Many meteorologists became passionately hooked on their field when they were very young – as young as three years old, according to a piece in the Washington Post written by Samantha Durbin, who holds a master’s degree in meteorology and is presently serving as an intern with the Post’s Capital Weather Gang.
Passion plays a big role in propelling students toward meteorology – as it often does in other science and engineering fields.
But passion alone isn’t enough for a student to succeed in earning a bachelor’s degree in meteorology at a university. A student needs to be strong in math and science, too. And I’ve seen too many meteorology majors arrive in my college physics classroom without the high school background they need to succeed.
At FSU, the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in meteorology include two semesters of chemistry, two semesters of calculus-based physics, and courses in multivariable calculus and ordinary differential equations.
Showing up for the first day of my calculus-based physics course without having had a physics course in high school places a student at a significant disadvantage. At the end of the semester, students in that situation earn grades that are on the average a full letter grade lower than those who come with a high school physics course in their background – and that’s true even though my hands-on studio-style class gives such underprepared students the best possible opportunity to succeed.
Discussions about choosing meteorology as a career generally address the impact that experiencing a weather event like a hurricane or tornado has on a young person. The importance of taking seemingly daunting courses like calculus and physics in high school almost never comes up.
One meteorology program that does bring it up is the Penn State Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. A web page of “Frequently Asked Questions” for prospective students asks “What courses should I take in high school to prepare me for entrance into Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science?” They answer:
People who major in Meteorology and Atmospheric Science need a strong background in science, mathematics and computer skills. In high school, students should take earth sciences, physics, chemistry and mathematics through at least pre-calculus. Generally, students who have completed a course in calculus and/or a course in computer programming will have an advantage when starting their Meteorology and Atmospheric Science studies. Students should take their high school’s college-preparation English classes and should know how to use a word processor on a computer.
Every university that offers a bachelor’s degree in meteorology should include that text in their information for prospective students. Even FSU’s.
If high school students who are passionate about meteorology had that information early enough, they could arrange to take chemistry, physics and math courses they need to be more successful at the university level. Then our university meteorology departments could graduate more strong students. And I – as a professor responsible for certifying that meteorology majors have a strong understanding of physics – wouldn’t have to be the bad guy so often. That would help my passion level, too.