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K-State Today Student Edition

May 1, 2012

An eye on the sky: Hollings scholarship, internship let geography student explore interest in improving severe weather warnings

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

He's a meteorologist in the making. Kansas State University's Caleb Wilson, sophomore in geography and natural resources and environmental sciences, Washington, is keeping an eye on the sky this spring to warn others of severe weather.

A recipient of the 2012 Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Wilson closely follows severe weather so he can inform family and friends across the nation to take shelter via text, social media and phone calls if they are in danger.

His interests and efforts in meteorology are why he was selected for the Hollings scholarship, a national competition for students interested in oceanic and atmospheric science. It is designed to prepare them for public service careers with science agencies or as educators.

The scholarship offers a maximum of $8,000 per year for students with two years left of undergraduate study and a summer internship at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility. Wilson is one of the 115 students selected as a 2012 Hollings Scholar out of a pool of more than 900 applicants.

"I think Caleb was a great choice for the Hollings Scholarship," said James Hohenbary, assistant dean for scholarship administration. "Not only has he developed an excellent academic record at K-State, but his strong interest in meteorology is a perfect fit for the award's focus on atmospheric and oceanic science."

The summer internship at one of the administration's facilities will provide Wilson with practical experience in related topics, including science, research, technology, policy, management and education. The award also includes travel funds to attend a scholarship program orientation, conferences and other expenses during the summer internship.

Wilson already combines his interests in strengthening public awareness of severe weather events with what he has been learning in geography courses to deliver severe weather messages to people throughout the United States. His said his early warnings to his cousin in Tennessee regarding possible tornadoes in her area helped her stay aware and seek shelter when a tornado came within a few miles of her apartment.

"I think geography has been a good choice for me," Wilson said. "I have learned to interpret and analyze data as well as regional trends and cultures, thus increasing my ability to effectively warn people across the nation about severe weather."

Understanding certain regional trends and cultures -- such as a lack of basements in the southeastern United States or Midwesterners' curiosity and desire to see a tornado -- is helpful for meteorologists in delivering appropriate severe weather warnings to people in different regions, Wilson said

"For instance, if a major tornado outbreak in the South is expected, meteorologists might advise people to abandon houses without basements in favor of places with below-ground shelter well before severe weather even arrives," Wilson said. "Or if a tornado is rain-wrapped, meteorologists in the Midwest will emphasize that the tornado is not visible and waiting outside to see it could be a lethal mistake."

Wilson is mostly interested in researching additional venues that would strengthen severe weather communication to reduce the number of deaths and injuries during outbreaks.   From his own experiences, he has discovered different age groups rely on different media outlets for weather updates. He would like to see the National Weather Service start using multiple outlets such as texting and social media -- similar to what he does for his friends and family.

"I want to know that I have done all I can do to warn people about impending severe weather, both well before, immediately before and during the event," Wilson said.

Wilson would like to earn a master's in meteorology followed by working for the National Weather Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecasting office or storm prediction center. He is working on a secondary major in natural resources and environmental sciences and a certification in geographic information systems.

Wilson is a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society. Active in intramural sports, he also serves as a volunteer intern in sports information for the university's department of intercollegiate athletics. He is the recipient of the Kansas State University Foundation Scholarship, College of Arts and Sciences Excellence Scholarship and Geography Excellence Scholarship.

Wilson is a graduate of Washington County High School and the son of Debra and Phillip Wilson, Washington.