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Meteorology students find a place to call their own

Atmospheric Science Club at University of Miami
Atmospheric Science Club at University of Miami
Joe Kleiman

Walking around the University of Miami, you see buildings dedicated to various majors: a business school, a law school, an engineering building, a math building, various libraries, art buildings and a science building.

But where do the meteorology majors convene? They are using the Richter Library, the University Center, the Communication School lounge, the tiny math library on the fourth floor of the Ungar building, and they are out studying in the elements on the patio in front of the Cox building. Absent of a place, the students continued to search for a home on the Coral Gables campus, leading to the creation of the Atmospheric Science Club, to promote the communication between members of the major and their professors.

Originally a mathematics meteorology dual major back in 1991, the major shifted to meteorology around 2001, according to Dr. Bruce Albrecht, the founding faculty advisor. With small class sizes and few students, it wasn’t until 2001 with the hiring of new faculty that the student body began to grow. By 2003 the meteorology major was gaining momentum with a group of young, energetic new hires at the university, and class sizes grew to match the faculty increase. The program added new courses and redesigned older ones.

A group of energetic and close-knit students formed the Atmospheric Science Club. The effort took hard work, including drafting the charter, recruiting members and getting university support. “The club allowed members an out-of-class experience to really get to know one another,” said Somer Erickson, who is now completing her Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma. “During my junior year, when I began the proceedings with the university approval committee, but the University of Miami Atmospheric Science Club, UMASC when I started it, was not official until the start of my senior year. We officially started the club at the beginning of the fall 2003 semester.”

“Somer and I started the club because we wanted to be able to expose students to all of the career opportunities out there in the field that you might not hear about in school. We had guest speakers and did some tours of local meteorology venues such as NBC 6 and the hurricane center. We also wanted to build relationships among students and provide an outlet to get together and have fun,” stated Ryan Ellis, class of 2008. “Ryan Ellis and Michael Folmer were involved and helpful as they were my ‘go-to’ guys and they did provide insight and aid,” said Ericksonof some of her charter members. The original charter membership of the club was 16 members: 15 were meteorology majors and one was non-meteorology. Today’s club has 29 members: 25 meteorology majors and 4 non-meteorology majors.

Erickson worked with faculty advisor Bruce Albrecht, Meteorology & Physical Oceanography, to develop the “weather geeks” club. The early years were marked by social events and trips to the National Hurricane Center and media tours. The group began to host private industry speakers to open the doors to the television industry and private sector weather jobs for its membership. The club members immediately set about the business of gathering information for each other so that atmospheric science majors, in addition to related majors, could expand their social networks and have a place to advance their knowledge.

Another goal was to help students find internships, career information and networks. “This club really allowed members to explore possible career paths ranging from the governmental sector to varying degrees of atmospheric science applications,” Ellis said. Among the first members was John Cangialosi, hurricane specialist, at the National Hurricane Center, and Ryan Ellis, meteorologist, at Raleigh National Weather Service.

Erickson shares that many of the original members have moved onto graduate schools armed with the information they gained in the club; the founding members also found that the leadership they demonstrated in starting the club helped them with internship and graduate program applications. They were seen as leaders and “go-getters” and not a typical college club member. These ‘Canes demonstrated a wish to further their future profession and not just their own careers and were accepted partially based on their willingness to contribute to the well-being of the field. Their research and class work after graduating from University of Miami have cleared the way for other ‘Canes to be accepted to these exceptional programs.

In 2004 the American Meteorology Society welcomed the UM club as a local student chapter of its international organization in Florida. The University of Miami Student Chapter is one of only 10 university campuses in the state to have a local chapter.

Then president Angie Pendergrass, 20, junior in meteorology, brought the club members into this professional circle through individual memberships in the AMS organization. “I think the best thing we ever did was volunteer at the Red Cross, answering phones after Hurricane Jeanne,” Pendergrass stated. Current club members are also members of the AMS and attend conferences around the United States, including the annual meeting last year in Atlanta and the Broadcasters Convention held this year in Miami Beach. Students have made many professional contacts this year and improved their personal networks.

In January the club will attend the 91st Annual Meetingof the American Meteorological Society, hosted in Seattle. Club member Ken Dixon, 20, a senior in meteorology and math, will be presenting his summer research to the international audience. Dixon stated, “My work focused on comparing the effects of using different sets of initial conditions provided to the Weather Research & Forecasting model for a blizzard that occurred over Oklahoma on December 24, 2009. That event was difficult to forecast as there was a vast spread of the timing and severity of the snowfall suggested by the numerical models.” Dixon joined the Atmo Club his first semester at UM, in the fall of 2007.

Four other club members will be attending the conference through an AMS scholarship program that allows students to work at the conference in exchange for registration fees and rooms. These volunteers will also receive a daily stipend for their meals.

“In the future the club looks to expand a little, but not too much,” said Dr. Sharanya Majumdar, current faculty advisor. “There will be more research interactions with faculty. When do I think the ‘heyday’ of the program was or will be? Now! I'd say our classes started to become bigger and academically stronger from around 2005 on; the research opportunities have already started and more are available,” he continued. The spring semester schedule will contain more interactions and activities with graduate students, Chi Epsilon Phi, Rho Rho Rho and Sustainable U. “There are now more meteorology graduate students on Key Biscayne, and seeing the graduate students and undergrads interact more is a goal of the school and the club,” according to Dr. Majumdar. One of the crossovers between the two groups of students is the WxChallenge, the North American collegiate weather forecasting competition, which is locally managed by the graduate students, with 19 members of Atmo Club participating, according to club secretary Emily Morgan.

“I think that ATMO is a growing club that will be really great this year,” said Stephanie Lauber, 20, a junior meteorology major. “I'd like to show the world that meteorology is about being a weather nerd, not a meteor stalker, or a babe on the morning news and that it’s a real science. We are one of the few existing sciences that have so many questions worth answering. Unless we get to work, we may never answer them all.” She would also like “to make the subject a little less rare, and make the term "meteorologist" just as familiar as "geologists" or "biologist."

Members of the club are now publishing a forecast for called the South Beach Weekend Weather Outlook; some are working with UMTV and NewsVision, writing the forecast and delivering it on air. Members of the club also provided WVUM with the homecoming game day forecast.


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