I took the elevator down seven floors. I stepped off into the lobby and met the cohorts of people - like me - sporting their well-pressed dress shirts, ties, and shined shoes. We walk in mass to the convention center some three blocks away. The journey in the humid air proved impossible to prevent the sweat from beading on my brow. Stepping into the cool and cavernous convention center, myself and the other young professionals made our way to the registration booth. All a little bewildered at the enormity of the space and the excitement of what was to come, we filed into ques like livestock waiting to be checked in. One by one, we approach the table and confidently utter our name as if we belong. We don our name tag and are handed "the book" - the holy grail for the events in the week to come. As we wait for our fellow colleagues to register, the excitement of attending the 92nd Annual American Meteorological Society Conference in New Orleans strikes me like a bolt of lightening!
After attending my first American Meteorological Society (AMS) Conference in Seattle in 2011, I learned of the many opportunities with AMS. With the help of the contacts I made at the conference, I applied for a scholarship through the AMS. Several months later, I was notified I had been selected to receive the Saraswati (Sara) Bahethi Scholarship. Along with a large stipend to help with tuition, the scholarship also pays for recipients to attend the upcoming AMS Conference to be recognized for "demonstrating academic excellence within the atmospheric sciences." Several thank you letters, research papers, exams, a graduation, and months and miles later, I arrived in New Orleans on January 20th.
The Student Conference began early on a Saturday morning. Sitting with my Penn State pack, many enjoyed introductory remarks by truly distinguished professionals in the meteorology community. However, I was hesitant of what the conference would bring for me. I had occluded my meteorology education by taking classes surrounding environmental sciences. My passion hadn't been forecasting the latest winter weather whiteout or chasing traumatic tornadoes through the plains. My passion is relating the weather to the environment, water resources, and climate. Could anyone at this conference capture my attention in this realm? A few speakers in, I decided I needed to change my mindset - an attitude reversal. Instead of focusing on how uninteresting the equatorial stratospheric Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO) or atmospheric radiative fluxes were to me, I decided to focus on observing and learning.
I had been given this wonderful opportunity to attend a professional conference in one of the most historic cities in the country. It was a thrill to be attending a convention of real meteorologists. It would be a shame to not take advantage of the opportunity. I straightened my tie, pulled up my dress socks, buttoned my suit, and readjusted my attitude. Within minutes, I was enthralled by the next speaker, Dr. Lynne Carter. She works at LSU in climate science. Her background is oceanography and I appreciate the perspective that she brings because of this. She also works with the US National Assessment on Climate. The room focused, all I could see and think about was her presentation. I summed up her work as one part science, two parts people, and a splash of passion. "Climate ADAPTATION is key," she said. "Community resilience is important," she said. "Communication is essential to successful climate PARTNERSHIPS," she said. She spoke with conviction and passion! I had to have the opportunity to engage with this woman who was so passionate and focused on the human dimension.
After lunch, I approached her and asked if we could chat for a bit. She obliged. We sat and talked for thirty glorious minutes. I really enjoyed talking with a woman who was so passionate about science and people. She gave a lot of good advice and things that I will always remember. Climate adaptation is a LOCAL issue, but an INTERNATIONAL problem. EDUCATION is essential to change the public's PERCEPTION about climate change. Moreover, it is important to adapt to climate change as opposed to MITIGATE the problems. Big difference. We parted ways with one last piece of wisdom: climate science is so interdisciplinary and many people don't understand that.
I thought a lot about that. I mean think about climate change, it impacts so much: water resources, soil, agriculture, forestry, oceanography, meteorology, geosciences. It also takes strong knowledge in the social sciences to effectively communicate the sciences to the public. This got me thinking. Our climate changes. It requires the work of many to ensure that as a society, we are prepared, educated, and understand our climate. Regardless of human induced or natural changes, does it really matter? Cue Kristen Averyt!
As scientists, many feel that there is significant statistical evidence to accept that the climate is changing. So why not adapt to it!? Ms. Averyt from Colorado State University says why does it matter the source of the change? Why don't we adapt and become more SUSTAINABLE as a nation? I feel there is enough bureaucracy in climate science, but there is also enough science! So why not make changes to the way we live, develop communities, etc. in order to be more sustainable as a people.
My learning and observing continued throughout the conference. I enjoyed attending presentations on educating the public, the latest tornado outbreak, hydrology, and even a presentation by Dr. Jane Lubchenco of NOAA about "Our Weather Ready Nation." I toured the exhibition hall and interacted with many companies that are leading in the field of meteorology. I perused the poster sessions and saw hundreds of posters representing the latest research in the field. I interacted with fellow students and professionals from across the country.
In my free time, I made sure to tour the city as well. I got to see plenty of the famous French Quarter and enjoy some of New Orleans finest eateries. I enjoyed sweet bennetts from Cafe Du Monde and a tasty Po' Boy from Mothers. The trolley ride to Tulane University through the garden district may have been the highlight though. The art scattered across the Tulane campus was truly beautiful. The bold, french-inspired homes throughout the area were breathtaking. And the historic mausoleums which are so unique to the area were quite a sight to see. I think what I enjoyed most though was gaining appreciation for the history behind the city and seeing the resilience of the people that live there. I enjoyed talking to the owners of a strange yet quaint bar and food shop near the convention center, or listening to the locals tell you their story waiting in line for the trolley.
What I learned while in New Orleans is that I am in control of what I take away from every experience. Attending a meteorology conference when my passion was environmental science didn't excite me. But, with the right attitude and a little bit of passion, I came away with some great memories, a lot of really good relationships with people, and a little bit of indigestion... New Orleans gumbo is spicy!
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