Atmospheric Science Alumnus Lands Prestigious NCAR Fellowship

Austin Harris in graduation attire

UW-Milwaukee alumnus Austin Harris has wanted to be a meteorologist since age 8. Originally from Oklahoma City, his doctoral and postdoctoral work with UWM’s Atmospheric Science Distinguished Professor Paul Roebber helped him land a prestigious ASP Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

What interested you in studying atmospheric science?

Though I was always interested in weather growing up, my interest solidified at the age of 8, when an EF5 tornado missed my home by less than one mile. From that point on, I was dead set on being a meteorologist and going to the University of Oklahoma [where he earned his undergraduate degree in meteorology]. 

Why did you choose UWM for your MS and PhD? 

UWM’s Atmospheric Science program is distinct from other universities in several ways. First, the atmospheric science group is small and friendly. As a result, students get plenty of 1-1 time with professors.

Second, the group is operationally focused and contains a wonderful internship program, Innovative Weather, which provides graduate students the opportunity to gain critical real-world forecasting experience to complement the classroom.

My experience at Innovative Weather – and my MS degree from UWM – led to a short career with the National Weather Service. There, I trained forecasters on when and how to issue severe thunderstorm, tornado, and flash flood warnings. After this period, I was drawn toward hurricane research and returned to UWM for a PhD with Dr. Paul Roebber. 

What was your experience at UWM like and what skills did you learn that helped you to get the NCAR Postdoctoral Fellowship? 

My experience at UWM was excellent, and I attribute that to a tight-knit atmospheric science program that is intentional about building a strong sense of community and creating a comfortable space to ask questions. Professors Paul Roebber, Jon Kahl, Sergey Kravtsov, and Clark Evans provided key mentorship and support for my growth as a young scientist. That includes developing my writing, presentation and speaking skills, curiosity, critical thinking, research methods, and confidence. 

What does your fellowship entail?

The ASP Fellowship is a two-year program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). There I will essentially continue my PhD research, which is on developing new methods of modeling hurricane evacuations. NCAR provides a unique opportunity to collaborate with meteorologists, climatologists, social scientists, economists, and computer scientists, all of which are essential to modeling this multidisciplinary phenomenon and advancing this type of work for the meteorological community.  It’s a wonderful next step for my career! 

What are your future career goals? 

To be a research meteorologist, leader and mentor, and a scientific educator. I hope to help make weather warnings more meaningful, accessible, and actionable, and occupy interesting interdisciplinary spaces in meteorology!