Climate science symposium to honor African-American meteorology pioneer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. Warren Washington became the second African-American nationwide to earn a doctoral degree in meteorology when he received his degree from Penn State in 1964, but his ties to the University extend beyond that.

In the late 1970s, while working for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Washington remembers a young, bright graduate student from the University of Miami wanting to know how it was possible for palm trees and alligators to live near the North Pole some 500 million years ago. That research forged a lifelong friendship with Penn State President Eric Barron, who is among the speakers presenting at the Warren Washington Legacy Symposium on Sept. 6 at The Nittany Lion Inn.

“Eric Barron was a really good student and I was really proud to work with him,” Washington said. “Of course, he’s gone on to other things but he’s still is a scientist at heart.”

Washington sought out Penn State’s meteorology and atmospheric science program in the early 1960s for its pioneering work on computer weather forecasting and climate research. He earned his doctorate while working as a research assistant before taking a position at NCAR in 1963, where he worked until retirement just weeks ago.

His career has been dedicated to science communication as much as research.

An internationally recognized expert in climate research and computer modeling, Washington has engaged in research for more than 50 years, and has given advice, testimony and lectures on global climate change. He has been a member of the President’s National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere and has had presidential appointments under the Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He served on the National Science Board as a member (1994-2006) and as its chair (2002-2006). In 2010, he was awarded the National Medal of Science — the nation’s highest science honor — from President Barack Obama.

Washington grew up in Portland, Oregon, where the lack of public accommodation laws allowed businesses to discriminate. He joined the NAACP and became vice chair of the youth council while still in high school to combat this discrimination. This sparked a passion in activism that never tired.

Washington credits Charles Anderson, the first African-American to receive a doctorate in meteorology, as his role model. That’s something he’s passionate about paying forward.

“I felt that I really had to give back not only to the field but to the African-American community,” Washington said. “Over the years, I’ve visited black colleges; I’ve mentored graduate students; and I helped to form a program at the American Meteorological Society (AMS) that encourages underrepresented minorities and women into the field. I’ve always felt compelled to increase diversity.”

In 1999, Washington won the Dr. Charles Anderson Award from AMS “for pioneering efforts as a mentor and passionate support of individuals, educational programs and outreach initiatives designed to foster a diverse population of atmospheric scientists.” Washington was the first African-American to serve as president of AMS.

Washington said he’s looking forward to the symposium, which focuses on advancing our knowledge and methods of dealing with climate change. He said he’s also looking forward to visiting a place that helped shape his career.

“At Penn State, I’ve always been fond of the associations with friends and colleagues,” Washington said. “It was a great learning experience for me to be in the department where I was allowed to grow as a scientist.”

Schedule of events

All events take place at the Nittany Lion Inn, Boardroom I and II and are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the link online.

Session 1 | Chair — Gregory Jenkins (Penn State)  

8:30-8:45 a.m.: Welcome remarks: Gregory Jenkins, David Stensrud (Penn State)           

8:45-9 a.m.: Warren Washington’s achievements (Fuqing Zhang, Penn State)      

9-9:20 a.m. Bert Semtner (Naval Postgraduate School)      

9:20-9:40 a.m. Ruby Lueng (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)          

9:40-10 a.m. William Easterling (National Science Foundation)      

10-10:20 a.m. Marshall Shepherd (University of Georgia)   

Session 2: Chair — Fuqing Zhang 

10:35-10:50 a.m. Everette Joseph (University of Albany)    

10:50-11:05 a.m. Deanna Hence (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)      

11:05-11:20 a.m. Anthony Didlake (Penn State)      

11:20-11:35 a.m. Jose Fuentes (Penn State)           

11:35-11:50 a.m. Vernon Morris (Howard)   

Session 3: Chair — Lee Kump (Penn State)         

1-1:30 p.m. Eric Barron (Penn State)

1:30-1:50 p.m. Jenni Evans (Penn State)     

1:50-2:05 p.m. Gregory Jenkins        

2:05-2:25 p.m. Michael Mann (Penn State)

2:25-3 p.m. Warren Washingon (NCAR)      

Reception: 5-6 p.m., Penn State Joel N. Myers Weather Center, 6th Floor Walker Building

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Last Updated September 12, 2018