SOARS and RESESS protégés busy with research
MMM/RAL's Chris Davis (right) mentors Anthony Didlake.
As summer comes to a close, SOARS and RESESS protégés and their mentors are hard at work wrapping up research projects on subjects as diverse as air pollution, hurricane intensity, radio occultation, wind profiling, economics, and plate tectonics.
Now in its 11th year, SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science) is an undergraduate-to-graduate bridge program designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups pursuing graduate degrees and, ultimately, careers in the atmospheric and related sciences.
Twenty SOARS protégés are joined this year by three RESESS (Research Experience in Solid Earth Science for Students) protégés. Sponsored by UNAVCO, RESESS is partnering with SOARS to provide similar opportunities for students in the solid Earth sciences.
"One of the challenges of a growing program like SOARS is that the comprehensive support we provide our protégés limits the number of protégés we can serve," says Raj Pandya, SOARS director. "What's great about RESESS is that we're taking strategies that have proved successful with SOARS and sharing them with a new community so that together we can reach more students."
This year's SOARS/RESESS class contains nine new protégés, an especially large crop that includes several protégés who are the first students from their schools to participate in the program. The class is unique not just for its new faces, but also its new perspectives.
Protégés Michael Hernandez (center left) and Luna Rodriguez (center right) soak up a lesson on radio occultation from COSMIC's Bill Kuo (far left) and Bill Schreiner (far right).
"This year's SOARS group recognizes the value of different disciplines in contributing to the overall enterprise," Raj says. "The protégés actively try to integrate disciplines in their approaches to the science, and they are embracing the notion that being an atmospheric scientist includes a lot of facets."
The intellectual excitement of meteorology became personal last year to Imani Morris, a first-year protégé from Jackson State University in Mississippi who's been interested in severe weather since she was seven years old. A lifelong resident of New Orleans, Imani waited out Hurricane Katrina in Jackson as her parents fled New Orleans. The family has since relocated to Fairburn, Georgia.
"It's really hard to deal with something that you're interested in intellectually, but that you never want to happen to you," Imani says. "I was excited and wanted to know more about the hurricane, but I was also very concerned about my family."
Although Imani hopes to pursue a career in meteorology, this summer she's working with Steve Massie (ACD) on the chemistry of air pollution, a subject that's completely new to her. "It's fabulous," she says. "I'm learning all the basics, so it's like I'm a new student at school."
Anthony Didlake, a third-year protégé who graduated from Yale University last spring, credits SOARS with sparking his interest in graduate school, which he begins this fall at the University of Washington. "SOARS is pretty much the main reason I'm going to graduate school," he says. "When I entered the program, I had just started studying meteorology as an undergraduate. Being in SOARS and the UCAR environment showed me that there are numerous opportunities that follow."
“It’s rewarding to know
that the sciences and our civilization will benefit from as many young people
as possible contributing to our
understanding of the world by rising
to their potential.”
Fourth-year protégé Nancy Rivera-Rivera will complete her master's degree in environmental science at the University of Texas at El Paso in December, after which she plans to pursue a doctorate. She's working with Jennifer Hand at Colorado State University this summer, doing thesis-related research on using remote sensing images to characterize dust outbreaks. "When you get to grad school, you need to know more about research and be able to both work alone and with others," she says. "I've learned how to do this from SOARS."
The program is equally rewarding to the science, writing, and community mentors who volunteer each summer. Brian Bevirt (CISL) has volunteered for 10 years, driven by the belief that there is an enormous amount of untapped talent in the world. "The number of people with the right combination of raw abilities who have been discouraged or disenfranchised far exceeds the number of people who have actually risen to prominence in their chosen professions," he says. "It's rewarding to know that the sciences and our civilization will benefit from as many young people as possible contributing to our understanding of the world by rising to their potential."
The 2006 protégés present their research results during a colloquium on August 7–9. A recognition ceremony takes place on August 10 at 4:00 p.m. in the Center Green auditorium.
• by Nicole Gordon