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July 1998

"It's not just a job . . ."

"There are certain threads that run through every job anybody's had. If you are contemplating a career change, you need to be able to identify what those things are for you."

--Dale Kellogg, NCAR Director's Office.

Chris Torrence

This is the second in a series of features written by ASP postdocs about career paths within UCAR/NCAR/UOP. In this installment, Chris Torrence explores the many twists and turns careers can take and the ways in which some staff have blended their careers and outside interests.

How did your coworkers get to NCAR? What are they doing? What have they done? These questions are answered below for five NCAR employees whose combined number of jobs is enough to employ a small town.

Tim Barnes: "I don't have a preconception"

You've prepared for it your entire life: flying for the Navy. You've heard that it's not just a job, it's an adventure. Having 20/20 vision was easy. Making the grade was harder, but you made it, right up to commissioned officer. And then, a wall in Berlin falls down, the flight school requirements go up, and you're out. What do you do?

Tim Barnes

If you're Tim Barnes, you find yourself a slot as the first assistant in the NCAR Education & Tour Program. "I try to disseminate information about NCAR to whomever's interested in it," says Tim. He works 3/4 time so he can devote the rest to mountain-bike racing. ("I just went to the World Cup Races in Napa Valley." How did he do? "I got smoked.") Tim says he draws much of his inspiration from other UCAR staff. "In particular, Alan Hills has been a model for me as both someone who understands science and works to share his understanding and as a mountain-bike racer's racer."

Tim always wanted to fly. When he was 18, a Navy recruiter told him, "the Navy's got more planes than the Air Force, so if you want to fly, the odds are better." Tim enlisted and went to the Navy preparatory school in San Diego, where they crammed three years of high school into one year. After graduating, he received a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship and decided to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder.

When the Navy raised its pilot requirements after the Cold War, it took Tim out of the running for flight school ("the biggest devastation of my life," he says). After his release from his Navy obligation during his senior year, Tim says, "I was just floating around not knowing what to do for a long time, so I had to be accepting of whatever was offered."

His first job was at the Boulder County Mental Health Center. His career problems didn't seem so bad, he says, when he saw "people who were really in need, barely hanging on." At the same time, he was doing research in children's communication for the CU clinical psychology program, and also working part time at NCAR as a catering assistant. At a coworker's suggestion, he also began volunteering as an NCAR tour guide. Tim graduated from CU with a bachelor's degree in communication in December 1993. In 1994 he was hired into his current NCAR position.

Tim has no regrets about his Navy experience. The hardest thing, he says, was to drop the old career plan. "Once you can perceive yourself outside of what you're in, once your self-vision changes, then it's easier to accept a new career." Tim adds, "the more I do, the easier it is to pick up new things. I don't have a preconception of what I'm capable of doing."

Dale Kellogg

Dale Kellogg: "Things change here all the time"

"In terms of content, there's always a steep learning curve at NCAR," says Dale Kellogg. As NCAR executive assistant, she's the office manager and chief support person for NCAR director Bob Serafin. But that's just half of her job. Dale provides administrative support to NCAR management, acts as a liaison between NCAR and UCAR, coordinates annual events such as the Outstanding Performance Awards, and reviews NCAR news releases. Musing on her own career path, Dale observes, "There are certain threads that run through every job anybody's had. If you are contemplating a career change, you need to be able to identify what those things are for you."

Dale grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and attended CU-Boulder, majoring in political science. Her career began in Virginia City, a town of about 175 people in southwestern Montana. The seat of Madison County (1.7 people per square mile), Virginia City was once home to one of the richest gold lodes in the West. The mayor from 1981 to 1985 was Dale Kellogg. She is quick to point out that she was the town's third female mayor in a row, which, she says, "is fitting for the state that sent the first woman U.S. Representative [Jeannette Rankin] to Washington."

While serving as mayor, Dale was also the administrative assistant to the Madison County commissioners, which involved everything from taking minutes of meetings to administering federal emergency grants ("we lost a bridge"). Dale also did a stint as the county librarian. "It was all part of being part of a community. It was really fascinating, really fun."

During an attempt at graduate school in history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison ("I think I bit off a little more than I could chew"), she started teaching figure skating: "I had been a figure skater and ice dancer my whole life." Returning to Boulder in 1988, Dale beat out a thousand other applicants to become an administrative assistant in the Office of Government Affairs at UCAR. She's been in her current position as NCAR executive assistant since 1991.

At NCAR, Dale thrives on the constant diversity of tasks, new knowledge, and new environments, a situation she says is similar in spirit to her previous career in Virginia City. Her most recent challenges have been creating a World Wide Web version of the Annual Scientific Report and coordinating the production of the NCAR fourth-year review document for NSF. "Things change here all the time, so staying on top of stuff is a challenge and part of what makes it really interesting."

Lee Klinger: "There are a number of connections"

As a scientist in ACD, Lee Klinger is part of the Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions group, doing field work and modeling biogenic trace gases. He likes to "get out and do measurements," with the focus on characterizing the ecosystem biomass and its interaction with the atmosphere.

Lee Klinger

Unbeknownst to many people at NCAR, Lee also runs the Dance West studio on Pearl Street. As he puts it, "we're jamming. We've got over 80 classes a week, over 30 regular instructors, and over 70 guest instructors. It's the biggest dance studio in Colorado."

Lee is following in family footsteps. "My mother has a dance studio, my grandmother had a dance studio, and I grew up as a dancer." He taught dance exercise for several years in Boulder before Dance West. About four years ago, Lee realized the need for a dance studio. Growing up, "having seen a quality dance studio and how it's run, I started looking for something like that here. . . . About a year from when I first thought about it, we opened our doors down on Pearl Street. We've been dancing ever since."

At NCAR, Lee's research involves field work from the Amazon to Africa. "There are a number of connections between my science and why [the dance studio] is going the way it is." During his scientific field work in Africa, he says, "I was able to connect with African dance, and I danced with a lot of people. I've actually brought it back and taught it."

Lee says he has no problem balancing his NCAR job and Dance West. In fact, having the dance studio has "made it easier, because there's something to balance [with research]." His science background also helped him launch the studio itself. "I had not a business clue what I was doing, but science teaches you to be organized on paper and in your thoughts."

Lee's advice on new careers is simple: "You've got to schedule it."

Chris Knoetgen: "I've got something to look forward to"

Chris Knoetgen

Chris Knoetgen (pronounced "NO-gen") hasn't been driving the NCAR shuttle much lately. He's just finished a month-long reorganization of the NCAR warehouse. As a material handling clerk in Traffic Services, he deals with things that need to move quickly: letters, packages, commuters, equipment. But that's not his real passion. Ask him about the weather in Arvada. He's been tracking it for twelve years. Chris hopes to hook his Davis Weather Monitor II up to his computer to plot observations. "Right now I'm just doing it by hand." Chris is in his second year of the bachelor's program in meteorology at Metropolitan State College in Denver, but he's finished all of his third-year meteorology classes. "I want to mainly do research into severe weather and tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail--anything that has to do with summertime severe weather."

Chris can trace his career path back to first grade, when his family moved to Boulder from Fullerton, California. "When I got here, I was deathly afraid of thunderstorms. Every time I heard thunder, I was either under the couch, or a table, or my bed. Now, it's turned around, and it's been a passion of mine ever since about second grade, after I overcame that fear."

Off and on, Chris has been chasing a meteorology degree since 1983. He's tried every combination of jobs and school. "There was one time I had to work two jobs, one full time and one part time, and try to go to school. That didn't work. And then one time I was working just one job, and trying to go to school full time. That didn't work either."

Chris started with UCAR in September 1996, working in Food Services and taking advantage of the education assistance program. Since coming to UCAR, he's earned a straight-A average. "It helps when you've got the backing of your supervisors," says Chris. "I think the combination of the atmosphere here, people actually seeming like they're concerned about [my education], my wife making sure I've got time at home to study--that combined has made a total difference. I've got something to look forward to now."

It's hard to steer Chris away from the subject of weather. He made his own weather predictions this year, but he cautions, "I haven't got the tools to make highly accurate predictions. It's just from my observations of the last few El Niños." His first prediction was the date of the first snowfall in Arvada: between 10 and 20 October. The actual date? 12 October. His second prediction was the total snowfall: between 80 and 85 inches. The final total was 88 inches.

Marla Meehl: "I've always liked organizing"

Marla Meehl deals in megabytes. As manager of the Network Engineering and Technology Section (NETS) of SCD, she's in charge of the UCAR computer network. "We install networks and maintain the hardware in the communication closets, to make sure everyone can log onto their computers and read their e-mail."

Marla Meehl

Marla's résumé depicts a deceptively straight shot from database programmer at StorageTek to manager of NETS. But to hear Marla tell it, none of it was planned.

Her job at StorageTek started out as a "summer-internship thing" and evolved into a full-time job while pursuing an undergraduate business degree at CU-Boulder. "It provided an interesting juxtaposition of this goofball freshman dorm life and going to this professional [workplace]." At StorageTek, she notes, "I had to dress nice."

After she left StorageTek, her mom heard about a job at NCAR as a student assistant programmer. "I said, 'Nah, I'm not really looking for a job.' " But Marla applied anyway: "I always thought that the only reason that I got the job was that I was so relaxed."

Marla found out, however, that being "stuck in a room, coding" didn't appeal to her. "Some people really like that, and I didn't ever anticipate that I would not." A CU course on the Federal Communications Commission caused her to switch her focus to telecommunications. Marla received her bachelor's in business information sciences from CU in 1985, while also working as a programmer for CU atmospheric scientist Bob Grossman.

In 1986 Marla applied for a job in SCD's Data Communications group. She had just started a master's program in telecommunications and didn't think she was qualified yet for the job. "I knew I wanted to finish my degree, I knew I was going to take a long trip in the Pacific, I had this list of things to do. . . . And they said, 'Okay'."

Marla's biggest challenge during the last two years was running a satellite-linked computer project called CO-OP3D. "They were running a model of Lake Erie at the Ohio Supercomputing Center, and we were running a mesoscale model here, feeding the boundary conditions back and forth." The model output was visualized in real time, with video conferencing between both sites. "It was a fun, difficult problem."

Marla's straight path has taken her full circle. "I have a business background, and I've always liked organizing and managing. I've ended up nicely in a technical management position, which is something I really like doing."

In summary . . .

NCAR's reputation as a research institution means that it will always attract people who like diversity, exploration, and change. The next time you pass a coworker in the hall, try to imagine where they came from, what jobs they've had, what they hope to accomplish. And then ask them. You may be surprised at the answers. •Chris Torrence, ASP


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