwater, she responds that it was the atmosphere of Norman and the support system it offered to her young family that drew her south. Hempe began her journey at OU in October of 1991 with the College of Arts and Sciences. Hempe points out that in those days, class schedules were on paper because computer systems for enrolling didn’t exist. Hempe recalls that in those early days there was little academic staff available for advising so faculty members were considered professional advisors. Hempe has seen the advising process come a long way and points to the elevated role of student services as being a major benefit to students. Hempe gives credit for the growth in advising and student services at OU to her personal mentors Ann Corbett and Virginia Odell. She also notes that Former Assistant Dean Pamela Neal played a huge role in her career at OU; Neal was the driving force behind Hempe’s initial hire into the College of A&GS and became Hempe’s primary mentor at OU.  Neal was also a strong advocate of Hempe becoming the new Assistant Dean upon Neal’s retirement in 2009.  Hempe also credits former Dean John T. Snow as an important influence for his leadership and knowledge of academics. 

She adds that along with the value that the University now places on advising, there is also investment in a structure to help students with their personal, financial, and academic struggles. Hempe said that while there is always room for the University and the Colleges to grow, it is satisfying to see how far things have advanced during her tenure. 

Hempe’s advice to current and prospective students is to remember that their time at OU is a temporary, transition period in their lives and should be enjoyed.  She adds that often students start out by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you”, but that they should never be afraid to ask for help.  It is the role of student services staff to be there for any questions, big or small. Hempe also notes that for some students, taking a semester off is beneficial to reset their course even if most are reluctant to consider it at first. Hempe further encourages students to study abroad or find a challenging internship away from Oklahoma saying that it may be the only time in their life when they will be able to do so.  Hempe’s final advice to students is to only take classes that are impactful for their degree program given today’s costs of higher education.  She stresses the importance of students developing a plan and taking advantage of student services resources to ensure that they are on the right path.

Hempe saved her last comments for her coworkers and AGS alumni saying, “It has been so much fun working with all of you!” She says she will remember A&GS fondly and hopes that once the mania of the COVID pandemic is over, there will be an opportunity for a reunion to celebrate how we all have an impact on the College and each other.

Dr. Ming Xue
Dr. Ming Xue

Joining several distinguished faculty members, Dr. Ming Xue was among the individuals appointed as an AMS Fellow at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting held this past January.  AMS promotes only the top two percent of its entire membership to Fellow distinction.  “It’s an honor to be recognized for contributions to the atmospheric science field,” stated Dr. Xue.

There are several qualifications to become an AMS Fellow including service to the community, new discoveries, and contributions to education.  Dr. Xue has exhibited these traits and qualities throughout his time as a meteorologist.  Dr. Xue’s greatest contribution is as one of the founding members of the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS).  CAPS was established at the University of Oklahoma in 1989 as one of the first 11 National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers after a competitive proposal process.  “NSF funds only a few Science and Technology Centers every a few years, and such Centers are to solve new grand challenge problems” said Dr. Xue.  He is now the current CAPS Director and a Professor in the School of Meteorology where he does significant work and research in areas of numerical modeling, storm scale dynamics, and data assimilation.  

Dr. Xue was also the principal developer of an open-community Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS).  ARPS is a numerical weather prediction model that specializes in the prediction of thunderstorms in the beginning and is now a general purpose regional forecasting system.  Dr. Xue says “thunderstorm prediction is very challenging,” and “the problem of thunderstorm prediction is still not solved, but we have gotten better.”

Xue is also the holder of the Weathernews Chair in Applied Meteorology.  This endowed chair is possible through the generous contribution of Weathernews, Inc., a Japanese-based meteorology company whose United States headquarters is based right next door to the National Weather Center in Norman.  Xue noted that multiple CAPS researchers and students have gone on to have careers with Weathernews.

Xue offered the following advice to students pursuing basic meteorology degrees, “Be broad in your skillset.  Be good at weather, climate, computer programming, and communication.  Having a combination of these skills will give you an advantage.”

Xue offered a second piece of advice to students pursuing an advanced degree saying, “Communication skills are important, but it is very important to be knowledgeable in math and physics, as well as atmospheric science itself.”  He further added “Equip yourself with modern tools in computing.”

Congratulations to Dr. Xue on his incredible accomplishments and career!

Dr. Phillip Chilson
Dr. Phillip Chilson

From radars to autonomous vehicles, and all the sky in between, Dr. Phillip Chilson has seen and studied the lower atmosphere from just about every angle. As a child, Phillip Chilson wanted to be a meteorologist, but in high school his attention moved to physics. He got his undergraduate degree in physics from Clemson University, then went to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship and worked in a nuclear research facility for a year. Afterward Chilson did a Master’s in physics at the University of Florida while also working in a temperature and physics lab. When Chilson applied for a PhD, there was an opportunity to do atmospheric physics. “That seemed like a good way to merge my childhood passion with the physics track I was going,” he said. 

For his PhD topic Chilson was using MST radars, which stands for mesosphere, stratosphere and troposphere, to study the three lowest layers of the atmosphere. He was looking at exploring different ways of improving the functionality of radars in Puerto Rico and Japan.

Chilson had an opportunity to go to Germany again for a postdoc for three years to use radars to study the atmosphere. After the postdoc, he accepted a job opening to go to northern Sweden, right above the arctic circle. “It was gorgeous, peaceful, the people were very down to earth, you can get back to nature,” said Chilson. “Of course, it was cold, you had eight months of winter. The coldest I experienced was -40 .” 

After returning from Sweden, Chilson got a position working at a NOAA laboratory in Boulder Colorado. Here he was using radar to study the atmosphere. Then in 2005 he came to OU to be a professor in the School of Meteorology where he later established the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling, or CASS. The purpose of the center is to find better ways of exploring small scale features and determining what is happening in the atmosphere. While in Boulder, Chilson used a type of radar that was for looking at the lowest 2-3 kilometers of the earth's atmosphere, or the atmospheric boundary layer. These lower layers are difficult to study because they are complex, non-homogenous, and they change rapidly.

When Chilson came to OU he decided to do adaption of more weather radar research. He was inspired to implement new techniques for measuring the lower atmosphere after attending a conference. “In 2008 I was attending a conference in Europe and there was a group from Norway giving a presentation on using a small UAV for doing atmospheric measurements in the lower atmosphere. It seemed very intriguing to me, so I went and talked to the person presenting. He gave me a bit of information and I came back and started doing those types of measurements here and it's been growing momentum as we keep going,” said Chilson. “Now we're to the point where were getting funding from different agencies, like the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and NASA.” 

Chilson and CASS are not just using drones for atmospheric measurements, but rather any kind of autonomous vehicles. “We even developed an autonomous boat for doing studies of the different depth of water features in Oklahoma, and also measure how fast the water is moving,” said Chilson. 

Some recent projects, spearheaded by Chilson, sent several OU students around the world. 

During February of last year their team went to Finland to participate in a European Field Campaign for studying stable atmospheric boundary layers. They were the only non-European team, participating with teams from Germany, Finland, and Norway. The campaign took place on a little Island just off the coast of Finland, where the ocean had frozen up around the island. They went out on the sea ice with an instrument developed at CASS called the coptersonde. It's designed for doing atmospheric measurements and can register pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction. 

In the Summer 2018 Chilson went to the San Luis Valley in Colorado with a large team of several undergraduate and graduate students. In coordination with teams from around the world, they collectively registered 1200 flights, making it possibly the largest UAF drone mission or campaign for the atmosphere that's ever-taken place. 

The thing that has been missing in atmospheric research are better measurements for the first 1-2 kilometers from the earth. This new technology from CASS allows researchers to collect data in a very precise and surgical way, which will hopefully improve forecasting. Chilson is excited to lead the CASS team towards new explorations and discoveries.

Dr. Mary Lawhon
Dr. Mary Lawhon

Environmental Sustainability is talked about in relation to all aspects of our lives: from creating eco homes and environmentally conscious communities, to sourcing sustainable food, renewable energy, low impact furniture, and clothing.

Learning the importance of how the world works at an early age, Mary Lawhon decided to make it her mission to impact the environment and the societies that control it. Lawhon started her quest for knowledge at the University of Kansas where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies. During her junior year, Lawhon was able to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa and this sparked an interest in the country. She then took a semester off and completed volunteer work for the South African NGO EarthLife Africa which focuses on Environmental Justice. “There were a couple of countries I was interested in learning more about, but it was South Africa that had the first opportunity and I was hooked,” said Lawhon.

She then went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa for a Master's in Environment and Development. Her Master's thesis was on environmental coverage of South Africa in the media. When she moved to do her PhD at Clark University, she studied electronic waste recycling in South Africa. “I did interviews with people involved in waste policy, and businesses in the recycling industry,” said Lawhon. “There is a disconnect between the laws and the needs of a community and that is something that needs our attention.”

She followed her third degree with a postdoc at the University of Cape Town at an organization called African Center for Cities. Her research focused on alcohol regulation in Cape Town. “We often make rules based on health measures instead of thinking about alcohol as a social thing,” said Lawhon. “We sought to understand and add some depth to the social processes that influence why people are drinking or not drinking or why they stop drinking at 2am rather than 3am. The formal laws have little to do with what most people do, especially in South Africa and looking at it from the individual perspective instead of the law’s changes everything.”

Lawhon’s first teaching position was as a geography lecturer at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She then returned to the United States and taught at Florida State before ending up at The University of Oklahoma in 2017. Her current research focuses on infrastructure, mostly in African cities, and how everyone could be moved to a modern grid. “Modern sewers are expensive, waste water, and have a tendency to break in many places, so I don’t think this is a realistic goal right now.” Lawhon is looking for options that are safe, reliable and dignified that are still cost effective.

“I’m also working on a grant focused on waste and sanitation in Kampala, Uganda with two students from Uganda. One goal is to encourage researchers from the global south to spend time in other places as well,” said Lawhon. “The usual way of doing a grant is that the researcher travels to collect data. Rather than me go there and collect data, they've been collecting data and will come here to spend time writing and processing together.”

Lawhon is currently an Assistant Professor in the OU Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability along with her husband Dr. Pierce who has a joint appointment in DGES and Regional and City Planning. The pair have two kids, Malcom and Rowan, 5 and 3. “Our kids are totally part of the department,” said Lawhon. “My kids love coming to work and the building. They think it’s an awesome place to explore.” 

Dr. Bob Palmer
Dr. Bob Palmer

Today you might see Dr. Palmer driving around campus in his convertible, or having dinner with his family, but back in the 80’s, Dr. Robert “Bob” Palmer was just another college student at OU. He had always been interested in electronics and loved to build things. This led him to pursue his undergrad, masters, and Doctorate degrees in electrical engineering. Palmer’s interests spread over the years, and he quickly found a passion for weather as well. He incorporated meteorology with his PhD degree, using radar to study the atmosphere. He was even able to find some advisors who were also electrical engineers and worked at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

After graduation, Palmer went to Japan’s Kyoto University for a post doc. “Working in Japan changed my life,” said Palmer. “I met my wife there, I fell in love with culture. My mother was Japanese, so I always had this affinity for Japan, but the post doc gave me an opportunity to experience it first-hand.” After returning to the US, Palmer did another post doc at Clemson University then earned a tenure-track position at the University of Nebraska in electrical engineering.

OU recruited Palmer back to Oklahoma in the early 2000s to lead the radar program. Palmer grew to be the executive director of the Advanced Radar Research Center (ARRC). The main goal of the ARRC is to use technical instruments to study the atmosphere. “We develop cutting edge radars that started out with a focus on studying severe weather and other atmospheric phenomena,” said Palmer. However, recently the center has started to expand their applications of radar to aircraft detection, bug and insect detection, and UAV detection. They also run mobile radars that go out every spring for storm research.  

“We have a strong engineering division in the ARRC where we develop sophisticated phased array radars which are the next generation of weather radars,” said Palmer. You can see an example on top of the Radar Innovations Laboratory in South Campus. "If you look at our building from Highway 9, you'll see a big white thing on top with an OU logo. That is a cylindrical phased array radar.” Horace is another phased array radar project designed in the ARRC and funded by NOAA, the Office of Naval Research, and the Army Research Lab. It is an advanced radar that can do very rapid observations of severe storms in hopes of advancing the way we forecast.

At the ARRC there are both engineering and meteorology students, and several of Palmer’s PhD students in meteorology have simultaneously earned a master's degree in electrical engineering. Palmer has made huge strides in combining meteorology and electrical engineering and has received top recognition in both of these disciplines. “I'm what's called a fellow of the American Meteorological Society which means you're in the top 0.2% of members, but I'm also a fellow of the IEEE which is the International Electrical and Electronics Engineers. I love that I can blend two things that I’m passionate about and I’m very honored to be a fellow of both distinguished societies.”  

OU is at the leading edge of radar research and it is certainly due in part to Dr. Palmer’s vision and leadership. The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences is lucky to have Palmer’s passion and partnership in advancing the future of weather radar.

Dean Berrien Moore III
Dean Berrien Moore III

“We got the call just a few days before Christmas, and I wouldn’t even answer it,” said Dean Moore when asked about his new NASA grant. “I had already been told NO three times on similar proposals and I couldn’t take another one. I was beyond shocked when they called again and told me I was getting the grant!”

Moore is the principal investigator of a space mission called GeoCarb, which will study the carbon cycle of the Americas. GeoCarb will launch in 2022 and will help explain how carbon moves around the world and what influences that movement. “Our goal for the GeoCarb Mission is to provide observations and demonstrate methods to realize a transformational advance in our scientific understanding of the global carbon cycle—we are not modest!”, said Moore. The instrument will be attached to a commercial communications satellite like a barnacle - just renting some space on the bottom. The idea that NASA will partner with a communication business is a new idea, but one that is looking very promising for the future. “If this model works, NASA will have a whole new approach to studying Earth.” NASA has been studying Earth in a program they call Mission to Planet Earth and have launched other carbon missions, OCO-2 and OCO-3. Those missions orbit the earth and see pieces of the information GeoCarb will see. One benefit of GeoCarb is that the satellite will set in a Geo-stationary position on the Americas and do wall-to-wall monitoring every day.

While $166 million is not much to NASA, it’s huge for the University of Oklahoma. This constitutes the university’s largest grant in all its history and sets us up to compete for other prestigious grants. “This is an outstanding opportunity for the University of Oklahoma to be noticed by not only NASA, but other research groups,” said Moore.

Moore once had a job offer from NASA, but turned it down to come to Norman thanks to the wisdom of his late wife Gail. “Once she had been to Norman she told me we weren’t going to DC after all.” He even noted the time when his daughter was little and used the word ‘funner’ to describe a play date with a friend. Gail proposed to move to Norman because “it will be ‘funner’ than DC”. She influenced many of the family’s big decisions with grace and charm.

OU is a leader in lots of areas from athletics to medicine and now we can claim space science as well. This mission will also have a fun surprise painted on rocket: “Boomer Sooner! Beat Texas!”

Dr. Cameron Homeyer
Dr. Cameron Homeyer

Dr. Cameron Homeyer drinks his tea from a Mike Wazowski mug (a popular character from the film Monsters, Inc.) underscoring his sense of humor and personable nature. After finishing his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Cameron began searching for faculty positions. The University of Oklahoma (OU) caught his eye immediately. “OU was really high on my list... it made the most sense for me and my family because the reputation of this program, what it does, the quality that it strives for in both the education and research, and the support that the program has from the university at all levels in terms of enabling our success in meteorology. It is just unmatched in other places.”

In July of 2014, Cameron began his career at OU and  as an Assistant Professor and the Associate Director of Graduate Programs in the School of Meteorology (SoM). He stressed the importance of funding when it comes to research projects. He launched his Convection, Chemistry, and Climate (CCC) Research Group using a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). CCC studies radar meteorology, the Upper Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere.

Dr. Homeyer recently received a new grant from NASA for his “Earth Ventures Suborbital 3” proposal.  This project aims to increase the understanding of the summer stratosphere and the linkages between convection, large-scale dynamics, and atmospheric composition. This grant brings $843,000 to OU and his research group, allowing for advances in computational abilities and real-time radar products. Additionally, the grant will fund two students to assist with research and field work.

With the new capabilities of aircraft, satellite, and radar observations, Dr. Homeyer and his researchers have more information than ever before to analyze. While the goal of his research isn’t directly to improve early warning times, it could prove to be an outcome in the future. “…it’s possible that a forecaster could use that information to inform their decision-making, and potentially push the warning issuance up further in time and allow it to be valid for a longer time period; because they can have more confidence in making that decision at an earlier time.”
One of the most significant outcomes of this research thus far has been in severe hail events. Dr. Homeyer’s group focused on unique satellite features called “Above-anvil Cirrus Plumes,” which occur when strong thunderstorms inject ice into the stratosphere. “We found that if we only used that cloud-top signature from satellite to update existing weather service warnings to say that we expect to have two inch or greater diameter hail, we capture 99% of all events…”

Dr. Homeyer is a husband and father of three, with another on the way very soon, and he enjoys getting his kids excited about science in the same way that he does. “… if you introduce them to things they can see, or hear, or feel, then they’re more prone to be curious about that over time.” Every year he grows a garden and teaches his kids about the complexity of nature through flowers and leaves, and each time something happens with the weather, he takes them outside and explains what is going on. “The only reason I study the atmosphere is because I really want to understand how those things work... I want to figure out why, and how, and what. You have to be driven by that curiosity.”

Dr. Laurel Smith
Dr. Laurel Smith

In June of 2017 Dr. Laurel Smith and her family relocated to Puebla, Mexico, where she co-led a three-week summer program, “Indigenous Music and Media,” with a colleague from OU’s School of Music, Dr. Jennifer Slater. Students also traveled to the Sierra Norte mountain community of Cuetzalan, where they visited the Indigenous cooperative Tosepan, which pursues organic and fair trade coffee production, operates a community radio station, and fights for environmental justice.

After the three-week “Indigenous Music and Media” program, Smith returned to the city of Puebla in early August, when she assumed the position of faculty in residence at OU’s Puebla Study Center for the 2017-2018 academic year. During this time, she taught OU students in three classes: “Regional Geographies of Indigenous Media,” “Indigenous Peoples and Resources,” and two rounds of “Environment and Society.” The OU in Puebla program is embedded in the campus UPAEP, a Mexican university where OU students took the rest of their courses. Students either lived with Mexican families or stayed in OU apartments with their peers.

In addition to teaching OU students, Smith had the opportunity to reanimate her research related to Indigenous media made in Oaxaca. She and a grad student interviewed a group of women who made a video in 2003 called Eso viene sucediendo/This has been happening about the violation of Indigenous women’s reproductive rights by medical professionals. Doctors “bullied women into having IUDs inserted without consultation, education or even consent” said Smith. Because the women’s testimonies were recorded on VHS tape more than 15 years earlier, Smith reached out to Witness (an NGO based in NYC) that had supported the video’s production. “I asked them would they please, please, please make that video available online,”. Fortunately they did, and the creators were excited to once again utilize the video because reproductive rights violations in the region continue to this day despite efforts to draw attention to the problem.

In June of 2018, Smith co-led the “Journey to Latin America” education abroad program with OU political science professor, Dr. Charles Kenney. This program consisted of Smith’s class “Indigenous Peoples of Contemporary Peru” and Kenney’s class, “The History and Politics of Peru.” The students stayed with families in various places including “swanky” areas as well as marginalized area that was a shanty town 20-30 years ago.

Smith is honored to return to the position of graduate liaison in the department of geography and environmental sustainability. Smith is now looking to create a service learning course in Puebla that would allow OU students with website creation and entrepreneurial skills to help women promote their enterprise, and in the process, further empower themselves, their families and their community.


a Professional portrait of Richard Stedronsky
Richard Stedronsky, METR Alumni

September 15, 2021

Richard Stedronksy knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about the weather, a skill that’s taken him pretty far. Stedronsky is the CEO of Enterprise Electronics Corporation (EEC), a company that designs and manufactures commercial Doppler radars. When he started with the company, his combination of a bachelor’s in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma and private sector experience gave him an edge in communicating about the company’s product.  “I speak the language,” said Stedronsky. “I don't come across like some used car salesman.” And because EEC sells their products primarily to meteorologists and National Weather Service equivalents, that counts. 

Stedronsky ended up at OU for a handful of reasons: he had a physical science ROTC scholarship with the Air Force coming out of high school; the prestige of the program spoke to him; and, coming from North Texas, OU was the perfect amount of close to home, but not too close. Meteorology was his physical science degree choice because he grew up with his fair share of severe weather. He was intrigued by the tension between advancements in technology and the many factors that go into forecasting: “It was interesting to me to know that as much as we can try to forecast the weather as best possible we're never always going to be 100% because there are so many factors involved, and I wanted to learn about that, why can't we accurately forecast the weather all the time.”

What Stedronsky learned within the first two years of his degree was that the answer to that lack perfection was found in mathematics, physics, and atmospheric dynamics. “At the end of the day, most people are used to math being ‘something plus something equals something,’ right? There's always that equal sign. But what I learned in meteorology and some other sciences is that there's not always an equal sign or that equal sign could have an infinite number of answers to it.” One of the courses that really opened his eyes was with Professor Emeritus Dr. Alan Shapiro. Even though the content, atmospheric dynamics, often felt like numbers and equations on a whiteboard, Stedronsky says that Shapiro’s teaching style took this sometimes mind numbing and overwhelming information and made it not only approachable, but an experience that has stuck with him to this day. 

He credits his degree and his time at OU with giving him the technical skills he needed to succeed as a Weather Officer in the Air Force. And when he was ready to leave active duty, he was well equipped to enter the private sector. “It takes a unique background to have the science but also some of the social skills and the business background to be able to do what we do.”  

Stedronsky believes that future growth in the field will be in the private sector and in technology development. “Meteorology is a young science compared to things like physics and math and medicine, but we're rapidly advancing and that's tied to technology, it's tied to computers, and a lot of technological advances directly impact our ability in meteorology to do our job in our science better,” he said. “And so what I see is continued growth in the commercial private sector because there's more and more entities out there that need more and more modern solutions for detecting and predicting the weather.” He also acknowledges that the development of this type of technology goes hand in hand with research, and without the research community, this type of tech would never be able to be passed on to the commercial side of the field. 

Stedronsky advises students to diversify their experience: “There's value to higher level degrees there's no question but there's also value to getting your feet wet in terms of experience.” He says that the right cocktail of science, business, and communication can be the ticket to opening doors in the commercial sector, and that those looking to do something outside the research and broadcasting sector should seek out opportunities to broaden their horizons. 

Nicole Light Densberger, METR Alumna

When Nicole Light Densberger first toured the University of Oklahoma campus, she knew it was the one for her. She describes it as a big university with small-college appeal, and while she was planning to tour other schools on her list, after seeing OU, she no longer felt the need. 

Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was coming for meteorology. 

“Oklahoma's program is obviously just one of the first ones you think of when you think of meteorology programs, and you know ‘Twister’ of course didn't hurt that reputation any,” said Light Densberger. 

Like many individuals who study meteorology, Light Densberger has her weather story. Her interest in weather began with her dad, who would take her outside to the porch to watch thunderstorms blow in. From an early age, lightning fascinated her. And then Hurricane Andrew hit Florida on her birthday. 

“My parents let me stay up and watch the news coverage,” she said. “I remember checking out books as a kid in the elementary school library about hurricanes and thunderstorms. When I went to college, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with it, if it was forecasting or research or what, but I knew that weather was what I wanted to study.” 

Light Densberger pursued minors in mathematics and broadcasting and electronic media. Math, she said, was an easy choice because to get a math minor while getting a meteorology major only requires two extra classes. It was also a challenge to herself; her high school in Ohio did not have a strong math program and she wanted to prove she could surmount that setback. The broadcasting and electronic media minor was the product of a semester where she had a little extra time on her hands. 

“I'm glad that I did [that] because I don't think enough people have communication skills,” Light Densberger said. 

Light Densberger admitted it’s intimidating to come into the program without a strong foundation in math and physics. 

“They give you lots of warning labels, like be careful, this is a lot of math and a lot of science,” Light Densberger said. 

But one professor, and one quote, in particular stood out to her and encouraged her. When Dr. Kevin Kloesel told Light Densberger’s class, “You don't have to be a genius in math to do this, you just have to work really hard.” She took that to heart, and continuously pushed herself to get her degree. 

While at OU, Light Densberger was a five-year member of the The Pride of Oklahoma marching band, playing tenor saxophone. There were times when she was encouraged to step back from the band for a while to focus on classes, but the promise of playing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an experience she credits as one of the best of her life, made her stick it out. Her advisor, Dr. Petra Klein, was supportive of her decision. 

“She never made me feel bad for that and I was always appreciative,” Light Densberger said. 

She looks back fondly on getting together with her study group at the National Weather Center (NWC) where the department moved halfway through her degree. 

“We would go to the NWC on a Saturday or Sunday for hours and just bring snacks and drinks and just run our problem sets, work them out on the whiteboard and it was great having that group of people,” she said. 

Light Densberger encourages new students to work hard and to volunteer when they get the chance. And, of course, to ask teachers questions when something is hard to understand. 

“There are some times when they'll act surly but they notice you when you are trying really hard and I think that's the reason I survived a couple of the toughest classes, like the dynamics sequence,” she said. 

After graduating, Light Densberger took a job with Weather News, right across the street from the NWC. Her time there helped her realize how much she loved the maritime industry, something that’s a bit tricky to pursue in land-locked Oklahoma. Now, she works for the California Air Resources Board. Her role is to help reduce emissions from ocean-going vessels visiting the ports of California. The initial endeavor was completed in August of last year, and went into effect this past January, so now she’s working on the implementation side of the project. 

She says her meteorology degree has been helpful in understanding air quality impacts, and that her communication background has been incredibly useful, especially because she stepped into a lead role in 2019. She also received a master’s in transportation and engineering management from the California State University Maritime Academy. 

“I made it sort of a personal goal to know as much as I can about this industry,” she said. 

Notably, at the recent graduation for her master’s degree, Light Densberger had the honor of being the first woman to give a commencement speech for graduate students for the program. 

“We had an undergrad and a graduate [speaker who] were both women, so it was pretty nice in the male-dominated maritime field to have so much female representation,” she said. 

Since getting promoted to Staff Air Pollution Specialist in 2019, Light Densberger has had more freedom to explore ideas of her own. 

“One of the things we're focusing on now is ‘what can we do for future measures to reduce emissions from ocean going vessels?” she said. 

Ocean-going vessels can cause a lot of air quality issues, and the work she is doing is attracting attention from countries and their ports all over the world. 

She thinks jobs like this are going to become more necessary for the field in the future. 

“Anything that is going to involve sustainability or tackling climate change, I think these are going to be increasingly important over the next 10 years,” Light Densberger said.

Madeline Dilner, DGES Alum

July 16, 2021

Madeline (Madi) Dillner tried several majors at OU before finding environmental sustainability and planning management. She arrived in 2008 planning to study environmental engineering; she wanted to be an engineer, like her dad. “I did that for about I think two weeks,” says Madi. Then, “I switched over to political science, because it was 2008 and the presidential race was on, and it was so exciting.” But the papers and political texts weren’t quite to her taste either, and she dabbled in math and education before finding a major that truly spoke to her. 

“I think it may have actually been my roommate who was a meteorologist, and a bunch of her friends were jumping from meteorology to environmental sustainability, like you do if you want to study climate change, more on the legalistic side, I think. She told me about environmental sustainability.” 

The degree was new in 2011, so it hadn’t been an option when Madi first arrived. She spoke with Dr. Darren Purcell, who she says made the degree sound even more amazing. “For me, since I’m a little indecisive, the degree came with a large variety of career opportunities,” says Madi. “I liked that I didn’t have to choose one career path after I received my degree. It was appealing that you could study things in general concepts in my major.” 

Madi works as a project coordinator for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Brownfield Program. Her job is multifaceted: she works both in the field and in the office, balancing her time between environmental site assessments, managing grants, doing outreach and attending conferences, among other tasks. 

“Brownfields grants are distributed to states, tribes and other applicants who managed to get them to take care of environmental problems in their communities in order to funnel more economic benefits, economic growth and health benefits into those communities,” says Madi. “We focus on projects related to Oklahoma Corporation Commission jurisdiction, which is oilfields and gas stations, and it's really cool.” 

When it comes to the future for her position, she says “Ideally, we will work ourselves out of a job someday because we'll have cleaned up and redeveloped all the properties and everything will be bright and shiny and clean.” 

She found her way to the OCC through GIS Professor Todd Fagin. She took an internship that Fagin told her about, geo-referencing aerial photos. And while that’s not what she’s doing now, she was able to experience conferences and meet people she is still friends with today. 

Purcell and Fagin were both important mentors during her academic career. She says that not only did Purcell aid her in professional and academic areas, guiding her on what classes she should take, but he was also helpful personally. He was someone she could come to when she was having trouble. “And then, of course, Todd Fagin… I still see him at conferences and I've invited him to talk at some conferences that I've been putting on,” says Madi. It feels like a full circle kind of thing.” 

Madi advises students to read their books. She says that she often skimmed books before quizzes when she was a student, but that she has since realized how full of necessary information they are. “They are so full of critical information, written by somebody who’s been studying what you care about for 30 or 40 years or maybe more, so read their texts.” 

Additionally, she stresses, “Don’t let your perfectionism stop you from showing ignorance in certain areas. Don’t stop asking questions because you are scared that people are going to think you’re ignorant.” 

Madi is an artist. Her work is available to view at or

Robin Tanamachi, METR Alumni

July 16, 2021

Robin Tanamachi didn’t find OU with a Google search. She heard about it as a kid, on TV. It was through TV specials that she learned about various kinds of science, about institutions she could attend to pursue her interests, and about Dr. Bluestein. 

Robin got her bachelor’s degree at Wisconsin Madison. During that time, she participated in a field campaign in the Southern Great Plains and managed to squeeze in a trip to visit OU’s School of Meteorology. She called ahead, and was fortunate enough to speak to Celia Jones, the coordinator of graduate programs at the time, who put together an itinerary for her visit. 

By the time Robin finished her bachelor’s, she knew she wanted to pursue severe weather research. She remembered OU, and she knew that the National Severe Storms Laboratory was part of the big hub of meteorological research on campus, and so she applied. “Then I got an offer from Dr. Bluestein,” she said. “I immediately recognized his name and he made me an offer to join his group as a research assistant and I jumped on it.” 

Bluestein went on to be her primary scientific mentor during her time pursuing a master’s (2004) and a PhD (2011) in meteorology at OU. “He taught me a lot of the methods and fieldwork techniques that I still use today.” She also credits Jones with being a mentor, stating that Jones was not only good at answering students’ questions and helping them to network, but at noticing when someone was struggling and making sure they got the help they needed. “We called her department mom,” said Robin. 

Recalling her nine years at the University, two things stick out most fondly to Robin. One is participating in the Vortex2 projects and being part of a large nomadic field program. “We went out with all these specialized vehicles and mobile radars collecting data all over the plains. We followed severe storms of all stripes and collected really detailed datasets of tornadoes that are still being cited today.” She also has fond memories of the School of Meteorology’s annual grill fest. “We would gather at either someone's house or maybe a picnic shelter like Lake Thunderbird and just grill lots of meat and vegetables. It was this wonderful opportunity for those of us with families to get together and let our kids play together, and for the students and the faculty to network more informally outside of the classroom.” 

Robin now is a professor at Purdue University, though a career in academia wasn’t always her plan. Initially she intended to work at NSSL, where she did her postdoctoral studies. But during that time, she also met and married her husband, who wanted to pursue a tenure track position. They were fortunate: Purdue had openings for two tenure-track positions in atmospheric science, and was accommodating as they navigated the interview process as not only scientists, but partners and parents. Now, they both work as assistant professors of atmospheric science, with research focusing on severe storms. Tanamachi does observation-based studies of severe storms, and her husband works in numerical modelling. “It's been a big transition for me since I wasn't really planning on going into academia, but I feel like it's been good. I enjoy teaching, I really enjoy working with students and I'm just having a blast.” 

Robin advises current students to talk to their professors and learn from their mistakes. “Go to their office hours and just, you know, chat with them informally, you don't necessarily have to go with a specific question in mind, but just chat with them about their history and where the field has been, where it's going and especially where they see the field going in five to 10 years.” She says that anything a student can do to get in front of a professor and get to know them better is a networking opportunity, something that could connect them to internships and job and schooling opportunities in the future. 

Tanamachi is on Twitter @tornatrix and blogs at, and encourages those who want to get to know her and her work better to follow her there.

Jacob Carlin, Ph.D., AGS Alumni

June 15, 2021

When Jacob Carlin, Ph.D. first arrived at the University of Oklahoma as a Hollings Scholar, he didn’t know he had found his next home. Native to New Jersey, Jacob was a student at Rutgers University, looking forward to a summer internship and then completing his senior year of undergraduate studies. 

“At the time it wasn't even the project I saw myself doing,” said Carlin of the work he did with Kevin Manross during the summer of 2011, “but I kind of wound up in it and ended up falling in love with dual polarization radar.” 

He decided to return to Norman for his graduate degrees, a master’s in 2014 and a Ph.D. in 2018 and he’s been here since. Now, Carlin works as a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) where he continues his research on dual polarization radar. And while the topic wasn’t something he saw himself doing back in 2011, it’s one he has grown to love. 

“I am just very interested in geospatial data and data visualization on a map, what such maps can tell us about what is going on in real space, “ said Carlin. “There's something about the fact that we can look at making that connection between the pixels we are seeing on a radar screen and the physical motions and processes that are going on inside storms. Studying how that connection is made is really, really fun and interesting to me.” 

For Carlin, the unique and collaborative space provided by the National Weather Center is a boon. When asked what has kept him in Oklahoma for so long, he noted the benefits of having many different organizations in one area, along with all the renowned professionals in intersecting fields. The environment has positioned him serve in an undergraduate research advisor role, as well as volunteer at the National Weather Festival — opportunities for him to share his knowledge and passion for science with others. 

On top of scientific research and volunteering, Carlin is an active member of the A&GS Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and CIMMS Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He’s dedicated to what he calls the “deliberate” and “purposeful action” needed to resolve issues of equity and inclusion. 

“It’s really important work,” said Carlin. 

As a former OU grad student, Carlin recommends that students remain open-minded about career trajectories. 

“If you know what you want to do, that's great,” said Carlin. “But even if you think you know what you want to do, don’t box yourself in just because you’ve always said you were going to do something if you suddenly feel a draw towards something unexpected.” 

He also stressed the importance of mentors. Carlin was advised by researchers Alexander Ryzhkov and Jidong Gao. 

“I owe almost all of my education and opportunities that I received to the two of them,” said Carlin. 

And although he says formal mentors are an obvious and excellent asset, he believes informal mentors are equally important. 

“I learned and grew just as much from talking and interacting with my classmates and my colleagues,” said Carlin.

Martin Koch, AGS Alumni

June 15, 2021

It started with a model wind turbine and some literature at an A&GS booth at a high school. Martin Koch was in the process of deciding what he’d like to major in as an undergraduate when he saw the booth and decided to take a look. The literature he picked up helped him learn about the various fields in geography. 

“I’ve always been interested in mapping, so it seemed like an interesting subject and a lucrative career field with a lot of growth opportunities,” said Koch. 

Koch is from Oklahoma and felt that OU was a natural fit for him. A Sooner fan from a young age, he always thought the university would be a good place to continue his education. 

“OU has such a great reputation, especially within the state,” he said. 

His degree from OU has led him from Oklahoma to Kansas for a master’s degree and eventually a job with the state, and now he resides in Washington D.C. where he works as an environmental protection specialist in the Water Resources Plan Review and Flood Control branch of the Regulatory Review Division of D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment. 

Koch uses floodplain maps to identify flood hazard areas providing resources and expertise to ensure new development is constructed resiliently. He also helps in updating flood resilience regulations for adaptation to climate change. 

Koch got his introduction to municipal governments during his time at OU. He worked with Dr. Travis Gliedt in the honors research assistant program. 

“While I was a student employee I worked on a research project regarding municipal water conservation strategy,” said Koch. “That was a great foundation for work in floodplain management because floods are water too, so whether you’re working to protect water resources from development or protecting development from water resources, those issues are highly interconnected.” 

Koch says that Gliedt was a great mentor and working on the project gave him invaluable experiences. He was not only able to conduct research, but also travel to national conferences to present his work. One of his favorite memories was the AAG Conference in Chicago in 2015. 

“It was a great opportunity. I really enjoyed the chance to see different places from a geographic perspective and to present my research to peers at a national conference,” said Koch. 

From that research early in his academic career to his enthusiasm for obtaining a master’s degree to pursuing certifications, Koch works hard and pursues education. He applied and received an internship with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, a position he read about in the Monday Memo. He has also held a temporary position with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission after he completed his undergraduate degree, prior to his master’s program. 

“Any opportunity that you can have to distinguish your skill set is valuable,” said Koch. 

As for the field, Koch only sees expansion. 

“Unfortunately, due to climate change, I think natural hazards is a growing industry,” said Koch. “If you can develop an expertise in natural hazards and emergency management, there will be a need for professionals in those areas.” 

And though technology is only advancing and becoming more influential across the board, he believes there is a need no more than ever for the human touch. 

“There will always be a need for a human perspective for communication skills and for the interdisciplinary background that the geography degree can provide,” said Koch.

Alexandra Bradford, A&GS Alumna
Brian Briggs, A&GS Alumni

May 17, 2021

Brian Briggs is currently the weekend meteorologist and weekday reporter for KTVE/KARD in West Monroe, Louisiana, but it was Oklahoma that truly sparked his love for meteorology. Briggs grew up in sunny San Diego, but he wanted to explore an area with more weather activity. Upon researching meteorology schools across the country, OU was his top choice due to its renowned program and presence adjacent to the National Weather Service. “OU is also right in the middle or tornado alley. When visiting campus, I fell in love with the architecture, the trees and the diversity of the different schools. Also, everyone was very friendly and the environment was welcoming.”

He says his education at OU equipped him for his job at the station in Louisiana in several ways. Towards the end of his degree in the School of Meteorology, he started working more closely with the OU Nightly news program. Briggs says his mentor at OU, Shawn Riley, was integral in making this happen. “The collaboration between the school and OU Nightly really helped me to be able to walk on the job with hardly any job training and start to take over.” Additionally, the graphics program that is utilized at OU is the same program that his news station uses, so it was a smooth transition to his current job.  

Some of his favorite memories from his time at the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences surround the Weather Festival. He particularly enjoyed the balloon launch because it took him straight back to his childhood. “My dad was in the Navy for 20 years. He was a flight forecaster and he would always bring weather balloons home when I was a kid. Seeing the kids light up makes you realize the next broadcaster may be here in the making.”

Initially, it was Briggs who chased the weather, but it quickly turned into the weather chasing him back. During his first year on the job in Louisiana, his chief mentioned that Briggs must have brought the tornadoes down with him, due to the significant amount of tornadoes Monroe experienced that year. Since then, Briggs has reported on many significant weather events such as Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta, and even a tornado that was so close, it actually clipped their news station – their crew had to take shelter live on air. His most memorable day at the station in Louisiana so far was the Ruston tornado of April 2019. Briggs got to the station around midnight and ended up working an 18-hour day while covering the storm and its subsequent damage. “That day did change my life and my perspective on the raw power of Mother Nature and what she is capable of.”

As a professional in the field as well as an A&GS alum , Briggs has some words of wisdom to offer – he advises future college students “to take every opportunity at A&GS, ask lots of questions and get to know your professors by utilizing their office hours,” he says. For recent graduates, he recommends “if you don’t find your dream job immediately, be patient, keep your skills sharp and always be open to new opportunities that come your way."

Alexandra Bradford, A&GS Alumna
Alexandra Bradford, A&GS Alumna

March 15, 2021

Sometimes it takes a bit of searching to find your true passion – Alexandra Bradford can attest to that. After attending the University of Oklahoma as a music major in 2010, she questioned how her career would unfold. For the next three years, she took a step back and pursued school part-time while attending a variety of courses “to see if something created a spark”. When browsing available degree programs, one stopped her in her tracks: sustainability. She read more about the field and was particularly captivated by the prospect of tackling global complex issues: “It seemed like a new frontier of research, and that was exciting to me.” 

Although Bradford knew going into an unfamiliar field was a risk, it was a risk she was willing to take. After enrolling in a few introductory sustainability courses within the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability in 2014, she knew she made the right choice. She went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sustainability in 2017 from OU’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences.

After graduating, she got a position with Knoll Inc., a modern furniture brand that heavily emphasizes sustainable design and manufacturing. Right now, Bradford is currently studying full-time in the MBA program at Lehigh University. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in consulting to further her passion for sustainable practices: “I would be able to help companies navigate their path in sustainability. A lot of companies know they need sustainability but aren’t sure how to put it in action.”

During her time at A&GS, Bradford was an involved student. She says some of her favorite memories were traveling to various sustainability conferences where she got to see the exciting developments in her field of study. She also spent time interning with Earth Rebirth - a local nonprofit in Norman that educates and empowers people to have sustainable sources of food, energy, and water. During this experience, she visited many Norman businesses to have conversations about their sustainable practices. She said this experience helped her truly grasp how these companies felt towards sustainability and how to put it into practice.

She says choosing to study at A&GS has proved to be a significant asset throughout her career: “The College of A&GS at OU is state-of-the-art. The opportunities I had to research, travel, and network were incredible as an undergrad (even more so in retrospect). These experiences helped me stand out while applying for jobs and even years later when applying for grad school.” 

Bradford cites OU Geography Professor Dr. Scott Greene as someone who made a big impact on her life and career path. His methodical and optimistically skeptical approach to the field and teaching of sustainability really stood out to her as a student. “I think it is important to have people that are extremely passionate within this field, but he also reminded me to question the “why” and “how”. It is important to understand the importance behind data collection or an analysis, as you can’t succeed off passion alone. Having the facts helps you understand why you are doing what you are doing but also will help you convince others of sustainability’s importance.” 

Bradford offers some advice and wisdom for current A&GS students: “Don’t worry if your first job isn’t your dream job. Every position will be filled with learning experiences that will help carve your path to your desired career. Seize opportunities by applying for positions even if you think you may be under-qualified. There is a lot of pressure to get a degree and immediately the “right” career, but don’t think that the path is always going to be straight and narrow.”

She also touches on the unique situation students are currently facing as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that current students can take this difficult challenge and demonstrate to future employers how they have adapted and overcome tough circumstances. Lastly, she reiterates that it’s okay to not have it all figured out just yet – she knows that sometimes it just takes a bit of time to truly find that ‘spark.’

Kylah McNabb
Kylah McNabb, A&GS Alumna

January 20, 2021

Kylah McNabb has always had a passion for sustainability. Even as a child, she remembers being fascinated with weather and how everything was interconnected. She remembers arguing with her mother about not wanting to use paper towels, and fondly reflects on the time she built a sustainable playground complete with recycled plastic and ‘solar panels’ made of little crystals. There’s always been something in her that was drawn to the natural world.

Native to north Texas, McNabb did not originally intend to come to the University of Oklahoma. She always thought she would end up at a Texas university. On a whim, after learning that OU had a great meteorology program, McNabb made a trip to Norman during the spring break of her senior year in high school. As soon as she arrived on campus, it felt like home. She said the traditional feel of the University gave her a sense of familiarity, and in that moment,  she decided to attend OU.

McNabb graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in Geography from OU in 2002, and went on to get her MBA from OU in 2007. After graduating from OU, she worked in the Oklahoma State Energy Office where she began working on policies and expanding wind energy across the state. During her tenure, she helped build programs, managed grants, assisted the career tech programs, and aided in the creation of their educational programs. 

Her initial work in wind power has expanded to include other similar topics such as solar power, geothermal, energy efficiency, and battery technologies for energy storage and electric vehicles. She currently owns her own consulting group, Vesta Strategic Solutions. The group provides services related to renewable energy, utility, sustainability, and related topics. “My primary work right now is advocacy work at the Southwest Power Pool, which is our regional transmission organization that covers basically from North Dakota down here to Oklahoma on behalf of a regional renewable energy group.” 

McNabb says the field of sustainability is growing exponentially, and there are many opportunities to be involved. To illustrate this point, she mentions that McDonald’s recently announced a purchase of renewable energy, so even Big Macs will now be made with wind power. Although she says this growth and interest in sustainability is encouraging, McNabb does touch on the fact that the field is ever-evolving, which can create challenges: “The environment is an area in constant state of evolution, and one we are constantly in a mode of discovery and understanding.  Just as we figure out one segment, it seems to shift and new studies are needed.”

While at OU, her biggest mentor was Dr. Scott Greene. McNabb says his background and research areas helped her find her footing in the renewable energy and sustainability fields; there was less of an emphasis on these things when she was getting her degree. “He has truly been a guiding force throughout my education and has continued in the balance of my career. He has provided wonderful counsel and guidance on too many topics to list, from academic conversations to practical career and life elements. He continues, and will always be, someone I admire and am thankful for to have as part of my life.” She also attributes the start of her career in renewable energy to Dr. Greene: “During his work with the Oklahoma Wind Power initiative they had a student position available and needed someone to answer the phone and work with the school newsletter. They asked me to apply. At the time I was working at Payless within Sooner Mall so I did apply and ended up getting the position. It literally turned into my career and I just fell in love with it.”

Although she worked full-time throughout her studies and didn’t participate in a lot of social events, she does have fond memories like digging her car out of the snow to get to class at Sarkeys only to realize OU had cancelled classes due to the weather, as well as spending time on cozy couches in the Sarkeys library while studying and reading. She also casually mentions that it is a rite of passage to get stuck in a Sarkeys elevator.

McNabb offers some advice for new and current students in the college: “Do become involved in some of the fun activities offered as I did miss those chances. While I was able to have good friendships, that is something that I could have done better. Keep your horizons open and realize that dreams change and evolve as you study and delve into your degree.  There are so many rich resources available through the faculty, utilize them, and know they are there to help you succeed and feed your brains.”

Micaela Buenemann, A&GS Alumni
Micaela Buenemann, A&GS Alumna

November 17, 2020

Growing up in a small German town between Hamburg and Cologne, Buenemann never thought she’d study in Oklahoma – she says a serendipitous meeting with a faculty member made her change course. She met former OU Geography Professor Hans-Joachim Spaeth while taking some of his hands-on courses at her undergraduate university in Germany. These classes, which included field work in New Mexico and Southern California, inspired Buenemann to pursue her Ph.D. in geography at OU.

Buenemann says her interests “cover a lot of ground,” but she’s always been interested in other countries and natural landscapes for as long as she can remember. She initially focused on tourism, but quickly shifted gears to geography – specifically how landscapes form, develop and change over time.

Upon arrival in Oklahoma, all of the pieces started to fall into place as she was granted a teaching assistantship and a graduate fellowship. She says the financial support, in combination with the excellent resources in the Department of Geography, enabled and encouraged her to pursue her studies in the United States. Throughout her studies at OU, she dove deeper into the field of geography learning more about geographic information science (GIS) and biogeography while establishing lifelong connections with many OU faculty members.

After receiving her Ph.D. in Geography from OU in 2007, Buenemann briefly served as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Arizona before beginning as an assistant professor at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 2008. She has since been promoted to associate professor at New Mexico State, and continues to share her passion for geography with others while contributing important research to this complex field. Some of her recent research projects include mosquito surveillance to advance arbovirus control in New Mexico and integrative geospatial mapping of New Mexico’s acequias.

When asked if she has advice for recent college graduates, Buenemann cites three important things to remember: “Figure out what you are great at, how you want to live and what the market needs, and then match these three up in a constantly iterative process. Set yourself apart from others, by networking and presenting at conferences, serving your community and pursuing scholarships. Learn from everything and be open to change.”

Jana Houser standing in front of an OU Rapid X-Pol radar truck. Whipserwatt 7000. OU Rapid X-Pol.
Jana Houser stands in front of an OU Rapid X-Pol radar truck. (Photo credit: NOAA)

September 15, 2020

Dr. Jana Houser’s passion for severe weather began in her second grade science class and she’s been hooked ever since.  She became further enthralled after viewing educational science programs on The Weather Channel focused on tornadoes and hurricanes.  Houser ultimately decided to pursue a career related to the study of tornadoes finding them captivating, combining both beauty and destruction all in one vessel.  Houser acknowledges that tornadoes are often powerful and dangerous but when they develop in a field somewhere far from populated areas, they also display an element of grace.

Houser is currently an associate professor of meteorology at Ohio University where she teaches synoptic meteorology, mesoscale meteorology, radar meteorology, intro to meteorology, a severe storms seminar, and physical geography.  She received an undergraduate degree from Penn State University before attending OU where she received a MS in 2008 followed by a PhD in 2013.  She credits OU professors Dr. Howard Bluestein, who served as her graduate advisor, and Dr. Robert Palmer as being the most influential in her academic career.  Houser, a self-professed “weather junkie” was initially “star stuck” by Dr. Bluestein having grown up watching him in multiple videos where he was conducting research and taking measurements during severe weather events.  Houser remains grateful to have been a part of Bluestein’s research group and credits the experience with her success and affording her opportunities for networking and the pursuit of field work.     

Houser’s advice for women pursuing STEM degrees is not to be afraid to ask questions.  Even though Houser came to OU with confidence borne from excellent undergraduate grades and the receipt of a prestigious AMS Fellowship, she openly admits to struggling to bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate education as well as being overwhelmed by the volume and breadth of study materials.  “Even once I started bringing it all together, I still wished I had not been so afraid to ask questions.  I think I was afraid of looking stupid, but now as a faculty member myself, I want my students to ask questions.  The students who come to me with questions open up a meaningful dialogue that benefits me as well as them.”  Houser believes that women often hold back because they are sensitive to competition and fear judgement by others.  She thinks this is a woman’s biggest burden and they shouldn’t allow themselves or their careers to suffer because of fear.   Houser stresses that this advice applies to all students because no one is the perfect student or the perfect scientist.  Each person should value their contributions and not try to live up to what everyone else around them is doing.

As for the future, Houser sees the field of meteorology needing to diversify and incorporate social sciences in order to reach a broader audience.  Climate change and communicating weather and climate impacts is a hugely important direction for the field.  Being able to communicate with the public and engage others to catch the ears of political leaders is especially important.  Getting the public to understand that weather is more than severe weather, general precipitation, and temperature, and then linking that understanding to what is happening today in terms of climate change will be the greatest task for the future.  Houser believes that with improved modeling and technological improvements, there will be a deeper understanding of atmospheric processes leading to improved forecasts.     

Houser’s final note to current students and recent graduates is to soak in every opportunity and make sure to keep all options open.  She fondly recalls the comradery of her fellow graduate school students and the excitement that all shared being at the epicenter of the severe storms community.  Shared experiences, such as struggling with challenging dynamics homework, allows students to bond together and build a support group which is important during stressful times.  Houser ends by stating that at the end of the day, each person graduates and her advice is “make sure you don’t pigeon-hole yourself into what you think is the correct career path for a meteorologist to pursue.”

Becca Castleberry, OU Environmental Sustainability Alumna
Becca Castleberry, OU Environmental Sustainability Alumna

As a native of Oklahoma, Becca Castleberry always knew the University of Oklahoma would be her academic home someday.  Both her mother and brother went to The University of Oklahoma (OU) so she knew “following in their footsteps” was a great choice.  Castleberry also was keen on having the “big university experience, within the feel of a small town” that OU offers.  

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 2015 in Environmental Sustainability, Castleberry became interested in wind power.  “Dr. Scott Greene sparked my interest in wind power …I decided to examine how this growing industry has impacted Oklahoma’s schools and communities for my research in graduate school.” Finishing her MS in Environmental Sustainability in 2017, her education provided her with a better understanding of what schools are facing today.  The contacts she was able to establish with Oklahoma Public Schools as part of her graduate research prepared her well for her current position as the Program Director for the Oklahoma Alliance for Geographic Education. It is there where she gets to apply and promote geographic knowledge as a tool for understanding the complex nature of our world and everything in it. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect, Castleberry believes it has highlighted the need for geographic science education: “The pandemic has given many people a crash course in geography due to its widespread, yet disparate social and economic impacts…I think there will be an increasing demand for people who can think geographically, regardless of their chosen profession.”  

Castleberry’s experiences at OU gave her a look at the world as a whole and how to apply geographic knowledge. Given current events, Castleberry encourages all new Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences graduates to be aware of what is happening around them and the impacts on future research and practice.  Critical evaluation of new information, and staying informed is a must in today’s era of constantly ready information.

Vivek Mahale with a weather balloon at the NWC.
Vivek Mahale with a weather balloon at the NWC.

Experiencing nature’s fury first-hand, Vivek Mahale is no stranger to tornadoes.  Growing up in cities like DeSoto, Texas, The Woodlands, and Tulsa, he was able to get up-and-close with a swirling whirlwind moving through his neighborhood nearly 25 years ago.  Mahale recalls this as the pivotal moment in his life leading him to the University of Oklahoma.  “Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the weather.  I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to study severe storms. My education at the School of Meteorology is a culmination of nearly a lifetime of interest.”

Currently working as a meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Norman, Oklahoma, Mahale feels he is living his childhood dream.  Mahale is charged with issuing watches, warnings, and weather advisories for the 48 counties in Oklahoma and 8 counties in Western North Texas.  He also provides multiple types of key forecasts for aviation and fire weather.  Additionally, Mahale participates in ongoing research with the NWS in Norman and is involved with outreach to the public.

Mahale remarks that his education at OU was instrumental for his NWS career.  “The School of Meteorology being situated within the National Weather Center and collocated with several units of NOAA gave me a great opportunity that led to my current career.  I was able to easily participate in the SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) at the Norman WFO while pursuing my MS degree.” Mahale received his BS (2009), MS (2011), and PhD (2019) degrees in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma, earning his MS and PhD while working at the NWS office.  He applied for the full-time position he currently holds while still a PhD student conducting research.  Mahale’s research was focused on the use of dual-pol radar in the detection of severe and hazardous weather which greatly benefited his NWS colleagues.  Mahale sees the future of meteorology leaning toward numerical weather prediction (NWP) as being of utmost importance.  He stresses that NWP can provide a look into a probability of a forecast days in advance but effective communication of this probability must be a vital aspect.

The School of Meteorology provided excellent support to Mahale as he conducted his studies.  Mahale recalls, “My PhD advisors, Drs. Guifu Zhang and Ming Xue, played an important role during my doctoral research.  I am also thankful for Drs. Howard Bluestein and Jerry Bortzge for serving as advisors during my MS degree.”  Aside from the vigorous studies of physics, calculus, and meteorological dynamics, Mahale enjoyed attending OU football games.  His classmates and friends traveled to numerous OU/TX games and even Big 12 Championships affording a way to kick back and relax from their study and work time.

Mahale encourages current students in the School of Meteorology “to take advantage of the National Weather Center and its occupants!” and to step out of their comfort zone.  He encourages graduate students to endeavor teaching as a great opportunity to enhance communication skills while allowing interaction with diverse groups of students and spreading weather awareness.  Mahale looks back on his own growth and says, “Never stop learning!  Meteorology is still a young science and I am constantly learning new things.”

Stephanie Buway wears an OU hoodie, holding onto a lamp post, an OU banner hanging over her head. OU
Stephanie Buway, DGES Alumna

First captivated by Oklahoma’s ever changing weather patterns, Stephanie Buway always knew she wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma. “Originally I wanted to chase tornadoes for a living! Growing up in Michigan, I did not have any exposure to that, so I thought that sounded like a fun and exciting time. I always liked the outdoors, but I watched the movie Twister way too much, and so that is what I wanted to do! And as we know, OU has the best meteorology program in the country, so that was my dream school.” Buway’s time at OU began as a prospective meteorology student, but then turned to geography after one class with a significant faculty member.

Dr. Scott Greene, a professor and the Associate Chair of OU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, was teaching an Intro to Physical Geography class that Buway was enrolled in. When asked about Greene’s influence on her change to geographic sciences, Buway remarked, “Not only was I always interested in outdoor science, the environment, things like that, but when I met Dr. Green, it just clicked. I may not be getting a meteorology degree anymore, but I think I found where I fit in this world. The opportunities that he provided through letting me work with the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, I could not have asked for a better experience in my life. That pointed the arrow in the direction of where I am at today. He continues to still be my mentor, and I still look to him for advice.”

Buway recalls her favorite memory from OU was when she was working at the Oklahoma Wind Power Initiative, and getting to accept the Wind Working Group of the Year Award at the Wind Power Conference in Los Angeles in 2007. She graduated with her B.A. in Geography in 2005, and then her M.A. in Geography in 2007. She currently works for DTE Energy on their renewable energy solutions team. She mentions, “My primary focus right now is on net metering and distributed generation projects, or private solar systems basically. There are aspects of using my geography degrees for this, you need to look at climate maps and understand a lot of dynamics. Geography taught you how to look at the world kind of as a whole, and the interactions. I deal with a lot of customer issues, and I am learning a lot about engineering.” Buway is currently also pursuing an M.B.A. from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. A current class she takes, Urban Business and Sustainability, has opened her eyes to the future of geography: “So much of geography is tied into green infrastructure work. Studies of human and earth interactions, and humans can utilize green infrastructure not only for corporate benefit, but for our own well-being. How it drives patterns of what humans do, just the whole topic of green infrastructure really struck a chord with me. Green infrastructure is something that is going to help communities thrive…the topic reminded me of being back in school with Scott.”

Buway’s advice for current A&GS college students is, “Enjoy it, and have fun! Learn a lot, because there is a lot to learn. Get involved with any groups on campus that are doing what you are interested in. Find organizations in the community that you can also get involved with. Start creating your network now, and get to know people in the fields that you are interested in. Networking is key, also be engaged and ask questions!” Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Buway provides some words to those who have just graduated, “You have gained valuable skills, and pandemic or not, they will always be with you. This too shall pass, and you will still find a career, and there are still people that need intelligent young graduates that are eager to go out into the world. We are still going to have sustainability issues, there is no slowing that down…those are moving forward. Stay resilient, and don’t worry. You are going to end up where you belong in a good career!”

Tyler Farling
Tyler Farling

Can one course change the trajectory for someone’s career?  Tyler Farling would say it does.  Farling graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 with a BA in Environmental Sustainability.  He continued his studies earning a Master’s Degree in Fisheries Biology at Oklahoma State University.  He now enjoys his career as a Geographic Information Science (GIS) Analyst for the State of Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office.  His job includes mapping Utah's backcountry roads and taking 360-degree videos to show current ecological and road conditions.  Farling credits his GIS career to OU’s Dr. Todd Fagin whose Intro to GIS course he took as part of his undergraduate studies.  “Little did I know this one class would help me in grad school with my research project and start my career after school,” said Farling.   

Farling discussed his time at OU saying, “When I finished my degree at OU, I felt well rounded, prepared, and confident going into my next venture which was grad school.  The tools I was given have helped me in my everyday work as a GIS Analyst.  It has also given me the confidence to feel I can compete in today's workforce.”  Farling said the people in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES) that made the biggest impact on him were Dr. Darren Purcell, Dr. Todd Fagin, Dr. Gary Gress, and Dr. Travis Gliedt, all of whom he remains in touch with to this day.  One of Farling’s favorite memories was when Dr. Gliedt sponsored a series of keynote speakers at OU.  “Getting to meet these people, go out to dinner with them, and truly pick the brains of experts in the field of Geography and Environmental Sustainability is something I will never forget and was truly a gift.”

Farling thinks that the future of DGES has many pathways.  “GIS, in particular, is playing a huge role in many fields.  It is a very versatile skill to pick up while you are going through school.  As pressure on natural resources and the environment from population growth continues to grow, the understanding of how these natural and manmade systems co-exist will become more and more important.  All the above professions will move to the forefront in my opinion as we try and dig our way out of the hole we have dug for ourselves as a species.”

When asked about advice he would give graduating seniors, he encourages them to immediately get an internship and start networking.  He urges students to find companies that are hiring recent graduates or have a pathways program.  Farling stresses that students not waste time thinking somebody is going to hire them just because they have an education.  Instead he insists that gaining immediate experience will help individuals go further in the long run.

Farling saved his final advice for current students.  “Learn GIS, do an internship while in school, gain experience.  Think about what you want to do and how far you want to go in your education.  It is a fine balance, but experience will always win out in the end.”

Dr. Josh Hatzis
Dr. Josh Hatzis

Dr. Josh Hatzis is not from Oklahoma originally, but now calls Oklahoma home having built a life here in just a few short years.  Originally from Geneva, Illinois, a far western suburb of Chicago, Hatzis recently completed his PhD and now works with Oklahoma University’s (OU) prestigious Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS). 

Hatzis received his undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University in meteorology.  While there, Hatzis worked in the Chesapeake Energy Weather Division relating teleconnection indices and sea surface temperatures to winter temperatures.  One undergraduate class he remembers well was Applied Climatology where a student assignment was to interact with local businesses to answer questions of interest related to climatology. His love of research drove Hatzis to graduate school in pursuit of a Master’s degree in geography from Northern Illinois University. 

He was an adjunct faculty member at the College of DuPage teaching a climate course for two semesters and then worked at WeatherNews, a logistics company primarily involved in routing ships.  Upon leaving WeatherNews, he started a degree program to earn his PhD in Geography from the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability (DGES) at OU with the goal of doing research at a university or government agency after graduation.

I chose OU initially because I had intended to pursue a PhD in Meteorology and OU has one of the top severe storms programs in the country,” said Hatzis.  After discovering what the DGES had to offer, he changed his focus to study the impacts of severe weather on climatology.  “I chose to work with Dr. Jennifer Koch because of her expertise with spatial modelling and geographic information systems.”

His dissertation focused on analyzing the impacts of tornadoes across time and space.  He did this by estimating the number of people who live in the damage path of a tornado and comparing this number with historical and future numbers to understand how the impacts change over time and space.  “I developed a model to simulate tornado paths and the number of people exposed to the simulated tornadoes,” said Hatzis.  This model was unique from other previous models in that it didn’t use historical climatology to place tornadoes but instead looked at atmospheric environmental conditions and placed tornadoes randomly within the areas with the most favorable conditions for tornado development.”  This model allowed him to randomly simulate hundreds of years’ worth of tornadoes to get a broader picture of potential tornado exposure. The model is also a first step towards being able to project tornado impacts on days with severe weather threats.

Now a recent graduate, Hatzis described his experience in the DGES with admiration. “All the faculty have always been very helpful and friendly towards me.  I have been encouraged to attend the national and regional American Association of Geographers conferences with the department sometimes paying for part or all of the trip and accommodations.  At these conferences I have gained experience presenting my research and meeting and talking with other scholars.  I’ve always felt comfortable going to my committee members for help with my research when I needed it.”

In his job as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in CIMMS, Hatzis is part of the societal impacts group and hopes to continue studying human behavior surrounding tornado warnings to better understand how and why people seek shelter and whether they do it safely or place themselves in harm’s way through their actions.

Hatzis is also interested in teaching students and professionals how to code to help solve their research problems. “I believe that in a world of big data being able to code can dramatically increase one’s productivity and it is something I think all scientists should learn,” he said.

OU CIMMS Researcher Elizabeth Smith preparing the LiDAR system for operation on the outskirts of a storm. (Photo by Mike Coniglio/NOAA NSSL)
OU CIMMS Researcher Elizabeth Smith preparing the LiDAR system for operation on the outskirts of a storm. (Photo by Mike Coniglio/NOAA NSSL)

Dr. Elizabeth Smith sits in the backseat of a white Chevy pick-up truck surrounded by computer equipment on a windy day in Oklahoma.

Smith is a researcher at the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies researcher supporting NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. On this day she’s testing equipment after a recent deployment on TORUS, or Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells. The project aims at understanding the relationships between severe thunderstorms and tornado formation.

In the back of the pick-up truck is a lidar system, which stands for Light Detection And Ranging. Unlike radar systems, which use electromagnetic waves, lidar utilizes laser light. The lidar operates at an eye safe wavelength of 1.5 , just outside of the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“The lidar sends out laser light to hit and scatter off particles that are small enough for that specific wavelength,” Smith said. “Those are things you and I cannot easily see, like really, really small dust and aerosol particles.”

The scattered light signal returns to the lidar and is analyzed, similar to the way a weather radar uses electromagnetic waves scattered off rain droplets. Via the Doppler effect, the lidar is able to retrieve information about wind in clear air.

“Understanding the wind field around severe storms and weather is very important for us to improve our understanding and forecasts,” Smith said.

The lidar is one of many instruments utilized in TORUS — a month [JEB1] long project in 2019 funded by the National Science Foundation and NOAA. TORUS will continue in 2020. The lidar is funded by the NOAA NSSL Director’s Discretionary Research Fund to support TORUS. The lidar in the Chevy truck, lovingly named Louise, is from the NOAA NSSL CLAMPS-2 trailer utilized during the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast project during the past few years. The lidar was removed from the trailer for increased mobility in the extreme environments expected during TORUS.

TORUS includes many instruments, including those on top of trucks known as mobile mesonets, as well as mobile radar trucks and unmanned aircraft vehicles. Mobile mesonets measure meteorological variables such as wind speed, temperature and humidity at the surface while radar can collect observations at higher levels. As a result there is often a gap in coverage just above the surface, which may be up to several hundred feet deep.

“We use the lidar and weather balloons with instruments attached to fill that gap,” Smith said. “The lidar system is able to provide us with rapidly updating wind information with a temporal resolution of minutes. There’s a lot about the environment near storms we don’t understand yet. Understanding the rapidly evolving complex flows in that region can be very important.”

Smith said two of the most vital factors OU CIMMS and NOAA NSSL teams are studying to improve forecasting tools are how supercell thunderstorms move and persist.

During the 2019 TORUS campaign, the lidar team deployed on 17 days during May and June across five states, traveling more than 9,000 miles. Overall, data were collected on 19 supercell storms, eight of which produced tornadoes. Deployments also focused on pre-convective environments and cases where forecast convection failed to occur. In the months since the TORUS field season, work has been underway quality-checking and preparing the data for analysis. In total, over 20 hours of lidar wind observations were collected during the 2019 TORUS campaign.

“We saw interesting turbulence structure in the wind field,” Smith said. “We don’t know what that means just yet, but this is unprecedented data because this specific lidar is faster than those used in past field projects.”

The lidar team looks forward to sharing preliminary findings at the 100th Annual AMS meeting in January.

For more information about this project, visit:

Story by Emily Summars at the OU cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and NOAA NSSL.

Alek Krautmann. NASA.
Alek Krautmann

Not many people can say they've been to a rocket launch, but that’s just one of the cooler days on the job for OU alumni Alek Krautmann. For the past year and a half, he has been working at NOAA for the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. His job since being in Washington DC has been more policy based, a far cry from his education and former career in meteorology. Krautmann went to OU for a Meteorology undergraduate from 2006 to 2010 and then went away for grad school to Ohio University for a M.S. in Geography. After that, his first job was back in Norman working for Dr. Mark Shafer at the Southern Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) in the National Weather Center at OU. SCIPP is part of the climate survey and is a NOAA funded grant program. During this time, the Oklahoma drought was having severe impacts and most of the work at SCIPP was drought assessment and stakeholder engagement. They also planned drought forums in towns that were affected and conducted a review of the 2013 tornado disaster in Moore.  

Afterwards Alek moved to the Big Easy, better known as New Orleans, where he was a forecaster for the National Weather Service for three and a half years. This role was more day-to-day weather, forecasting, radar monitoring, and keeping track of the local weather and climate information. Despite his past in weather, Alek has always been interested in policy. “I got more interested in 2011. I did this program by the AMS called the policy colloquium. That was a 10-day course in DC where you learn about science policy and how science is used in government” he said. “That introduced me to when I had the chance to switch my job to this role in DC, I thought ‘oh I guess I'll give it a shot.’ And so far it's been different, but interesting.” Krautmann remarked that he has not gotten used to the lifestyle. “Funny, I notice how much more crowded and busy and faster it is. I mean that sounds so small town, but it's kind of a different pace on the east coast.”

NOAA has six divisions or line offices, one is the Weather Service, another is the Ocean Service, as well as the Satellite, Data, and Information Service, Krautmann’s current office. Most of what he does is prepare documents for their administrator’s meetings and events. Any time the director of NOAA has a meeting, an event, or has to give remarks on anything related to their division, he prepares the materials. This can be writing remarks or collecting background information about a program or project. “In the policy world in DC, we actually operate on memos, we call them a three things memo. The whole idea is to determine the three most important things that their boss would need to know going into a meeting or an event...It's weird in the policy world, I feel like a bureaucrat,” joked Krautmann.  

Though his job is not what he envisioned in school, he has always wanted to work for NOAA. “I'm really proud to be working for NOAA. No one in the world has an environmental monitoring, research, and prediction mission like NOAA does and so it's fun to be a part of that,” he said. One thing Krautmann didn't anticipate was that working in policy has removed him from the day-to-day weather and forecasting. “I didn't really expect that but to be effective at headquarters, I think they need people who are really familiar with the subject matter,” he said. “Even though I may be talking about decisional items or programming updated or budget items, it's all about weather satellites, and climate data archives and new environmental products...It’s safe to say that in DC, people have more of a public policy, public administration, or a communications background. They can be very knowledgeable in the field and very good, but I think having a few people like myself that are more natively familiar with science is helpful.”

One of the most interesting things Krautmann has done for work has been going to a rocket launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida. They had NOAA satellites on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy which launched in June. “It went up at 2:30 in the morning, it was so interesting and funny to be at this marathon event. That was a day that started at around 7 am and they launched at 2:30 am the next morning. It was crazy to be working it and part of it overnight.”  

Krautman was also recently embroiled in scandal. “So, I brought in bagels to work in DC for one of my coworkers, it was her last week, and so I ordered them from Panera which is a St. Louis company. So, growing up around St. Louis you get them sliced up like little pieces like bread, so you can share them and snack on them. My coworkers thought it was hilarious, so I posted a picture and tweeted that I have these St. Louis style bread sliced bagels and my coworkers thought it was a hit. A few days later people ended up seeing it and it made New York City people mad, it totally went viral and I just couldn't believe it was about bagels.”  

Do you have an opinion on bread sliced bagels? Have a look for yourself

Tabitha Kloss in front of the National Weather Service Water and Weather Forecasting building in Alaska. National Weather Service Water and Weather Forecasting.
Tabitha Kloss

Most four-year olds prefer to watch Barney or SpongeBob, but not Tabitha Kloss. She loved watching shows about extreme weather— specifically, tornadoes. Flash forward to 2018, Tabitha is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma (OU) School of Meteorology (SoM).

“When I flew out to Oklahoma, toured the OU campus, and saw the National Weather Center (NWC) ... I knew immediately that it was the right fit.” She credits attending the University of Oklahoma as one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

Tabitha took advantage of all that SoM had to offer. For four years she was a “Weather Friend,” a student group of weather superheroes who engage with local children. She also worked as a student assistant in the NWC library and a data quality analyst for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility.

Tabitha volunteered during her senior year with the National Weather Service, and spent a year working on research with the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms. The NWC was Tabitha’s second home.

Tabitha received the prestigious Hollings Scholarship during her junior year, which provided her funding for school and a paid summer internship. She spent that summer interning in Anchorage, Alaska conducting research projects with the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit and the Center Weather Service Unit. This internship heavily influenced Ms. Kloss’s future aspirations.

“Dr. Kloesel taught Weather Information in Support of Critical Decision Making which showed just how far-reaching the impacts of weather are on every day life.”

In the summer of 2018, Tabitha worked as the Meteorology intern for Southwest Airlines, a highly coveted position. She briefed the Network Director, Chief of Network, Chief of Dispatch, Air Traffic Control, and other representatives; an impressive feat for a new college graduate. Admittedly, this was originally nerve-wracking for Tabitha, but in the end, she said this made her a more confident communicator.

“My experience at OU has shaped who I am today in so many ways... I learned a lot about leadership during my time at OU... I developed a strong work ethic and effective time management... My professors pushed me and challenged me in the classroom, which made me more confident about what I learned.”

Tabitha is currently pursuing an MS in Safety Science with a focus in Aviation Safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. In the future, she hopes to return to work for Southwest Airlines or another airline, in either aviation meteorology or aviation safety. Currently she is in another prestigious internship with Southwest Airlines, but now she is in the aviation safety side of their program.

From classes, to internships, to clubs, the OU School of Meteorology has opened doors for Tabitha Kloss that she could never have imagined. “All of the faculty and staff in the college, as well as my friends, helped me to flourish and find my way, and for that, I could not be more grateful. Even if I’m not in Norman anymore, OU will always have my heart.”

John F. Crowley III
John F. Crowley III

John F. Crowley III (Jack) grew up milking cows and throwing newspapers in the bucolic Connecticut countryside.  He dreamed of becoming an architect that designed cities (later finding out that it was called city planning).  Crowley took the Greyhound Bus in 1963 to study Architecture at The University of Detroit only to get caught up in the 1965 war draft. 

The United States drafted troops to the front lines as the Vietnam War raged on throughout the 1960s. Crowley was one of those brave men who was called for war. For four years he put his education on hold to aid war efforts through language training and field artillery commissions.

Once released from his job as Chief of Foreign Military Training at the Field Artillery School in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in 1969, he looked to finish his interrupted education. The "nearest" place was said to have people in red pants chasing a covered wagon in circles and that seemed a lot better than circles of Howitzers. He received his bachelors in both History and Art History at OU before pursuing a masters in Regional and City Planning. These were the first steps that led to his pursuit of a doctorate in Geography, with a focus on Urban Studies and his dissertation in Urban Stormwater Management.

Academia began calling and Crowley answered the call. He moved to Georgia. There he sculpted not merely parks systems but future intellects as he worked as an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Georgia’s School of Environment and Design for a three-year stint.

Crowley entered corporate America in 1980 as the development vice president of Williams Realty Corporation. The company built more than $2 billion of mixed use projects in downtown Tulsa, Kansas City, San Antonio, Denver, and Charlotte during his tenure.

“Planners and geographers are capable of managing and directing a very broad spectrum of career undertakings” Crowley said, noting his success across many diverse companies and fields.

While Crowley enjoyed his successes with Williams Realty Corporation, he longed for a return to his academic days. Crowley decided to return to the University in Georgia more than 15 years after he left. He served as the Dean of the College of Environment and Design for 10 years. He also founded the Master’s program for Environmental Planning and Design. He continues teaching and managing the program today.  In addition to educating new planning and design practitioners, Crowley spreads the "Gospel of Good Development" at an American Chartered Agriculture University (Zamorano Univ.) in Honduras that serves students from all over the Caribbean and Central and South America.  He also serves as Secretary to the (International) Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Crowley continues to keep in touch with those at OU and has done so for the last 40 years. He recalls the many changes time brings, like how when he began at OU the Geography program was housed in Dale Hall. Today, the program is housed in Sarkeys Energy Center and has called a couple of difference colleges home.

Geography also expanded academically with the additions of Environmental Sustainability and GIS degrees to the repertoire. These are academic journeys as diverse as the myriad of related professions Crowley practiced.

Stacia Canaday
Stacia Canaday

Can one class change your life?  That’s exactly what happened for DGES alumna Stacia Canaday.

Starting out as a geology major, Canaday stepped out of her comfort zone and took a leap of faith. A leap of faith that paid off and led to a nearly 20-yearlong romance with GIS.

Enlivened by the resources offered at the University of Oklahoma, Canaday loved the smaller college feel within the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. She felt connected to her roots.  The balance brought by such resources opened the door to new relationships and opportunities, like national conferences and working in the Dean’s Office. These experiences opened Canaday’s eyes to what universities and their alumni can offer students.

The summer before her senior year, she began working in an undergraduate research program utilizing GIS and Mesonet data through the National Science Foundation.  Her plans to become an analyst or technician post-graduation were now in question. One of her professors encouraged Canaday to look into the business side of GIS. In 2001 she graduated to begin a career at a survey and consulting company.  She learned about business and developing relationships, but more importantly, she became connected to ESRI, Canaday’s current employer.

ESRI is the developer of ArcGIS, one of the world’s most powerful mapping and spatial analysis softwares.  The mission of ESRI is to solve problems.

“The axiom that everything is somewhere holds true,” Canaday said about her work. “Whether you run a business, manage a city, or make a difference in the world, why not use maps and location to communicate and make better decisions.”

Canaday’s journey with ESRI began as an instructor. She turned her opportunities into growth to become a sales manager on the Utilities Team.  She leads and inspires a team of seven account managers who complete projects for companies ranging from electricity to telecommunications.

Canaday loves how much her current job may change from day to day. She enjoys learning new things and she rarely goes a day without learning something new.

“One day I’ll be working with an electric utility - experimenting with infrared sensors on drones to detect busted solar panels based on their IR signatures - and then next I’ll be talking to a group of people at a cable company working to figure out the best areas to offer low-cost or free internet service to underserved populations,” she said.

Learning new things day-to-day means dealing with all sorts of new and upcoming technologies. Canaday has seen her fair share of technological improvements over the past 18 years in the GIS industry.

“I am fascinated by the democratization of GIS and how accessible GIS has become,” Canaday said. “Sure, we still need GIS professionals, but the way technology has enabled more people in an organization or community to use GIS has actually freed up the GIS pros to be more creative and tackle even bigger challenges.”

Canaday wants students and alumni to know the many great opportunities ESRI has to offer. ESRI is a great place to create a career and grow. She encourages those in GIS to pursue their passion while staying up-to-date on the latest trends and technology at ESRI.

“Whether you are just starting out or in the middle of your career, ESRI is at the forefront of GIS science and we need more people from OU driving the industry forward,” Canaday said. “Don’t be intimidated… If I can do it, anyone can!”

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier
Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier

Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 2 to serve as President Donald Trump’s science advisor.  The meteorologist and former University of Oklahoma vice president for research was nominated by the President to head the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). This position helps create policy for science, but also provides science to help create policy.

Droegemeier said of his role, “"Science for policy is where the job of this office is to make sure we bring the best possible science to the table when there is any kind of policy decision to be made," he said. "Whether the policy deals with a potential disease outbreak, water contamination, the creation of new industries, removing regulatory barriers — science usually has something to say about that. We make sure we bring the best science forward so that the president and members of the executive branch have what they need to make decisions."

This is not his first political appointment: He was appointed to the National Science Board, which governs the National Science Foundation, by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and served in former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet as the secretary of science and technology. He said he enjoys communicating scientific principles to non-scientists.

Droegemeier had the support of Oklahoma's senators throughout the confirmation process. Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma City Republican, said on twitter, "Dr. Droegemeier is a highly qualified scientist and researcher, and I am confident he will serve our nation well."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a Tulsa Republican, also congratulated Droegemeier on Twitter, calling him a good friend. Sen. Jim Inhofe, another Tulsa Republican, said the OU professor is the right person for the job.

"The president requires the most well-qualified advisers and Dr. Droegemeier provides the experience and ability necessary to get the job done right," Inhofe said in a statement.

An expert on extreme weather, Droegemeier earned a B.S. with Special Distinction in Meteorology in 1980 from the University of Oklahoma, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in atmospheric science in 1982 and 1985, respectively, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He joined the University of Oklahoma faculty in September, 1985 and in 1987 was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation. He served as a faculty member until taking a leave of absence to serve in the White House. He will be the first meteorologist to serve as a president's science adviser; all others have been physicists.

 Megan McDaniels
Megan McDaniels

Megan McDaniels graduated from OU in 2017 with a B.A. in Geography.

Megan grew up in Owasso and achieved salutatorian at Oologah-Talala High School. When she was 15 she joined her school's golf team and discovered her passion for the sport. "I fell in love quickly but practiced like crazy because I stunk at first," joked McDaniels. She chose OU because of the scholarships and the opportunity to be involved in activities such as the President's Community Scholars, a program aimed at immersing new freshman into college life through community service, outreach, mentoring, and more. She was also active in her sorority, which participated in many philanthropic and fundraising events over the years.

During her time at OU, McDaniels switched majors multiple times. Her path meandered through pre-nursing, international business, health and exercise science, and international security studies. She happened to take a class with retired geography Professor, Fred Shelley, and she cites him as the main reason for switching to a geography degree. "I had always had a fascination with geography, I just didn't know much about the phenominal program until my junior year at OU," said McDaniels. "Once I officially became part of the program, I realized how I should have been there the entire time."

While focusing on her studies and other activities, McDaniels continued golf as a hobby. She helped establish and govern the OU golf club team in 2014. Over her years at the university the team grew and regularly traveled to compete against other club teams in the region. After graduation, McDaniels was able to return to her passion and turn it into a career.

McDaniels said, "It's super rare for girls to work in golf management," and she feels lucky for the opportunity. She is currently an assistant golf professional at Bailey Ranch Golf Club in Owasso, Oklahoma. No two days are alike working at the Club. Her duties include sales and customer service in the Pro Shop, tournament operations, as well as coaching and teaching high school golfers. This past year, she was the varsity golf coach for boys and girls at the Rejoice Christian High School. The boys team improved their scores at almost every tournament of the season and made it to regionals. The girls team, which consisted of only four girls, qualified for the state golf tournament and their top player placed second at that event.

She is enrolled in the PGA's (Professional Golf Association's) Professional Golf Management program. It typically takes three or four years to complete it and become a PGA member. "The fact that I already have a bachelor's degree will help to decrease that time frame" said McDaniels. This is a rigorous educational program for aspiring golf professionals with focus on the people, the business, and the game of golf. There are a variety of courses within this program, from business and customer relations, to turfgrass management and advanced teaching and clubfitting. She travels to Port St. Lucie, Florida once a year for PGA seminars. This year 150 young aspiring professionals, about 10 of whom were women, gathered from around the country to learn the finer points of golf management.

This past year she played in tournaments around Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. Her favorite golf course so far is the Patriot in Oklahoma, but one day she hopes to play at St. Andrews Links in the UK or Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where 2018 Masters were held. Her sports idol is Justin Thomas, one of golf's latest skyrocketing superstars. McDaniels goal is to be a Director of Golf and manage a course one day. For now she is extremely happy at Bailey Ranch Golf Course, mostly "because of the people who are genuine and kind," said McDaniels. She also likes that she gets to meet many different kinds of people of all ages, and it doesn't hurt that she can hang out with the Club's chocolate lab, Maggie, whenever she wants.

Story written by Kelly Jones 


Dr. William “Bill” Schriever
Dr. William “Bill” Schriever

Bill Schriever

August 19, 1926 – March 1, 2019

This past March the College lost a dedicated and passionate donor, Dr. William “Bill” Schriever. Anyone who knew Bill knew he wanted to solve problems and make the world a better place, starting with his community, and carrying on to his county, state, and planet.

Bill had a lifelong interest in politics, and he believed in studying issues in depth. That habit came from his academic background. Bill's father was a professor of physics and head of the Physics Department at the University of Oklahoma from the 1920s into the 1950s. Bill received his undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1946, then went to the University of Illinois and then to Harvard in pursuit of a PhD.

If Bill got into a discussion with someone over something, he would often give them a copy of a favorite book on that subject. He assumed that if someone was interested in a subject then surely they would want to read a good book about it. Dean Berrien Moore at the University of Oklahoma was always interested and he read the books Bill sent him because they were always on point. Besides a generous gift that will establish the William Schriever Endowed Professorship in A&GS and the Schriever Graduate Stipend, he also wanted OU to have numerous books, manuscripts, and memorabilia from not only his personal studies, but also those of his fathers. There were over 60 plus years of material covering climate, physics, and meteorology, plus many other topics in his wonderful donation.

Bills passion for learning and generous spirit will truly be missed. He made the world a better place, and for that we are grateful. 

In 2003 Windeon McDowell started as a student at OU. He first entered as a mechanical engineering major and eventually switched to professional writing. He never expected that he would end up being a farmer, that operates out of a shipping container.

Beginning his sophomore year McDowell started doing work study in food services. He has worked in most of the restaurants on campus as well as for OU catering and many of the same skills transferred between restaurants. Things got a little out of the ordinary when Dave Annis, the director of housing and food services, approached him about a project he described as “outside of the normal housing and food services” but something that would have a great impact on the university.

In comes the Leafy Green Machine™ by Freight Farms. It’s essentially a shipping container that is outfitted with all of the technology and infrastructure needed to do high yield, and consistent harvesting of crops. The main draw of the operation is that it takes up very little space and is climate controlled. This means no matter the location or weather conditions, you can always grow. In OU’s case, it grows the lettuce you see in our food.

When it first started, about 90% of the lettuce produced would go to the food on campus. Every week they would harvest and put out lettuce, but recently they have scaled back a lot. One of the main places the lettuce was used was in Cate Center, which is being repurposed and is no longer open to the public. Their product is being used in other locations, like Couch Cafeteria, but they have had to reevaluate their operation. “We do see some waste, only because you can't stop plants from growing”, said McDowell. “Once we knew about the changes we decided to pare down.” In addition to scaling back, they realize that students also want other greens like fresh herbs and kale. Now they have their sights set on the student living facility, Cross’ Acre Market.

One of the biggest shifts McDowell has noticed when it comes to student and their food is more transparency. “With all of the things that are happening, global warming, increased food recalls, more students want to know that their food is safe, what’s happening, where it’s coming from” said McDowell. He also notices many students are interested in the social responsibility aspects of food production. “When people are picking items like tomatoes for very little, students don't feel these practices are fair, and want to know, are we contributing to them.”

One student championed initiative was the Real Food Challenge. President Boren brought this into effect in Spring of 2015, joining a nationwide program aimed at sustainable food sourcing.

The idea was to get one quarter of the food on campus, to be locally sourced, in other words, anything in a 150-mile radius. McDowell believes that currently we are at about 18-20%, which includes using Oklahoma beef, eggs, and greens from the Freight Farm. If we expand to 250 miles, McDowell believes we are much closer to meeting 25%.

Tradition farming is facing several problems, one of which is the conversion of our natural lands to agriculture. “We are trying to sustain the agriculture practices to help people eat the same way they do now. With Freight Farms you are able to get large amounts of growth without harming our natural spaces” said McDowell. Though the Freight Farm is a huge producer, there is no way one Farm can cover the amount of lettuce we use on campus.

When you step inside the Freight Farm, it is filled with dozens of rows of hanging, purple, LED lights. This is actually a combination of red and blue lights. The plants need high and low frequency light to grow and these two colors satisfy that. There are 128 hanging LED lights and 256 towers in the Farm, this equates to 2 or 3 towers per light source. There are about 100 gallons of water stored in the tanks at the bottom, but they really only use about 5 or 6 gallons of water for the entire Farm. The stored water gets pushed up to the top, drips down through the towers, and recycles back down to the bottom where the process continues.

The growing cycle happens in stages. First is the seeding, from there it takes about a week or two to germinate, when the leaves begin to sprout. Then they transfer the plants over to the sealing trough where they grow for another week. Once plants are developed and the roots are firm enough to support the plant, they are transferred over to the towers. There they grow for at least four more weeks. From first seeding to end, the process takes anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks. The way the Farm is designed, if they stagger the growing, they can harvest every week. At full production they pull out about 1,000 head a week, but McDowell says they haven't been at full production in a while. The Farm uses 160 kilowatt hours of power and they are able to get an acre or acre and a half worth of growth in one cycle. All of this may be cool but since we are in the smartphone age it wouldn’t truly be complete without the app McDowell has that can track plant nutrients, adjust the temperature, and power on or off the entire Farm.