Weather Camp inspires the next generation of atmospheric scientists

July 31, 2015

If you ask most meteorologists or atmospheric scientists, they will tell you that they spent most of their adolescence fascinated by the weather. These are the kids who are glued to The Weather Channel or get inspired while visiting their local forecast office for Career Day. Did you know that there is a growing network of Weather Camps around the country which provide unique and exciting opportunities for these weather interested students?

University of Texas at El Paso Weather Camp 2014 at the Tramway

The NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS), one of four NOAA Educational Partnership Program Cooperative Science Centers, will host five Channeling Atmospheric Research into Educational Experiences Reaching Students (CAREERS) Weather Camps this summer in four locations. These weather camps include a high school residential camp, and a new middle school commuter camp at Jackson State University; a bilingual, residential high school camp at University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez; an Upward Bound commuter camp at the University of Texas at El Paso; and a two-week residential high school camp at Howard University, in Washington, DC.

Each camp has a slightly different focus as they take advantage of local resources and locally relevant science topics. The camps are free of charge and provide housing and meals for the students. CAREERS Weather Camp was developed to encourage students, particularly from underrepresented minority communities, to consider college majors and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). More than 300 students have been trained in atmospheric sciences at NCAS Weather Camps since the beginning of the program.

Jackson State University- This year, Jackson State University (JSU) hosted a week-long, residential weather camp and a new middle school commuter camp. Both camps target students interested in weather-related topics and impacts on daily life. The majority of activities are conducted in the lab facilities on campus. Weather campers also have the opportunity to conduct field work in meteorology, for example, past weather campers at JSU have gone out to survey sites affected by tornado damage.

Jackson State University Weather Camp 2013
Jackson State University Weather Camp 2013 (Jackson State University)

University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez- Weather camp began at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) in 2005, and last year 17 high school students explored topics such as tropical weather and climate, atmosphere and ocean connections, the impact of climate change on the Caribbean region and atmospheric science research through seminars, workshops, interactive activities, and field trips. The bilingual camp is organized by the UPRM Department of Marine Sciences.

University of Puerto Rico Weather Camp 2013
University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez Weather Camp 2013 (UPRM)

Last year, campers took a day trip to a tropical marine ecosystem to learn about oceanography and also participated in a marine robotics workshop. In the past, students have helped deploy oceanographic instruments and visited NOAA data buoys. Weather campers also visit the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in San Juan, PR. Also, hurricane forecasters with NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami, FL, have given special presentations to students in Puerto Rico via teleconference, as well as on site. In a region in which tropical weather and ocean conditions can impact day to day life, UPRM’s weather camp inspires students to pursue oceanography and atmospheric sciences. In fact, in 2014, a weather camp alumna and Educational Partnership Program Undergraduate Scholar, Ana Patricia Torres, graduated with her BS in Theoretical Physics from UPRM.

University of Texas at El Paso- CAREERS Weather Camp at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) partners with Upward Bound, a program which prepares students for college, to provide in-depth learning experiences in weather, climate, and air quality for high school students. Last year, weather campers learned about NOAA’s HYSPLIT model, which is used to study atmospheric dispersion. In 2013, campers visited the local KFOX weather studio. Students have also visited a local paleontologist study site and the Tramway to obtain a vertical profile of the atmosphere in the city of El Paso. This year, Howard University and University of Texas El Paso weather campers participated in a webinar together on extreme weather with meteorologists from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Shreveport, LA.

University of Texas at El Paso Weather Camp Weather Camp 2013 visiting the local KFOX weather studio.
University of Texas at El Paso Weather Camp Weather Camp 2013 visiting the local KFOX weather studio. (UTEP)

Howard University- Weather Campers at Howard University (HU) are able to take advantage of the strong NOAA presence in the Washington, DC, area, as well as visit NOAA partners such as NOBLIS and the Smithsonian Institution. This year, students will also visit the NOAA National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the University of Maryland’s Earth Systems Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), which is associated with NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). The students will learn about the research conducted at NCEP and UMD and participate in a weather briefing. They will also visit the science-focused nonprofit NOBLIS, which is headquartered in Falls Church, VA. At NOBLIS, atmospheric scientists and professionals from the NOAA National Weather Service and NOAA NESDIS will give presentations on a variety of atmospheric science topics, including space weather, climate, air quality, and aviation.

Weather campers at HU get a chance to conduct their own hands-on scientific research through a capstone project. At the end of the two weeks, the students present the results of their projects. This summer marks the 13th year of weather camp at Howard University. Kayla Hawkins, one of the chaperones, is a CAREERS alumna, who is now an undergraduate student studying biology at Howard University. In addition to local students from the DC metropolitan area, more than half of the 12 Howard University weather campers are traveling from across the country, including Florida, California, and as far as Puerto Rico.

NCAS CAREERS Weather Camps allow students to be immersed in the atmospheric sciences, from learning about how weather is observed and predicted, to interacting with scientists and professionals. Additionally, the camps aim to prepare students for the college experience through team-based projects and exposure to the university laboratory setting. The program has been successful in inspiring students to pursue STEM degrees, and several weather campers have matriculated to Howard University or one of the NCAS partner institutions. As the Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who are trained and graduate with degrees in NOAA mission fields, the NCAS weather camps play a critical role in inspiring and developing the next generation of scientists.

Contributors: Kadidia Thiero (NCAS); Rosa Fitzgerald, PhD (NCAS; UTEP); Kristen Jabanoski (NOAA)