Outlook is Sunny for Future Meteorologists

TAMPA, Fla. (April 16, 2009) – Known for its extreme weather conditions, Florida is an ideal living laboratory for students interested in meteorology.  Two undergraduate geography students at the University of South Florida took full advantage of the research opportunities at USF and the natural conditions of the Sunshine State to hone their weather knowledge into award-winning discoveries and nationally commended positions.


Alicia Williams won the Dr. Dewey M. Stowers Award for Excellence in Meteorology from the American Meteorological Society (AMS), while classmate Kortnie Pugh was awarded a National Weather Service Student Career Experience Program position.  Williams and Pugh both plan to pursue meteorology careers upon graduation from USF.


Williams received her award at the annual meeting of the West Central Florida AMS in recognition of her work on warm season Southwest Florida tornadoes.  The research was conducted under the supervision of Jennifer Collins, assistant professor of geography at USF, and was presented at the national AMS annual meeting in January.  The award is named in honor of the late Dewey Stowers, professor of geography at USF for 26 years and founder of the USF Weather Lab.  Stowers was highly regarded in the Tampa area weather community and mentored many students in his career.


In addition to her research of local tornadic activity, Williams also studied the meteorological, climatological and topographical aspects surrounding the Interstate-4 pile-up in January 2008 and presented this research at the Association of American Geographers’ South East Division conference.


“It is an honor to receive an award established to commemorate a researcher and professor who made such a profound impact on so many meteorology students,” said Williams.  “I am fortunate to have worked with similarly exceptional mentors including the late Dick Fletcher at WTSP Channel 10, who I job shadowed in high school, and Dr. Jennifer Collins, who is my role model in the USF Department of Geography.”


Pugh’s research and courses taken at USF led to her selection for a position in the National Weather Service Student Career Experience Program (SECP) to begin this summer.  The NWS partners with USF to guide Pugh’s academic and work experiences as she gains a greater understanding of the operational side of meteorology.  In the SCEP, Pugh will assist the hydrologic and hydrometeorological forecasters, learn NWS office programs, policies and procedures and work on specialized projects.  This highly selective program requires at least 640 work hours and stringent academic requirements in the science of meteorology with the NWS, leading to a full-time position within the NWS.


“The teaching, research opportunities and career advice from the geography faculty has been fundamental to my success and accomplishments.  Dr. Jennifer Collins is an amazing mentor and has taught me so much about meteorology,” said Pugh.  “After completing the SCEP program, I hope to have a full-time position with the National Weather Service as a meteorologist and earn a master’s degree in geography.”


While USF does not offer a meteorology degree, USF students can choose to take meteorology classes in the Department of Geography, where they will learn skills that can be applied in directed research projects.  USF meteorology courses use some of the same software as the NWS which assist them in a transition to a professional position in meteorology upon graduation.  Professor Collins’ work with undergraduate students like Williams and Pugh was commended this year as she received the USF Undergraduate Teacher of the Year award in recognition of her hands-on approach to meteorological instruction and research.


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.


Story written by Jacqui Cash, Academic Affairs