UCAR > Communications > UCAR at 40 Search

Spreading the Word
  • Spreading the Word: timeline
  • In their own words: Denise Stephenson-Hawk
  • UCAR at 40
    Who We Are
    Introduction
    One Planet, One Atmosphere
    Between Sun and Earth
    Measuring and Modeling
    When Weather Matters Most
    •Spreading the Word
    Knowledge for All
    Looking toward the Future
    UCAR at a Glance
    List of acronyms


    In 1973, NCAR's Advanced Study Program brought six college seniors from five predominately black colleges in Atlanta to Boulder to work alongside NCAR scientists. One of these visitors was Judith Stokes, who examined data on pressure waves with Roland Madden.

    Education and outreach have been part of UCAR and NCAR since their creation. UCAR grew out of the 14-member University Committee for Atmospheric Research. Formed in 1958, it consisted of heads of doctorate-granting departments of meteorology across the nation. Even as they were refining their ideas for a national center, the committee proceeded to launch a program of ten graduate fellowships funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation during 1959–60 for students "in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and other physical sciences who wish to apply their earlier training to the physical problems of the atmosphere."

    As NCAR grew, it fostered an intellectual richness that not only ensured the quality and relevance of NCAR's facilities but also provided the broad intellectual connections to the university community that are essential for a balanced national center. NCAR's founders consciously based the lab's scientific diversity on the university model. Today, the presence of many kinds of researchers at UCAR provides a chance for students to try new approaches while completing their do0ctorates or launching their research careers. Insights and skills flow back to the community, as visiting fellows move on to an expanding array of universities and laboratories.

    Kids of all ages are captivated by NCAR's interactive lightning exhibit.

    NCAR's well-established graduate and postdoctoral fellowships have been joined since the 1980s by an array of other education efforts. NCAR developed creative ways to bring science to middle-school students. UCAR took on an integral role in training the nation's weather forecasters. And members of the news media called on NCAR scientists to help explain pressing environmental issues to the public.

    Between grad school and career

    More than 350 atmospheric scientists have followed up their Ph.D.s by spending one or two years at NCAR as part of the Advanced Study Program (ASP). The appointments are competitive—only about one in ten applicants is chosen—and very few strings are attached. Postdocs can work with scientists from across NCAR's specialties. They may draw on computing and observing equipment as available and pick virtually any topic they feel able to tackle in 24 months.

    Alumni of the program can be found throughout academia. They include such community leaders as Eric Barron (Pennsylvania State University), Leo Donner (Princeton University), and Sharon Nicholson (Florida State University). Since 1977, ASP has also hosted a smaller number of graduate students for one-year appointments. These have included National Medal of Science winner Susan Solomon (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA) and MacArthur fellowship winner Diana Liverman (University of Arizona).

    Other postdoctoral programs serve more specific research interests. NCAR's High Altitude Observatory has long sponsored two-year fellowships for new or established Ph.D. scientists interested in physics and astrophysics related to the Sun. Since 1985, UOP has managed an increasing number of postdoctoral and visiting-scientist programs sponsored by various agencies. Through UOP, freshly minted scientists have studied global change at NOAA, seasonal and multiyear climate prediction at the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, and new day-to-day forecast techniques at the National Weather Service, among other areas of interest.

    Diversifying a discipline

    A small field to begin with, atmospheric research has struggled to make its work force reflect society at large. All of UCAR's founders were male. The percentage of female researchers remains low, and only a small number of African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanic/Latino Americans hold doctoral degrees in atmospheric science.

    (Photo © Carlye Calvin)

    Several NCAR divisions carried out short-term efforts in the 1970s to increase ethnic diversity. The first institution-wide push came in 1980 with a program that brought promising undergraduates to the center's Boulder facilities for a summer of research experience. Through the early 1990s, this program exposed over 100 young women and students of color to atmospheric science. However, without ongoing encouragement and support, few were continuing through graduate school. If the ranks of researchers and professors were to become less overwhelmingly white and male, more work was needed.

    With the encouragement of NSF director Neal Lane, a team led by Richard Anthes and Edna Comedy (UCAR) and Jewel Prendeville and Richard Greenfield (NSF) responded with an idea that was at once innovative and a natural extension of UCAR and NCAR strengths. A select group of undergraduates would be nurtured for up to four years each, well into graduate school, with the pool refreshed each year. These protégés would spend their summers at NCAR and work with a group of mentors who would provide research guidance, skills in science communications, and help in adjusting to the scientific and social community in which the protégés were immersed. Launched in 1996 and directed by Thomas Windham, the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program and its 51 protégés to date already have an enviable track record. Virtually all who have completed their bachelor's degrees have entered or completed graduate school; many have published their research findings or presented them at conferences. While carrying out their work, some have addressed the research culture itself—melding traditional science precepts with American Indian traditions, for example.

    Short stays and new ways to learn

    Many UCAR and NCAR visitors stay for only a few days or weeks. Colloquia and workshops are a summer tradition, allowing many hundreds of scientists from around the world to share notes, explore ideas, and hone skills. Throughout the year, on-site clinics are provided to help researchers use tools such as NCAR's community models and its computing resources.

    Emmanuel Kploguede, from Benin, is one of four African meteorologists who spent over nine months at UCAR building a CD-ROM on using satellite data to improve weather forecasts across Africa's tropics. (Photo © Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado)

    University teaching comes alive with the access to day-to-day weather data, from satellite images to computer forecasts, enabled by Unidata. Founded in 1983 and led since then by David Fulker, the program was one of UCAR's first major efforts beyond NCAR to serve the university community. Over 160 academic departments are now part of an powerful network in which each partner can provide or request up-to-the-minute data, delivered by automated subscription. Unidata also provides software and support for data analysis and serves as a voice for the universities' data needs.

    In 1990, UCAR extended its education programs to a new target group: forecasters in the National Weather Service. William Bonner, former head of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, launched the Cooperative Program for Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET). Hundreds of NWS employees, many of them liaisons between academia and operational meteorology, have spent one to three weeks at NCAR's Foothills Laboratory for hands-on training in the latest technology and research. Now led by Timothy Spangler, the COMET program employs a unique team of in-house meteorologists, instructional designers, and graphic artists, along with guest instructors from NCAR, NOAA, and other agencies and universities. Teleconferencing allows the dialogue to extend across the nation; many materials are also available on the Internet. Forecasters have cited their UCAR training as one ingredient behind success in warning the public of such threats as the deadly tornadoes that struck central Florida in February 1998.

    NCAR workshops and training classes, like this course on synoptic meteorology in 1988, bring hundreds of visitors to Boulder each year.

    The 1990s saw NCAR take on yet another role: helping teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) use the atmosphere to teach science in engaging, relevant ways. Through LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR), 40 middle school teachers from four states spent three weeks in Boulder over each of three consecutive summers. Led by Carol McLaren, Joyce Gellhorn, and the late Patrick Kennedy, LEARN involved over 60 NCAR, UOP, and university scientists and created hands-on experiments. Back home, each teacher trained dozens of colleagues, helping ensure that the ideas would reach many thousands of students. A similar follow-up project trained additional lead teachers and brought NCAR experts such as Margaret LeMone and Charles Knight to school districts in rural Colorado.

    The Internet has paved wholly new paths for UCAR's education initiatives. Teachers can download a mathematics curriculum for middle schoolers, created by a UCAR-based team led by Beverly Lynds, that uses real-time weather data to teach statistics, graphing, and other skills. In 1999, UOP teamed with several institutions and consortia to begin work on a major digital library for Earth system education. Coordinated by Mary Marlino, the project will collect, enhance, and distribute materials that facilitate learning about the Earth system at all educational levels.

    Taking it to the public

    From a five-year-old tornado buff to middle-school science teachers, NCAR's formal and informal education programs touch thousands of lives.

    NCAR's founding director, Walter Orr Roberts, emphasized that science must serve society. Even as the threat of global change looms, Earth's growing population is occupying places that are ever more tenuous: hillsides prone to flood, coastlines vulnerable to hurricanes, cities choked with smog. As weather and climate issues have crowded the front page and grabbed public attention, NCAR scientists have appeared regularly in the national and international media, explaining the nuances of climate change and other newsworthy phenomena.

    UCAR also works to keep the public's representatives informed. In concert with key legislative staff, UCAR sponsors briefings on Capitol Hill and provides concise reports that detail timely weather and climate topics and the science behind them. As a voice for the research community, UCAR also makes efforts to keep universities apprised of legislative developments pertaining to their research.

    Though they were built with university faculty and students in mind, NCAR's Boulder laboratories have evolved into an informal education experience for people of all ages. Interactive exhibits, the architecture of I. M. Pei, and the natural surroundings of the Mesa Lab draw some 70,000 visitors each year. During a visit, one can marvel at a miniature tornado, create a microburst, explore chaos, and view NCAR's supercomputers. The history of UCAR and NCAR to date is spotlighted in a major new exhibit, part of a program of 40th-anniversary outreach activities that includes Web sites and special public events. Behind the building is the nation's first weather trail. A dozen wheelchair- accessible points explain atmospheric features visible from the NCAR mesa, ranging from the "brown cloud" of the Denver area to snowfall on the nearby peaks.


    UCAR at 40
    Who We Are
    Introduction
    One Planet, One Atmosphere
    Between Sun and Earth
    Measuring and Modeling
    When Weather Matters Most
    •Spreading the Word
    Knowledge for All
    Looking toward the Future
    UCAR at a Glance
    List of acronyms


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    Executive editor Lucy Warner, lwarner@ucar.edu
    Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
    Last revised: Fri Jan 26 17:18:32 MST 2001