Fellowship allows meteorology graduate student to advocate for diversity

Nakul Grover
February 20, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the middle of a Category 1 hurricane in Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa, Aara’L Yarber discovered her passion for meteorology. Coming from Los Angeles, California, she had never experienced a hurricane before.

She was there for a field campaign for research through Howard University, led by faculty member Gregory Jenkins, launching aerosol sondes that helped probe atmospheric data.

“During the hurricane, I gained a new perspective. I suddenly became inspired by weather, climate, and air quality and the effects of these phenomena on underrepresented groups,” said Yarber, now a doctoral student in meteorology at Penn State.

Jenkins, now a professor of meteorology at Penn State, inspired Yarber to study and improve air quality forecasting techniques, which ultimately brought her to Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences when he joined the Penn State faculty.

Jenkins also inspired Yarber to apply for a new fellowship program offered by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Yarber was one of three graduate students to receive the inaugural Next Generation Fellowship. This competitive fellowship was open to students from underrepresented groups, holding an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science or a related Earth system science, and planning to actively pursue a graduate degree in atmospheric or related Earth system science. The fellowship has three categories: public policy, Earth system science, and diversity and inclusion. Yarber was named a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow. This two-year fellowship will provide financial support for graduate school and two summer internships at UCAR’s headquarters in Boulder, Colorado, with its Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“Aara'L is a strong role model for young black women and men in the STEM fields. I am happy for Aara'L and I am even more hopeful that she can work on helping build an aerosol network in Senegal and Cape Verde over the next few years,” said Jenkins.

As a UCAR Diversity and Inclusion Fellow, Yarber aspires to increase the representation in her field by building a supportive community for students, professors and professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. With previous work experience at organizations like the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Yarber saw a substantial lack of representation.

“Although I was a part of a cohort of underrepresented students at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, I still found my experience in STEM to be isolating. One of the most difficult challenges I faced was the stark contrast of inclusion and support at Howard University and the feeling of 'otherness' at predominantly white internships and conferences. Personal feelings of discomfort in fields that are predominately white and male has encouraged me to become an advocate for diversity so that more people like myself may flourish,” Yarber said.

Yarber noticed that the people in countries of West Africa would benefit from improved air-quality forecasting to potentially mitigate the hazards that might be caused by the dust storms. She hopes that her work will not only help develop more sophisticated forecasting models but also improve public health standards in Cape Verde and Senegal. Violent dust storms in many countries could increase the rates of respiratory diseases.

“Everyone deserves the right to clean air. Ultimately, this is an environmental justice issue that I am determined to help address,” Yarber said.

She will revisit Cape Verde and Senegal this year to set up an observation network to collect data for her research.

“I enjoyed the sense of community and the liveliness of Cape Verde. The people were vibrant, welcoming and giving. I look forward to doing field work there in the near future,” Yarber said.

  • Aara'L Yarber, doctoral student in meteorology.

    Aara'L Yarber, doctoral student in meteorology.

    IMAGE: Image provided

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Last Updated February 28, 2018