There are an incredible number of opportunities for Iowa students interested in STEM careers. From advanced manufacturing to computer science, there are so many diverse fields that fall into science, technology, engineering, math and other related fields.
But STEM is more than just the obvious applications and careers we call to mind easily. STEM is all around us in the world. To demonstrate that, we’re highlighting a STEM career that touches the lives of practically every Iowan: meteorology.
Amber Alexander is a meteorologist in Des Moines, Iowa. Each day, she predicts the weather for Central Iowa at WHO-TV and uses STEM skills to help Iowans prepare for their days. Read on to hear about how she started in meteorology and how STEM brought her into the career field.
When did you first realize you were interested in meteorology or climatology?
I was 11 years old when I decided I wanted to be a meteorologist. I remember studying meteorology in the sixth grade and thinking about how cool it would be to know the weather on a daily basis. I went home and watched the local broadcast meteorologist that night and decided then that I would pursue that as a career.
How did your STEM education in elementary and high school influence your decision to pursue a career in meteorology?
I remember really being excited about mathematics in third grade. I enjoyed learning multiplication and division and competing in the times table tests we used to take. I think that likely kick-started my journey to being successful in this field.
Once I discovered meteorology in sixth grade, I explored ways to learn more. I took a course on weather my freshman year of high school, but unfortunately the teacher left before the class started. I was still able to learn a bit more about the field and was still interested in pursuing a career in broadcast meteorology.
What aspects or areas of STEM are most important in your day-to-day work?
On a day-to-day basis I work a lot with scientific maps and graphs, as well as basic mathematical computations. I'm constantly looking at our weather pattern to determine the temperature and precipitation trend for the week ahead and using the model data to make accurate predictions.
There are a lot of different STEM specialties involved in tracking and predicting weather. Were there any areas you were surprised to learn are connected to your field of study and career?
The field of meteorology is connected to every single letter of the STEM acronym. What I was most surprised to learn about is the way meteorologists are using technology and engineering to create new equipment meant to study the atmosphere in a way it's never been studied.
What kind of technology do you use in your day-to-day work activities?
The computer is the only piece of technology we use directly, but we also use data gathered by other sources of technology such as a weather radar, satellite and weather balloon. We rely on that data to forecast and nowcast the weather in order to keep people safe.
What advice do you have for Iowa students interested in meteorology?
If you truly want a career in meteorology, work until you get it. The math and science courses necessary to complete a meteorology degree are tough, but if it's truly your dream, don't quit when you feel discouraged. Consult a professor or assistant for help. They are there to help you.
What kind of activities can Iowa students do to study meteorology in their own backyards?
Sign up for CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network)! This is a good way to get connected with the meteorology community and learn about how good measurements are taken and used. Also attend a storm spotter training session held by the National Weather Service. Meteorologists rely on good storm spotters during severe weather season.