Senior meteorology major chases tornadoes, whips up new plans to teach science, math

Meredith Wood strikes gold during a storm chasing trip in Campo, Colo.

Meredith Wood strikes gold during a storm chasing trip in Campo, Colo.

Meredith Wood never thought about pursuing a science degree because she was not confident in her mathematics skills.

After taking a meteorology class at the College of DuPage (COD) and going on a storm-chasing trip, however, she was hooked.

“I was fortunate enough to see many supercell storms and tornadoes. It was absolutely unreal,” Wood says. “The storm chasing trips with COD occur between the months of April and July every summer. They are led by several different people throughout the season: Paul Sirvatka and Victor Gensini from COD (Victor is an NIU alumnus), and Walker Ashley, associate professor in meteorology from NIU.”

Meteorologists forecast in advance to catch the next outbreak of severe weather and then travel there, Wood says. While on the chase, the storm leaders explain what they are seeing and thinking. Even when the weather does not occur the way that they predicted, Wood says, it is an excellent learning experience. They analyze the day’s events and discuss what went wrong and why things did not go according to what was forecast.

I chose NIU because of its reputable meteorology program,” Wood says. “My transition from COD to NIU was very smooth. I felt very prepared for the advanced meteorology and mathematics classes. I really appreciated the orientation as it was very useful and informative and answered a lot of my questions and uncertainties. I also appreciated the availability of clubs and activities for students. There is a lot of opportunity for involvement, and there is something for everyone. I would definitely recommend NIU to transfer students.”

Wood stands next to the National Science Foundation’s DOW (Doppler on Wheels) radar vehicle used for tornado research.

Wood stands next to the National Science Foundation’s DOW (Doppler on Wheels) radar vehicle used for tornado research.

Reflecting a new-found confidence in her math abilities, Wood’s goal is to become a science and math teacher. She says that there is a need for more math and science teachers in the United States and that it is important to assist in the development of the math, science and critical thinking skills early on in young people’s education.

“Providing a solid foundation in these areas will help students to develop more advanced skills and achieve higher levels of learning, which will allow more students to pursue science- or math-based careers. It is my goal to help produce a revival in the number of students pursuing degrees in science and mathematics.”

Wood is the recipient of the Jack Villmow Memorial Award, given to a junior meteorology student with excellence in academic achievement. Wood, a single parent, has a 4.0 GPA in both her major and her overall NIU GPA.

Clearly self-motivated, she credits the support of professors and family as keys to her success.

“After coming to NIU and taking more meteorology classes, all the professors were very supportive, especially Dr. David Changnon, who was always very encouraging. It is because of these people and my family and many others that I am where I am today. I have reaped the rewards of hard work and determination.”

She also got occasional help from classmates and friends in the class or those who had already completed the course. “Classmates can be an excellent resource,” she says.

Wood was encouraged by professors at both COD and NIU. Even though the pursuit of a degree in meteorology was going to be difficult, she accepted the challenge because of her passion for the subject.

David Changnon

David Changnon

“She works hard not only to develop a grasp of the material, but she has also demonstrated other important skills necessary for our graduates today including critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and communication skills,” said Changnon, a professor in the Department of Geography.

Her 4.0 average has not come easy for Wood who works very hard in order to understand the material thoroughly. She says that she does not merely memorize facts, but reads, reviews, practices and studies for every course. She studies for many hours each week in order to achieve academic success, pursuing her goal which is beyond what is necessary to get the A’s.

Wood, who will graduate in May with a B.S. in meteorology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has advice for other NIU students who might be facing challenges.

“Don’t give up! You will always regret not completing your degree if you give it up. There was a time when I thought I would never be able to finish my degree, but I am so glad that I stuck with it and have been able to make it to my final semester,” she says.

“Just by taking it one step at a time and keeping the end goal in sight, I have been able to accomplish so much more than I ever dreamed.”

by Pam Roesner

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