Meteorology student goes from soccer captain to graduate researcher

Soccer brought Eli Dennis to Penn State the first time, and graduate school brought him back.

Dennis started his academic career studying biology at American University but transferred to Penn State in 2011 to play on the Division 1 Penn State men’s soccer team. Fascinated by meteorology, Dennis chose to pursue a degree in meteorology as a student-athlete.

“Playing collegiate soccer changed my daily workload, and I strived to balance my studies with my training and playing time. People don’t always realize how technical meteorology is and how challenging it is to be a student-athlete,” he said.

soccer player heading ball into goal

Eli Dennis served as captain of captain of the men's soccer team during his senior year, in 2014. Here, he heads a ball into the net for a goal, giving the Nittany Lions a win that advanced them to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2013.

Image: Penn State Athletics

Dennis excelled in both academics and sports. He took a leadership role on the team and was named captain during his senior year, in 2014. He started all matches that season, accruing 1,846 minutes on the field – the most of any Penn State men’s soccer player. He was honored with a 2014 Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award.

In addition to balancing sports and classwork, he took on undergraduate research with Matthew Kumjian, assistant professor of meteorology, investigating hail formation in severe thunderstorms.

Interning with WeatherSTEM

After graduating in fall 2014, Dennis was offered an internship with WeatherSTEM, a company that infuses K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum with live data collected by weather instruments, cloud cameras, agricultural probes, and other sensors. Headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, WeatherSTEM was founded by Edward Mansouri, an alumnus of Penn State’s meteorology and geo-environmental engineering (now known as energy engineering) programs.

“These weather stations collect data like temperature, wind and relative humidity, which are then uploaded to our software platform to be easily accessed online by users,” Dennis said.

According to Dennis, the data is proving useful not just for the public but also for teachers in the classroom.

“Schools are purchasing stations and teachers are having students interact with the information from WeatherSTEM. They use it for different projects, such as growing plants or studying quantitative subjects, including math and biology,” said Dennis.

Dennis says WeatherSTEM has its product installed in all 67 counties of Florida, and Dennis said the company hopes to do the same in Pennsylvania and in schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for its near-term outlook. WeatherSTEM has already installed local stations at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Huntingdon County, Park Forest Elementary School in State College, The Arboretum at Penn State, Pasto Agricultural Museum located at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Rock Springs and Beaver Stadium.

“Penn State uses its station for numerous activities, and one of the most important is to facilitate public safety by enabling the stations to text lightning warnings to phones, which is especially important for outdoor athletic events,” said Dennis.

Returning to Penn State for graduate school

Dennis had always planned to attend graduate school. During his time at WeatherSTEM, Dennis continued to work on research with Kumjian while researching graduate meteorology programs. For him, the decision was easy.

“I eventually decided to pursue an M.S. in meteorology at Penn State because of its world-renowned program and reputation,” he said.

He began his graduate studies in fall 2015, with Yvette Richardson, associate professor of meteorology, as his faculty adviser. Together, they’re analyzing severe weather outbreaks and how numerical weather forecasting models handle the initiation and development of severe storms.

According to Dennis, he is currently looking at convection initiation, or how severe thunderstorms are started, in a series of case studies focused on two particularly active severe weather days.

“Dr. Richardson and I are interested in how operational forecasting models handle the environment in which severe thunderstorms occur and how that environment changes when modeled at different spatial resolutions,” he said.

Sharing meteorology

Along with his studies, Dennis works with WeatherSTEM by maintaining their weather stations at Penn State and ensuring they function properly.

“The stations don’t typically require too much maintenance, but I have to be prepared for changes in seasonal weather patterns that could affect them,” he said.

Dennis also participates in outreach activities for WeatherSTEM, such as Arbor Day at the Arboretum, an educational event that offers hands-on, environmentally-themed activities for students. These activities, paired with his graduate studies, have allowed Dennis to apply his meteorological skillset in educational settings.

“It’s great to introduce young students to meteorology through WeatherSTEM. I really enjoy teaching basic weather topics to kids. They always seem to be excited,” Dennis said.

Now back on campus as a graduate student, Dennis continues to support men’s soccer just as a fan.

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Last Updated March 28, 2016