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Spring 2002

First AMS Student Conference packs the house

by Bob Henson

Beth Trotter and Lindsey Williams, undergraduates at the University of Georgia, take in the Saturday-night career fair at the first AMS student conference. (Photo by Bob Henson.)

Attendance far exceeded expectations at the American Meteorological Society’s First Student Conference and Career Fair, held 12–13 January, the weekend before the AMS annual meeting in Orlando. About 175 people attended, most of them undergraduates, says Stephanie Armstrong, the AMS director of development. “My goal was 100 [attendees],” says Armstrong. That was the size of the student pool already scheduled to be at the annual meeting through AMS scholarships. Dozens of other attendees paid their own travel expenses in order to network with peers, talk to potential employers, and learn about how meteorology is practiced in the real world.

The student conference was suggested at the 2001 annual meeting by Gregory Byrd (UCAR Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training), a member of the AMS Board on Higher Education. The idea was brought to fruition through the efforts of program chair Richard Clark (Millersville University), along with Armstrong, AMS deputy executive director Keith Seitter, and other AMS staff. Thanks to member donations drawn from the AMS 21st Century Campaign, no attendance fee was necessary. “That was obviously a great thing for the students,” says Armstrong.

A second student conference is already being planned. The Sunday-night poster session drew bigger-than-expected participation in Orlando, so next year’s session will probably allow more time on Sunday afternoon for students to prepare, according to Armstrong. “Educating the future leaders of our science is definitely something we want to promote.”

The conference theme was Emerging Opportunities and Growth Areas in the Atmospheric and Related Sciences. Each session focused on a different area of employment, including the federal, military, university, and private spheres. Represented in the latter were Raytheon, Aquila, and Meteorlogix (a recent merging of three established companies). The speakers encouraged students to gain solid backgrounds in meteorology, mathematics, and programming, but they also emphasized communication skills and the willingness to stay flexible in a fast-changing business climate. Mish Michaels, a Boston weathercaster and cohost of The Weather Channel’s Atmospheres series, talked about the satisfactions and stresses of weathercasting. “You’re held accountable by a lot of people, and they’ll call you on it.”

Another theme was the demise of the solo outlook. According to James Block of Meteorlogix, “More and more of our clients are asking for probabilistic forecasts.” Instead of simply calling for a high of 49°F, the forecast might indicate a 10% chance the day’s high will stay below 45°F and an equal chance it will get above 52°F. The move toward probabilistic forecasts, using ensemble prediction methods, is gaining currency in

academia as well, noted Mohan Ramamurthy (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). He passed on the declaration of a colleague: “Determinism is dead.” Ramamurthy described the use of model ensembles to better assess hurricane landfall risk. A new approach at Illinois combines a 62-member ensemble with 48 different permutations of model physics for more than 2,500 possible model runs, although far fewer are actually produced.

Kelvin Droegemeier (University of Oklahoma) outlined the role of public-university interactions. A session about opportunities at UCAR and NCAR was cochaired by Natalie Murray, one of six University of Arizona graduate students who arranged their own trip to the Boulder facilities last summer. UCAR president Richard Anthes invited

more students to visit. G.O.P. Obasi, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, addressed the students over lunch.

AMS senior policy fellow William Hooke concluded by urging the group to look at global society and find ways to contribute as scientists without letting economic fears dictate their employment options. In 1900, he observed, scientists thought climate was fixed, weather could never be predicted, and the atmosphere could take in unlimited amounts of pollution without harm. All these have been proven false in the past century. Nevertheless, “that’s a short period with respect to the time needed for unintended consequences to show up. We’ll need a lot more environmental scientists, and we’ll need them fast. Students are going to be the ones who answer [today’s] questions.”


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Carlye Calvin
Last revised: Mon Mar 11 16:42:17 MST 2002