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Fall 2012 Newsletter


SOARS in the Digital Age

If there's anything that those familiar with science know, it's that new discoveries necessitate change. SOARS has noticed the changes in communications with our various audiences over the past few years, especially as it relates to electronic communications. Now more than ever, we use media like email, texting, Facebook and QR codes to interact with protégés, funders, applicants and mentors.

Keeping this change in mind, we have determined that the best way for us to continue to reach our diverse audiences is to move our newsletter to an online format. The current issue will be delivered both as a hard copy and electronically. Starting with our winter 2012 newsletter, delivery will be entirely electronic.

An advantage of moving into this new format is that we can now offer a wider variety of articles, while our readers can easily pick and choose those articles which interest them most. In this issue, for example, you can find full transcripts of conversations with protégés about applying to and choosing graduate schools by following the link at the end of the article.

If you would like to change your contact details or know someone who would like to be added to our e-newsletter list, please contact us at



Summer Update

Manny presentingProtégé Manuel Hernandez presenting at the SOARS poster session, 2012

SOARS has wrapped up yet another busy summer, filled, as usual, with a lot of great activities!

As in past years, protégés were asked to participate in some kind of community outreach. This year, we gave them three new options: help out with a visiting group at the Mesa Lab, go through media training or write a post for the Spark blog. Ana Ordonez and Dereka Carroll were even interviewed by the Daily Camera as part of their media training. The protégés really enjoyed being able to try out some of the many different options that are available to scientists to communicate their research. Many of them even participated in all three!

Two of our protégés, Sandra Maina and Frances Roberts-Gregory, learned about participatory action research this summer in the Louisiana Bayou. As part of a partnership with the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology at the University of New Orleans, Sandra and Frances worked with communities on local issues related to climate change.

The summer wrapped up with yet another successful week of presentations. Protégés presented their work at an oral colloquium and a poster session. Both were good preparation for this upcoming conference season, when protégés will present their research at SACNAS, AGU, AMS and other conferences. Check out our Facebook page to see which conferences SOARS will be attending this fall and winter!

Bird's eye view of Hurricane Sandy

Rosimar in the aircraft AOC Senior Flight Director Jack Parrish (left) with Rosimar Rios-Berrios (right) on the NOAA research aircraft, October 27 2012

SOARS alum and State University of New York (Albany) graduate student Rosimar Rios-Berrios did what many of us self-proclaimed weather geeks often wish to do when exciting and potentially dangerous weather is on the way - she went for a closer look. Rosimar joined a team of scientists on a National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration Gulfstream IV research aircraft to fly over Hurricane Sandy at high altitude on October 27, collecting data from the environment around the storm. Wind, temperature and moisture data was processed, submitted to the World Meteorological Organization and National Hurricane Center and incorporated into weather prediction models to improve the accuracy of their forecasts.  Stay tuned for more details in our next e-newsletter!

Do you have a Sandy story? Has other exciting weather come your way? Share your stories with us:

Ngo Tracks Urban Air Pollution on Two Continents

Nicole Ngo SOARS Alum, Nicole Ngo, who has been studying air-pollution in sub-Saharan Africa.

People often credit a mentor or a class for pointing them down their career path.  Nicole Ngo credits a movie. That seems natural for a southern California native, but this movie wasn’t from Hollywood: it was a documentary her dad was watching on TV one day when she was home from college.

“It was about air pollution in China,” says the SOARS alumna. “One of the major sources is coal-fired power plants. Environmentalists don’t like coal burning because it’s so dirty, but the coal industry people see it as part of China’s economic development. It was interesting to hear both sides of the argument.”

Ngo was an economics major at the University of California, Irvine, and had taken one atmospheric science course already. After seeing the movie, she added a second major in earth and environmental studies. She graduated in 2006 and went on to Columbia University with a major in sustainable development.

She continued to focus on air pollution, particulary in cities. “Finding ways to balance economic growth with preserving our environment is a difficult problem,” she says. At Columbia, she answered an email looking for a research assistant working on air pollution and got the position. Then, she says, she got really lucky.

“I was looking at satellite data on pollution in sub-Saharan Africa. Patrick Kinney [a professor at Columbia] had the opportunity to go to Kenya. He asked if I wanted to go, and I jumped at the chance.”

The 2009 project, which tracked particulate emissions in Nairobi, was one of the first studies on urban air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa. “There’s a lot more work on indoor air pollution, which is common in rural areas because of dirty fuels,” Ngo explains. But within the last two decades, the rate of urbanization in Africa has been the highest in the world. Half the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be city dwellers by 2050. In Kenya, the rate is even more staggering, with half of the country’s citizens expected to live in Nairobi alone by 2020.

Road in Nairobi Many roads are still unpaved in Nairobi, suggesting dust is another important contributor to air pollution.

About 90% of urban air pollution in less developed countries comes from motor vehicles.  “That’s why we studied roadway emissions,” Ngo says. In her project, led by Kinney and Michael Gatari (University of Nairobi), technicians carried air samplers in backpacks throughout the city, measuring particles of the size most likely to be emitted by vehicles. Their data indicated that many Nairobians are exposed to enough pollution that their long-term health is likely to be affected.

Ngo’s wrote her master’s thesis on the study. She’s doing her Ph.D. research back home in New York City—a project that correlates the ages and routes of individual city buses with public health records to discover the effects of the changing emissions standards over the years. But her involvement with Africa isn’t over.

“I really wanted to go back,” she says. “I applied for a lot of grants and I got rejected for a lot, but I finally got two grants. I got to go back last August [2011], and again in March.” She started two new studies of air pollution in Nairobi and its health impacts on low-income populations.

From her experience in Nairobi and New York, Ngo has learned that finding and carrying out a research project in a foreign country is likely to be more challenging than doing similar work at home. “There are opportunities, but you have to go look for them. It’s expensive; lab equipment is expensive, and you have to hire research assistants. It’ll take more work.

“But it was worth it for me. This was something I really wanted to do.”



Q&A: Applying to Grad School

A panel of SOARS protégés answer questions about applying to graduate school.



Name:  Annareli Morales
Grad school:  Colorado State University
Major:  Atmospheric Science
Advisor:  Sonia Kreidenweis
Undergraduate school:  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Major:  Atmospheric Science and Geology
Number of schools applied to:  5


Name: Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt
Grad school: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Major: Atmospheric Science
Advisor:  Dr. Kerry Emanuel
Undergraduate school: University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez
Major: Theoretical Physics
Number of schools applied to: 5

Name: Curtis Walker
Grad school: University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Major: Atmospheric Science
Advisor: Dr. Mark Anderson
Undergraduate school: State University of New York College at Oneonta
Major: Meteorology
Number of schools applied to: 6



I’ve always enjoyed going to school, so I thought, why not keep going! I also knew that if I left with just a Bachelor’s I would not know where to get a job or what exactly I would do. Grad school will help me figure out the path I want to take, either get a job and end at a Master’s or continue to a Ph.D. and be a professor. - Annareli Morales

I tried to set up a career goal first. Talking to my mentors and SOARS staff about my interests over the summer helped me define that goal, which is to become a researcher in tropical meteorology. Although I had always wanted to further my education in atmospheric science, at that point graduate school became the logical avenue to pursue my career goal.  – Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

My research experiences as both a part of the SOARS Program and at my institution encouraged my decision to apply for graduate school. I had previously conducted a failed Broadcast Meteorology Internship and realized that this was a tough business and I did not wish to be the “typical weatherman” on TV, contrary to the beliefs of my friends and family. I had considered a forecasting position with the NWS, though I was less than enthused upon learning of the intricacies of shift work. It was my summers in Boulder, CO, as part of the SOARS Program that I not only realized I had an affinity for research, but also my mentors were able to conduct outstanding work and still have time for their personal lives. In a sense, my ambition to someday join the NCAR community permanently is the primary driving force to obtain a higher degree. - Curtis Walker

Expect to wait. I had to wait weeks for a response; some were quicker. If I didn’t get a response, I was persistent and sent them a follow up email. Most of the professors I emailed were nice and either gave me some time through a phone conversation or sent me to someone else who would have more information.  –Annareli Morales

Most of the professors will reply letting you know about their funding situation, and whether or not they are planning to take on new students. However, it may be difficult to get ahold of some professors via e-mail. In that case, I would suggest trying to connect with them by phone or in person if possible.  That way you avoid wasting time and money on an application if there are no opportunities within the group you would like to join. - Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

What you receive is truly what you put into it. When contacting prospective advisors, be sure to utilize proper “netiquette” (email etiquette). Also, be sure to mention who you are, why you are contacting them, and what are your specific reasons for your interest in the program overall and working with him/her. I often began my emails with a brief statement about my research experiences and goals. Then I followed that with a statement that I had seen some of their past work (great brownie points!). The final component was a request to discuss the opportunities at their institution in more detail and the possibility of collaborating on research. Ideally, he/she will respond to you in a timely fashion and will offer additional information or suggest further discussion either over the phone or in-person. Unfortunately, sometimes even after your email exchanges the individual you feel may be a good fit for you may not reciprocate those sentiments. Hopefully, he/she thanks you for your interest in the program but may state this incompatibility. In some instances, he/she may suggest a colleague of theirs whom you might be interested in further correspondence. - Curtis Walker

First I started with what topic I’d want to work with. Then, I asked my professors to give me a clue of where the people doing the research I want to do are located. I focused more on the research professor I’d be working with than the school. The schools were all great, but I wanted to make sure the professor was doing research I was interested in. I looked at the website, emailed the professor or head of the department, and set up phone conversations to get more information on future research opportunities. - Annareli Morales

Many schools set up exhibit booths at national conferences to promote their programs and recruit students. I learned that those are excellent opportunities to talk to professors, graduate students, or staff from different schools, ask questions, and find out what each program has to offer. - Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

I sent several emails out to the faculty within the program as well as to the programs’ directors. I asked almost every question under the sun and sought clarification when necessary. Furthermore, I conducted phone interviews with some faculty and potential advisors to get a better sense of things and a more personal interaction than that offered by an email. The best way to find out what each program had to offer though was to visit all of them (or at least the most interesting) in person. – Curtis Walker

I guess if you mean literal question when applying I would say the personal essay portion of the application was the toughest part. It seems easy to speak about yourself, but you just want it to be perfect that it takes forever! If you mean personally, the toughest question was what exactly do I want to research. For most people, this is a problem. If you don’t know what you want to research (which is okay), it can be hard to focus on a specific professor you want to work with.   – Annareli Morales

Overall, the questions were not difficult, but the answering process was often tedious and time-consuming. I did not send exactly the same statement of purpose to every school, so writing and editing my essays was the toughest part for me. - Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

Personally, the toughest question was how many graduate programs I should apply to. I originally intended to apply for five, though my SOARS mentor actually recommended a 6th option that I could not pass up. - Curtis Walker

Attend SOARS! Get research experience, definitely. If you can’t get into an internship, then at least ask around your department to see if there are any opportunities for research as an undergrad. Take initiative and look for these opportunities. I also took a GRE class to help me get better scores on the exam. Some schools won’t look at your application unless your GRE scores are higher than a certain value. I also made sure to have good relationships with my professors and mentors so that I could ask them for recommendation letters. A letter will sound better and be easier to write if the professor knows your personally and understands your work ethic and what your goals are. - Annreli Morales

I looked for opportunities to meet prospective advisors in person. I planned early on to attend a national meeting within my area of interest, since I knew prospective advisors would probably be there too. At the meeting, I reached for opportunities to introduce myself, and the professors and I often ended up chatting about my summer research. In the end, the offers I received were from professors who had met me and had learned about my research experience. One of them even told me explicitly that meeting me at that conference was one of the defining factors for him to make me an offer.   – Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

Networking and proper follow-up are fundamental to increasing your chances of being accepted. I had the opportunity to go to professional conferences (as part of SOARS) and along the way I made it a point to track down prospective advisors and simply check-in with them and “schmooze.” It helps tremendously to associate a face to a name and application. - Curtis Walker

Well…I think I spent about $400, probably more. It depends on how many schools you’re applying to. Just remember you have to pay for transcripts, GRE test, application fees (which vary from school to school ranging from $50-95 in my experience), mailing all the materials, and it also takes up a lot of time. - Annareli Morales

Taking the GRE examination is the greatest cost besides the application fees. In my case, some schools asked for an additional exam (the TOEFL) because English is not my first language.  Applying to many schools required sending additional scores, which also added to the costs. - Diamilet Pérez-Betancourt

In addition to the application fees, other costs include that of the GRE (yikes!), sending the GRE score reports out (beyond the initial set during the exam) and possibly fees incurred at your institution to send your official undergraduate transcript. If you opt to visit the institutions and are not fully compensated for your travels, then additional costs may arise as well. – Curtis Walker

Look for the second part of our Grad School Q&A in the next newsletter, where protégés will address how to evaluate offers and what to think about when visiting schools.


Protege and Alumni Accomplishments

Vanessa Almanza graduated with a BS in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from San Francisco State University.  She started her MS in atmospheric science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

Matthew Burger completed his BS in geography-meteorology at Ohio University this spring.

Dereka Carroll graduated from Jackson State University with a BS in meteorology and headed to Purdue University to pursue a MS in atmospheric science.

Logan Dawson received a fellowship to study for a PhD in atmospheric sciences at Purdue University.  He also received an honorable mention for his NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Alisha Fernandez was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship 2012 from Pennsylvania State University and published a paper in Energy: Blumsack, Seth, and Alisha Fernandez, 2011. “Ready or Not, Here Comes the SmartGrid.”

Deanna Hence accepted a NASA postdoctoral fellowship and had a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences: Hence, D. A., and R. A. Houze, Jr., 2011: Vertical structure of hurricane eyewalls as seen by the TRMM Precipitation Radar.

Sandra Maina graduated with a BS in meteorology from the Florida Institute of Technology.  She started her Master’s of Environmental Studies at Floridan International University.

Max Menchaca was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship.

Annareli Morales graduated with a BS in atmospheric science and geology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She started her MS in atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Imani Morris published a paper in Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology: Diem, Jeremy E., Melissa A. Hursey, Imani R. Morris, Amanda C. Murray, Ricardo A. Rodriguez, 2010: “Upper-Level Atmospheric Circulation Patterns and Ground-Level Ozone in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.”

Shirley Murillo was co-author on a paper published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Rappaport, E. N., J.-G. Jiing, C. W. Landsea, S. T. Murillo, and J. L.. Franklin, 2012: “The Joint Hurricane Test Bed: Its First Decade of Tropical Cyclone Research-To-Operations Activities Reviewed.”

Diamilet Perez-Betancourt presented on her research, “Rapid intensification of hurricane Earl in advanced hurricane WRF model simulations,” at NOAA'S EPP 6TH Education & Science Forum in Tallahassee, Florida.

Shanna Pitter began a new job as a senior program analyst in NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research at their Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation in Silver Spring, MD.

Rosimar Rios-Berrios was awarded a graduate fellowship with NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.  She also won Outstanding Undergraduate Presentation at NOAA'S EPP 6TH Education & Science Forum in Tallahassee, Florida, for her work on "Quantifying the role of tropospheric relative humidity on the development of tropical cyclones."

Sarah Tessendorf had a paper published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Tessendorf, S.A. and coauthors, 2012: “The Queensland Cloud Seeding Research Program.”

Curtis Walker was awarded the 2012 SUNY Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, and is attending University of Nebraska in Lincoln to start his MS in atmospheric science.


Conference Presentations

Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), 2011 National Conference  San Jose, CA, October 2011

Jenny Eav: “Comparison of monoterpene oil composition and volatile emissions from Ponderosa and Austrian pine.”

Stanley Edwin: “Simulating magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling in TIEGCM.”

Manny Hernandez: "Analysis of present-day and future precipitation in the southwestern United States.”
Javier Lujan: “Understanding profiler observations of the stratocumulus-topped marine boundary layer.”

Annareli  Morales: “Semi-empirical functions describing the response of short-lived radicals to their driving forces in the WRF/Chem model.”

Adrianna  Woolman: “Examining ionization parameterizations for energetic electrons in the ionosphere using TIME-GCM simulations.”


AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 2011

Matthew Burger: "Climatology of stability indexes for Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Karl Clark: "Program coordinators' perceptions of effective national citizen science programs and their impacts: An exploratory study.”

Manny Hernandez: "Analysis of present-day and future precipitation in the southwestern United States.”

Matthew Paulus: “Detection of mesoscale vortices and their role in subsequent convection.”
Aaron Piña: “Comparison of microphysical cloud properties from the FSSP and the CDP during CAMPS field campaign.”

Curtis Walker: “An analysis of the sensitivity of pavement temperature to the makeup of the road surface.”

American Meteorological Society, 92nd Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, January 2012

Graylen Boone: "Evaluation of the new crop option in the CAM4/CLM4CN using midwestern United States site observations.”

Matthew Burger: "Climatology of stability indexes for Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Sharome Goode: "Vertical distribution of coarse particulate matter.”

Javier Lujan: “Understanding profiler observations of the stratocumulus-topped marine boundary layer.”

Sandra Maina: "Improvement of hurricane risk perceptions: Re-analysis of a hurricane damage index and development of spatial damage assessments.”

Annareli Morales: "Semi-empirical functions describing the response of short-lived radicals to their driving forces in the WRF/Chem model.”

Matthew Paulus: “Detection of mesoscale vortices and their role in subsequent convection.”

Daniel Pollak: "Characterizing wind turbine inflow and wakes through comparison of SODAR and meteorological tower observation- A part of TWICS: The Turbine Wake Inflow Characterization Study.”

Andre Perkins: "Deciduous-broadleaf forest simulation accuracy in the Community Land Model v4.0.”

Vanessa Vincente: “Analysis of moisture transport and its impact on mid-latitude precipitation by tropical storm Hermine (2010).”


Theresa Aguilar: “Gust front vs. non-gust front thunderstorms: An investigation into storm characteristics and environmental conditions.”

Vanessa Almanza: “Precipitable water vapor in and around tropical cyclones in the Caribbean: 2007-2010.”

Aaron Piña: “Comparison of microphysical cloud properties from the FSSP and the CDP during CAMPS field campaign.”


American Meteorological Society, 92nd Annual Meeting – 11th Annual Student Conference, New Orleans, LA, January 2012

Annareli Morales: “Semi-empirical functions describing the response of short-lived radicals to their driving forces in the WRF/chem model.”

Aaron Piña: "Comparison of microphysical cloud properties from the FSSP and the CDP during CAMPS field campaign.”

Daniel Pollak: "Characterizing wind turbine inflow and wakes through comparison of SODAR and meteorological tower observation- A part of TWICS: The Turbine Wake Inflow Characterization Study.”

Curtis Walker: “An analysis of the sensitivity of pavement temperature to the makeup of the road surface.”