Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my B.S. in Meteorology from Florida State University. I also earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in Physical Meteorology from Florida State. FSU has one of the top meteorology programs in the country. I am a full professor in the department of geography and the director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences program. Many people are surprised to learn that we have an Atmospheric Sciences program that allows students to become meteorologists. Our program has a curriculum that meets the standards of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the federal standards for meteorology (e.g. National Weather Service).
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in January of 2006 after a 12 year career at NASA. I was the deputy project scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission and a research meteorologist. Working for NASA was a great experience because I had a chance to work with some of the world's greatest scientists and had some of the most advanced technology at my disposal. I was like a "kid in a candy shop" – getting paid to work on some really big science projects to improve our understanding of Earth's weather and climate. Yep, Earth. Not Mars or Jupiter. Many don't realize that NASA studies Earth too.
I came here after communicating with Dr. Tom Mote, a colleague at UGA who I was aware of doing research in areas complementary to mine. I contacted him one day, and one thing led to another. I was very happy at NASA but after visiting UGA, I was pretty convinced that this was the place for me. Though not a geographer by degree, I knew that my research fit solidly within the geographical sciences, and I also knew that my background would complement the young Atmospheric Sciences program that Tom and others had started. I should also mention that my wife and I grew up in Georgia, so we always kept our eye out for the right opportunity in Georgia.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I developed two new courses when I came to UGA. One course, Applied Climatology in the Urban Environment, is one of my favorite courses because I get to teach theory, application, and hands-on field work on how cities impact weather, climate and other environmental factors. I also created a Mesoscale and Radar Meteorology course, which is an important course for any atmospheric sciences curriculum. We even had a Mobile Doppler Radar from FSU at UGA recently in support of that class. I also really enjoyed teaching one of the new First-Year Odyssey Seminars. It was such joy teaching freshmen about "Observing the Earth From Space." I had several NASA colleagues Skype into the class live. The kids were so thrilled.
What interests you about your field?
I have been interested in meteorology since 6th grade. I never was interested in forecasting. I was always more interested in the "how and why." That passion is still there today. I am in awe of hurricanes, thunderstorms and the complexity of our weather-climate system. Further, as our climate changes, I am equally passionate about communicating to scientists, the public and stakeholders how that impacts the natural and human system.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Well, I recently learned that I was voted president elect of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the oldest and largest professional society in the atmospheric and related sciences. It is such an honor to have a 14,000-member organization support you in that way. Prior to that accomplishment, I was honored to be a Fellow of that same organization. I also was invited recently to serve on the Science Advisory Board for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of the National Weather Service, National Fisheries Service and others. But closer to home, I am still energized when I see the light click on in the eyes of a student or inspire a student to want to study weather and climate. I should also mention how proud I was to hood my first doctoral student in 2011. That was very special and unique.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
I am constantly trying to weave my or colleague's research into my teaching. I also try to expose my students to research opportunities with the class setting. I do not want my students to leave UGA thinking that all their professors do is teach class. I want them to appreciate that UGA is a world-class research institution and that research is not for scholars in the ivory tower. I want them to appreciate how our research can change the lives of Georgia's citizens, our country and the world.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I want them to learn as much as I know and enjoy the experience. It is a joy to see the comments on the evaluations that say they enjoyed the class, that I inspired them or that they would recommend me to their friends. In this way, I know that I connected with them in some way. It is even more rewarding if they come into our geography major or Atmospheric Sciences program. But if they don't, I want my students to leave the campus having gone beyond a superficial knowledge of weather, climate and the other topics I teach. As I tell them, issues of weather and climate will be defining issues of their generation as we grapple with drought, floods, changing crop yields and new energy resources.
Describe your ideal student.
The ideal student is a student who is open to learn without any preconceived notions or biases. A student who is inquisitive, a hard-worker and can connect some dots without my help.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Wow, good question. I am a sports fan, so I really enjoy Saturdays in Sanford Stadium and even the walk back to North Campus after the games to catch the shuttles back to the airport.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I like to collect CDs (yes, I still buy them and have over 1,400, though I do have an IPod too), tinker with my home theater system, play most sports, and spend time with my family going to Hawks, Braves or FSU games.
Community/civic involvement includes…
I am member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Through this organization, I am able to serve the community at the graduate level in educational and other service activities. I also help with an organization called the Smart Academy Center for Excellence, which exposes city youth to science. I also am on the Board of Trustees of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Lawrenceville.
Favorite movie is still Raiders of the Lost Ark. Favorite book is the The Weather Book by Jack Williams. I am a big non-fiction reader. I have been reading the autobiography of Dr. Warren Washington recently. He is a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Science and is one of my mentors.
I also love to watch Finding Bigfoot (guilty pleasure), most HGTV/DIY shows (even though I don't try any of the projects) and the Amazing Race.
Proudest moment at UGA?
Probably hooding my first doctoral student (Dr. Chandana Mitra, now a tenure-track professor at Auburn) and seeing the pride in her accomplishment.
Other pertinent information you wish to share.
I am married to Ayana Shepherd. We met in graduate school at FSU. We have an 8-year- old daughter (Arissa) and a 5-year-old son (Anderson).
A couple of things to know about me that might surprise some is that (1) I wanted to be an entomologist when I was younger, but learning that I was allergic to stings changed those plans, and (2) I co-authored a children's book, Dr. Fred's Weather Watch, about my 6th grade weather science project, and (3) I hate to fly.