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Fall 1999

SOARS alumni spread their wings

by Zhenya Gallon

What do alumni of the Signficant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program bring with them into professional life? Now that three SOARS participants have completed their master's degrees and entered the working world, the UCAR Quarterly thought it was time to find out. We asked alumni Carl Etsitty, Janel Thomas Davis, and Quindi Franco--who now all work in Washington, D.C.--to tell us how they're faring in their new positions.

Now in its fourth year, SOARS is UCAR's program to bring members of underrepresented groups into careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. A unique feature of SOARS is the matching of each student, called a protégé, with a research mentor, a community mentor, a science-writing mentor, and a peer mentor--a fellow protégé--to share experiences with. So we asked in particular about the role of mentors in supporting participants' entry into the professional world.

Carl Etsitty. (Photo courtesy of SOARS office.)

After Carl Etsitty completed a master's in environmental science at the University of Arizona in December 1998, he returned to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, where he worked as an activist volunteer. He moved to Washington this April to take a position as an environmental protection specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency. Etsitty's work on regulatory policy is just what he was hoping for. "Because I'm from the reservation, I wanted to know more about that so I can help my people more effectively." As for SOARS, "pretty much everything helped." The internships and research experience were a boost in graduate school and carried into his current work. "I'm not doing research now, but I'm doing things I was taught in Boulder."

Etsitty was introduced to complexity theory by his research mentor, Lee Klinger (NCAR Atmospheric Chemistry Division); he finds the theory's vocabulary useful for explaining Native American holistic thinking to non-native people. He's stayed in touch with Klinger and values the ongoing relationship.

Etsitty is encouraging staff in his division and in upper management to look at the SOARS mentoring program as a model for improving the EPA's recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce. He's working on a proposal recommending that the EPA assign a professional mentor and a community mentor to new employees to help them adjust to the organization's culture and move forward in their work.

Etsitty plans to go back for a Ph.D., "but not right now." When he's ready he'd like to extend work he began at Arizona on the complexity of virus survival. Etsitty's advice to others entering the workforce is consistent with his own experience: "Whatever organization you get into, try to look for a mentor, and stay in contact with your mentors from whatever environment you were coming from to help you go into your new environment."

If there's one thing Etsitty would add to the SOARS program, it's a time management workshop to prepare students for the transition from undergraduate to graduate school.

Janel Thomas Davis. (Photo courtesy of SOARS office.)

Janel Thomas Davis completed a second master's in atmospheric science at Colorado State University this spring with support from the SOARS program. (Her first was in physics from Howard University.) She's now a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin. Davis would have stayed in atmospheric science, but "it's hard, relocating to another area, trying to find something. Most of the openings were for postdocs. . . . There just wasn't anything available unless I was interested in going to school right away." Davis enjoys her work in computational support and programming. "It's pretty cool." Her SOARS experience introduced her to programming and software development, and she's found that her research skills transfer well to a nonresearch environment.

Davis says SOARS "allowed me to venture out and grab hold of an interest that I had. I thought it was great." Davis is still working on an article based on her master's thesis in collaboration with her research mentor, Darrel Baumgardner (NCAR Atmospheric Technology Division), and her CSU advisor, Sonia Kreidenweis: "Large particle characteristics over the Southern Ocean during ACE-1."

Davis wants to stay in the working world for a while before considering further study in atmospheric science. "I decided I would prefer to make sure that's what I really want to do rather than jump back into another [educational] program."

Quindi Franco. (Photo courtesy of SOARS office.)

The first person to complete the SOARS program, Quindi Franco, earned a master's in public policy from Harvard University in June 1998. From there he went to the White House Council of Economic Advisers as a staff economist. At the CEA he dealt with a wide range of regulatory issues affecting electricity, telecommunications, and the environment--"anything from domestic air quality to climate change." The CEA appointment was for one year with the opportunity for renewal, "but most everybody leaves after an election, so I was looking for other things." A senior economist with whom Franco worked at the CEA was transferring to the Federal Communications Commission, "and I saw the opportunity. He's a kind of mentor at this point." Franco moved to the FCC Office of Plans and Policy in July of this year. He now works strictly on telecommunications policy, "so I get a little deeper into issues, which is nice, [but] I do miss the environmental focus."

The process of developing SOARS research projects was excellent career preparation for Franco, "from having to produce a deliverable research document to presenting it to colleagues." The need to balance the demands of such large projects with other work "is always a challenge, and having a few practice runs was great."

SOARS writing mentor Susan Friberg (UCAR Corporate Affairs) "was always a great help. She really pushed me to be clear in my writing." Franco stays in touch with Friberg and with research mentor Roger Pielke, Jr. (NCAR Environmental and Societal Impacts Group), when he can.

A Ph.D. in economics or public policy with an environmental focus is definitely on Franco's mind. "If I do it, I'd like to go in with a firm grasp of what my dissertation will look like." If inspiration doesn't lead in that direction, "I feel that I have the skills and knowledge I need to do what I like doing [now]."

Franco sums up his SOARS experience this way: "Yes, the writing workshop helped, yes, the process of being mentored and mentoring [others] helped, but on the whole I'd say it was the many small, day-to-day activities peppered throughout SOARS--and other things that I've been involved with in my past--that have prepared me for the working world and life in general."

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 15:11:20 MDT 2000