Joe Phillips (’09) makes an impact at the South Pole

I always wanted to travel and to experience nature outside of my native state of North Carolina.  So when I graduated from UNCA in 2009, my goal was to get a job outside of North Carolina, in some place new and preferably, with a lot of travel.  Like most recent college graduates, I applied for hundreds of jobs in the months following graduation and wasn’t having any luck thanks to my limited real world experience and the economy was still suffering from the recent recession.

As the economy got worse and the outlook for recent college graduates went downhill, I started to revisit a conversation I had at UNCA’s Atmospheric Science Department’s 30th Year Anniversary Symposium.  This conversation was about the NOAA CorpIMG_2580s and since I had never heard of this service and thought it to be too good to be true, I sort of brushed off the conversation at the time.  I gave it some more thought and since I had nothing to lose just by applying, I sent in my application.  Since the NOAA Corps offered a lot of travel, great health insurance, and diverse assignments, when they offered me one of the officer candidate spots in Basic Officer Training Class 116, I gladly accepted.

The NOAA Corps are a highly trained, deployable group of commissioned officers that manage and operate NOAA’s research platforms and collect science data vital to the success and protection of the United States’ domestic and international commercial and environmental interests.  We also hold high level leadership positions throughout NOAA.  Since joining the NOAA Corps, the United States’ 7th and smallest uniformed service, I’ve traveled more than I could have hoped for, held responsibilities I couldn’t dream of just a few months out of college, and assisted and lead science data collection operations in extremely remote, beautiful places around the world.

My assignments have also been very diverse and exciting.  My first assignment was to complete a variety of maritime trainings at the US Merchant Marine Academy that specialize in navigation, operations and safety while at sea.  Those days were spent enjoying the New York City skyline, driving small boats around Manhattan and applying the class work in operational situations.  Following thDSC_1155is training, NOAA gave me shipboard assignments that not only applied my nautical training and helped me grow professionally, but these positions also assisted in the deployment and recovery of many Tropical Atmosphere and Oceanic buoys along the equator that monitor the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycles and hydrographic survey operations along the Virginia, Oregon, Washington and Alaskan coastlines.  I was also tasked to lead oil, boom and marine mammal helicopter flights in the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill response.

My current assignment tends to raise eye brows and seems unbelievable to most.  I’m currently NOAA’s Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) Station Chief at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in South Pole, Antarctica.  As the station chief, I help to maintain the facility and a suite of instruments that sample the atmosphere.  ARO sits up against what’s called the “Clean Air Sector” and since air here is free from direct human contact thanks to its protection under the Antarctic Treaty, the data collected is used to determine Earth’s background atmosphere.  A change in this background atmosphere can represent a global change and given what is known about the different climate forcings in the atmosphere, anthropogenic changes.  The instruments at ARO measure aerosols, greenhouse gases such as CO2, solar radiation, halocarbons and trace species and current levels of ozone, including the ozone hole.  We also collect a variety of air samples that are analyzed in the NOAA Boulder labs and at Scripps Research Institute.

The experiences and education I received at UNCA was a building block to where I am now and the internships and various volunteer opportunities offered by the atmospheric science department paved the way for the commission that has given me so many great experiences.  While I was a student, I was active in the atmospheric science department; I volunteered and participated in the student chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), AMS outreach, the department’s forecast line, and every forecasting competition I could.  I spent my summers interning or doing research where I could and worked part or full time continuously.  My advice to everyone still in school is to keep your grades up and take advantage of every educational and social opportunity you can.  Internships, research positions and extra circular activities help you stand out in the job hunt, make you better-rounded, and help you get a job that makes you happy.  And of course, have fun!

Lauren Gunter (’12) Prepares East Carolina University Community

I graduated from the Atmospheric Sciences and Mathematics Departments in December 2012.  I had been interested in weather since we learned about the water cycle in second grade; I knew through middle and high school that I would someday be a meteorologist.  I decided to pursue that dream when I graduationapplied to UNC Asheville and later declared my major in atmospheric sciences.

Freshman year, I was enrolled in the Liberal Studies Introductory Colloquium titled “Weather & Society” taught by Dr. Christopher Godfrey.  At the time, this course opened my eyes to the world of emergency management and other opportunities for atmospheric scientists.  In my pursuit of a meteorology degree, I became passionate with the impacts of weather and disasters, more than the actual science of weather or natural disasters.  I can now say that Dr. Godfrey’s class was the ignition of my passion; that freshman course has profoundly changed my career, future aspirations, and consequently, my life.

This newfound passion directed me towards 4 wonderful internships that I pursued over a 2 year period with the state and local governments.  The leadership and guidance I received from the many emergency managers I encountered during that time has contributed to my change in career path.  After graduation, I applied for a variety of jobs, including: emergency management coordinator, natural hazards planner, continuity planner, statistician, hydrologic technician, among many others.

I accepted a position at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, in June 2013.  I was hired as the Emergency and Continuity Planner within the Office of Environmental Health and SafeECU logo2ty.  Here, I have many responsibilities, including: emergency notification, hazardous materials response, business continuity planning, crisis communication, emergency operations planning, as well as disaster planning and preparedness.  I still utilize my meteorology degree, almost every day, in making decisions for the safety of our students, employees, patients, and visitors.

Within the world of emergency management, I have learned more about my majors (especially atmospheric sciences) and the connection between the disciplines.  Meteorology impacts everyone’s lives; weather may impact how you dress, what vehicle you drive, outdoor events, and even your mood.  My position looks at the impacts of weather on people and a society, and determines ways to mitigate the effects, prepare for the disruption, respond to a disaster, and recover from crises.

While I get to utilize my atmospheric sciences degree, emergency management deals with other types of hazards, including man-made and technological disasters.  This is where my liberal arts degree comes into the picture.  While I sometimes grumbled about going to the humanities and general education courses, these disciplines taught me patience, humility, compassion, and creative/critical thinking.  Those attributes have proven to given me the peace of mind and confidence I need to make decisions that may affect thousands of lives on campus.

I would have never imagined 6 years ago, when I graduated high school, that I would be where I am today.  It is with hard work, dedication, and guidance that I was able to make it this far.  At this time I would like to present you with a few things that I learned during this experience:

  • Talk with your advisor on a regular basis, not just when you need to register for classes.  This person is knowledgeable and has many contacts that can help you find the right hazmatgraduate school or job.  Don’t like your advisor?  Choose someone else within the department as your advisor, or consult with someone at the career center.
  • Join student organizations and honor societies on campus, especially those related to your major.  Not only do these look great on your resume, but they can be a ton of fun and you could meet your lifetime best friend.  Make sure you go to the special events and activities.  Take advantage of the freebies!
  • Start building your resume your freshman year, and edit it after each semester.  If you do not have a job, you should be listing extracurricular activities and related course work.  Visit the career center; those folks are amazing at fixing resumes and assisting with letters of intent.
  • Get a job, internship, or complete an undergraduate research project that interests you.  Whether it’s working for Campus Recreation, interning with a local company downtown, or doing research out in the field (or in the mountains rather), getting that hands-on experience will give you invaluable intel to your future wanderings.
  • Step out of your comfort zone!  Go to a conference within your discipline, and present your research poster or talk with other undergraduate/graduate students who are presenting their posters.  I cannot say this enough: network, network, network!  Through networking you will meet new friends, find your future employer, or interest you in a new career path.
  • Go exploring Asheville and the surrounding area.  Walk downtown and enjoy the music, art, and restaurants.  Go drive the Blue Ridge Parkway on a beautiful fall afternoon.  Take your friends and go camping (Campus Recreation rents out the equipment!).  Rent a bike and ride around the city.  Asheville is a beautiful place, so make beautiful memories!

Good luck in your future endeavors, bulldogs!

Sandy LaCorte’s (’08) Path to National Weather Service

Hello! My name is Sandy LaCorte and I graduated from UNC Asheville in 2008, where I earned a B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences and a minor in Mathematics. One interesting thing about my choice of major is that I was not always interested in meteorology. In fact, growing up I was diagnosed with astraphobia, which is the fear of thunder and lightning. It was through the process of learning howthe atmosphere worked that I was able to overcome my fears and in highschool I realized that my fear had become my passion.

I have always been a person who enjoyed being a part of many things. So while I was focused on opportunities within my major, including being an active member and officer of the American Meteorological Society Student Chapter, a weather forecast team member for the University Weather Information Line and The Blue Banner, I was also involved in other various activities. I was a SUMMIT freshman orientation leader and University Ambassador, a member of the campus Habitat for Humanity organization, and a Senior Class Board member, just to name a few. My experience at UNC Asheville was one that I will never forget, and one that I truly believe helped pave the road to where I am today.Image

What are you doing today?

Today, you can find me in Wilmington, NC where I am a Meteorologist at the National Weather Service (NWS). My daily responsibilities include ensuring the quality control of incoming and outgoing climate and river data, issuing a variety of forecasts, including aviation and rip currents, answering public phone calls, assisting with local and national media interviews, and taking part in community outreach. One of the great things about being a NWS meteorologist is that you have a lot of opportunities, so in addition to my daily tasks, I’m the chief editor of our office newsletter and a team member for various office programs, including rip currents and severe weather operations. I’m also currently working on a tornado climatology research project for the Carolinas and am collaborating with numerous co-workers and agencies throughout the region on a Hurricane Hazel 60th Anniversary project.

Can you tell us about your first job search?

My first job search situation was quite unique, in that I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity that not many students have. As a graduate student at the University of Alabama – Huntsville, I applied for and was accepted into the NOAA SCEP (Student Career Experience Program). This program allowed me to work at the National Weather Service in Huntsville, AL (co-located with the university) while I completed my graduate work. After finishing graduate school with a M.S. in Atmospheric Science in February 2011, it was only a few months later in April when I began working full-time at the NWS Wilmington, NC office. The SCEP program allowed me to gain the necessary experience that would help to open doors very quickly for the next step in my career.

What experiences have best prepared you for your current professional role? 

Throughout my time at UNC Asheville, there were many occasions outside of my education classes in which I learned something that prepared me for where I am now. From networking at conferences to being a part of extracurricular activities, I also was fortunate to participate in an internship during the summer of 2007 at the National Weather Service in Greenville-Spartanburg, SC. What an awesome experience! I had the chance to work on weather projects, shadow staff members, work during severe weather events, and overall learn what it was like to work in the field. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was the career route I wanted to take. During the late Springs of both my junior and senior years I also had the opportunity to be a part of storm chasing trips in collaboration with Virginia Tech – an opportunity in which other classmates had participated in years past. I may have seen just over a dozen tornadoes in these chase trips, but the most amazing aspect was the ability to see with my own eyes the evolution of supercell thunderstorms, just as we learned in the classroom. In graduate school, I was a part of a field experiment project, VORTEX II, which allowed me to collaborate with classmates and other universities with weather instrumentation to study tornadogenesis.

What is next for you?

As a meteorologist in the National Weather Service, there are different levels within the agency, each with its own different responsibilities. At this time, I’m in the process of applying for the next level, which is exciting. Overall, the learning and education continues. There isn’t one day that goes by that I do not learn something new and it’s not only fun but amazing.

What do you know now that you wish you knew as a student?

As a student, no matter the age, I think it’s common to always compare yourself to your peers, especially academically, which can at times be discouraging to anyone. Something that I learned through college is that everyone is going to both learn and academically perform differently. But that doesn’t matter. Your time in college is your time. You are laying the foundation for your future and no one else’s. No one can take that away from you!
If you’re passionate about a certain subject or career path, you have to find that inner strength. When you’re able to do that, your success will prevail above all. No one said college was easy, though often it seems easy for some of your peers. Again, that doesn’t matter. Hard work truly does pay off in the end.

What advice do you have for job-seeking students who are pursuing your degree?

One main piece of advice I like to share with students interested in Atmospheric Science/Meteorology that I’ve found to be important in my journey thus far is this: Network, network, network. If you have the opportunity to go to a conference, bring business cards – it’s ok to have a business card as a student. This is a great way to share your information. I’ll be honest – the first conference I went to was the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, wherImagee meteorologists from all over the world were in attendance. I literally approached people I did not know and started talking with them about their careers and how they came to be where they are now. This not only allowed me to learn about the numerous opportunities in meteorology, but here I am 7 years later, and I am still in contact with some of those same people. Many may not realize how small the meteorological community actually is. Someone you network with could be a future co-worker or boss, or could provide you with information for that one opportunity you’ve been looking for to take that next step in your career. If you are unable to attend a conference, you can still network. If there’s a certain path you’re interested in, whether it be the National Weather Service, the private sector, military, research, teaching, etc – ask your professors if they know anyone in that particular area that you could speak with to learn more about it. Always use your resources. If they do not have the information you need, they will point you in the right direction.

Other pieces of advice would be to go above and beyond. If you are assigned to read a research paper for class, go ahead and read another paper. Take an extra elective class, get involved with a project, find a summer internship, etc. Anything extra that you do just adds that much more to your experience and it’s that sort of passion that will be recognized by future employers.