Every other month, Staff Notes Monthly spotlights a stochastically chosen staff member. This month we profile Michael Eschenberg, a graduate research assistant with the Geophysical Statistics Project (GSP), based in CGD.
Amy and Michael Eschenberg pause on a hike with sons Zachary (who will be four in January) and Ian (two next June) in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photos courtesy Michael Eschenberg.)
What brought him to NCAR?
Doug Nychka, who heads GSP, went searching for research assistants at Colorado State University, and Michael signed up this past January. He expects to complete his master's in statistics this December.
How do you capture the eye of a hurricane?
Michael works with Kevin Petty in RAP, looking at the structures of the eyes of hurricanes. "We believe the eye goes through cycles--which has been a fun experience to try to determine statistically," he laughs. "The data are collected by aircraft that fly through the hurricane. The problem is you end up getting one-dimensional data on a three-dimensional object. Trying to convert that even to a two-dimensional image of what's going on, trying to see some sort of cross-sectional area, is pretty difficult with the data set. As time passes, you constantly have the changes in the structure of the hurricane. So we've been trying to determine the structure, first of all, from the one-dimensional data points. From there we hope to be able to determine the fluctuations and the stability of the inner core of the hurricane."
What preparation did he have for hurricane research?
Teaching kids to build useable rafts out of 10 plywood strips and 40 square feet of butcher paper. "I taught physics at the high school level for three years in Maryland. I had a blast. It was always exciting to see the students' enthusiasm and their frustrations. . . . They had to calculate the buoyant forces and determine the weight of whoever was going to sit in it to make sure that there was enough extra volume inside the boat that it wouldn't take on water."
The long and winding road:
Michael has been balancing work, school, family, and spiritual commitments for many years. During college he took two years off to work as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in central and eastern Bolivia. "It was great getting to know another culture, another people. It's amazing how much more humble people are there than they are here." He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematical education and Spanish teaching with a minor in physics from Brigham Young University in 1994. His wife, Amy Eschenberg, started Army service and graduate study in physical therapy at Baylor University before Michael completed his B.A, so he finished via correspondence courses in San Antonio and began teaching there. Meanwhile, he picked up odd jobs where his Spanish came in handy, like delivering cars that had been armored and wired with protective devices at a shop in San Antonio to diplomats and government officials in Mexico. When Amy graduated she was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Michael began teaching in a Maryland high school. He switched to part-time teaching to care for son Zachary when he was born; after a year Michael was home full time with Zach and with baby brother Ian when he came along. Once Amy's five-year military tour was up, it was Michael's turn to enter graduate school in 1998, which brought the family to Fort Collins.
How many applications does it take to get into grad school?
"I applied to a number of schools, thinking that I wasn't going to get in because my undergraduate degree was in math education. . . . I was surprised when only 2 of the 11 that I applied to actually said that I wasn't accepted."
How do you race the sun?
Michael grew up in Ventura, California. "I didn't really know seasons until I moved to Utah to go to school." His favorite challenge was to start on the state beach as the sun was setting and ride his bike about five miles to the top of a nearby mountain before the sun was fully set. "Not too many people were up to the challenge of going up the hill. . . . [But] I enjoy the uphill more than I do the downhill." In Maryland Michael led a teenage Boy Scout troop on a 190-mile bike trek along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which parallels the Potomac River. The four-day trip seemed too easy, so he returned several times, including a winter ride through the snow, until he reached his goal of completing the ride from Cumberland to Washington, D.C., in less than 24 hours.
What does a 6'5" statistics major do in his spare time?
"I'm an outdoors guy. Generally my wife and I like to take the kids on an activity each weekend--camping, fishing, bicycling, swimming, hiking." In the winter there's cross-country skiing. Michael played junior varsity basketball as a walk-on at Brigham Young and still plays pickup games whenever he has the time. On Sundays you'll find him working with toddlers in the nursery at the LDS church in Fort Collins.
What's in store after graduation?
"I'm keeping my options open. I've really enjoyed working in research, though I'm quickly coming to find that writing isn't all that fun. But I'm assured by others that it comes easier as time goes on. . . . I wouldn't mind working for some large corporation, doing their statistical analysis, designing experiments and carrying them out. I'm willing to try anything. I've always enjoyed learning, so I look at each aspect as a learning experience." Zhenya Gallon