Meet the Committee

Greg McFarquhar, CIMMS Director and School of Meteorology Professor

Greg McFarquhar, CIMMS Director and School of Meteorology Professor

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: I was studying mathematics and physics as an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto when I got a summer job at the end of my second year at Environment Canada studying how the width and speed of motion of a rain/snow boundary evolved over time. That summer I learned that I could apply my knowledge of math and physics to tangible problems of benefit to society, and hence ultimately decided to pursue a Ph.D in cloud physics.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: My job is my hobby. I love coming to work every day facing new challenges and learning new things. My job is the perfect mix of being able to do research, mentor graduate students, teach, and provide support and long-term direction for CIMMS to accomplish its research goals.

Q: What is one thing you couldn’t live without at work?
A: All of the wonderful employees at CIMMS who make it possible for us to accomplish our mission goals.

Q: Why volunteer for the Diversity & Inclusion committee?
A: I felt it very important to establish a D&I committee in CIMMS. I wanted to make sure that CIMMS is providing a welcoming and all-inclusive environment so that every CIMMS employee feels valued, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, disability, age, background, etc. That is the best way to ensure that we are able to draw from the most qualified candidates to make sure we continue to maintain an excellent staff for accomplishing our mission.

Q: What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
A: Inclusion means that everyone regardless of their background is welcomed and valued within CIMMS. Diversity means we assemble a group of people with different backgrounds and thoughts within our workplace. Diversity can take on a variety of forms: not only race, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, disability, and age, but also the diversity of thought, economic background, personal and family educational background, interests, and many other factors. Studies have proven that assembling a diverse group inevitably leads to faster progress as complementary thoughts and ideas usually allow one to produce a better end solution.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in life thus far?
A: I had difficulties finding positions after completing my Ph.D. I applied for countless faculty positions (I think I have been rejected by almost every university in North America, including the first time I applied to Oklahoma!) and received no offers for many years, so was concerned that I would not be able to pursue the career that I was most interested in pursuing.

Q: If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
A: I am doing the perfect job. I would want to do no other job!

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: 
Leadership means promoting the people around you and letting them develop their careers to the maximum extent possible so they can excel in their positions. A leader provides whatever resources are needed for their counterparts to do their jobs and provide them the freedom to do their job, offering additional feedback when required.

Elizabeth Smith, CIMMS Post-doctoral
Research Associate

Elizabeth Smith

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: I was quite young when I first watched “The Wizard of Oz,” and I was petrified by the tornado that came to Dorothy’s house. I could not understand why in West Virginia we did not have a full storm cellar on our property. I was terrified that tornadoes would come for me. My parents and a family friend saw this and decided to let me work through that fear by learning about tornadoes and weather. They bought me books and video tapes that taught me weather basics and weather safety. And the rest is history!

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: I love asking the question ‘why?’ I was a quiet inquisitive (and probably annoying) child that always had to ask ‘why?’ and often responded with yet another ‘why?’ when given an answer. In science, asking ‘why?’ is what moves us forward. Some days are hard, and the ‘why?’ sometimes turns to ‘why care?’ but, overall it is pretty amazing that I get to simply keep asking ‘why?’ for this job… and occasionally provide an answer.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
A: I grew up in rural West Virginia hunting and fishing throughout my life, learning to appreciate the nourishment the environment and the creatures that occupy it gives us. This lifestyle taught me to be resourceful, value hard and dirty work, waste nothing that you take from the earth, and give back and protect the earth any chance you get.

Q: What is one thing you couldn’t live without at work?
A: My incredible coworkers! In any job, some days are just plain hard. I’ve found that when those hard days seem to come one after another, having great coworkers who are also friends can really help get you through it. Sometimes that help is professional — a proofreader or someone to listen to you rehearse a talk — but often that help is more personal — someone to remind you that you are not terrible at your job and this too will pass. The people around me that know exactly what I am dealing with on any given day are truly a treasure.

Q: What do diversity and inclusion mean to you?
A: Diversity and inclusion are about much more than just the way we look or the way we speak. We are each shaped by a myriad of experiences and influences. This makes us who we are, and also makes us unique. I believe to truly have an inclusive environment, we must have voices from many diverse backgrounds. This of course includes typical considerations like gender and race, but also includes perhaps less visibly apparent considerations like sexual orientation, political belief, socioeconomic background. For example, as a white woman, I am happy to represent women on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, but I also represent those that are first-generation college students, and those from blue-collar backgrounds.

Cassandra Shivers-Williams, Peter Lamb Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Cassandra Shivers-Williams

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: I became interested in psychology and its intersection with law as a teenager (I used to binge watch A LOT of Law & Order…). I took my first Psychology course in high school as part of the Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate Program Curriculum. I knew I would be pursuing my degree, and at least one advanced degree, in Psychology.
Over the years I have been exposed to several different natural hazards — tornadoes while growing up in Texas, hurricanes while attending undergrad in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as blizzards and an earthquake during graduate school in Washington, D.C. — and I have always been fascinated by the complicated decisions people have to make. Thus, I decided to study those decisions for my dissertation and now my post-doctoral research.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: Aside from the incredible flexibility my job provides me, the subject matter of my work interests me the most. I enjoy examining all of the different aspects that influence self-protective decisions. As a social psychologist, my answer to such questions as, “what would you do in this situation,” is usually, “it depends.” Protective decisions are not all created equally and can be influenced by many different factors. Trying to find the answer to that question is interesting to me, and if we can get a handle on how people make protective decisions in response to extreme weather, the downstream implications of helping save lives would be incredibly rewarding.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
A: I have bowled my entire life, most of which has been competitive. I earned scholarship money through bowling competitively as a child/teenager. I attended Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge on an academic full ride but also on a bowling scholarship. I turned “adult” when I got to graduate school, which means I started bowling for cash rather than scholarship money. Bowling leagues and tournaments actually helped supplement my income while I was in graduate school. I still bowl here, in Shawnee and Edmond, and I bowled a 300 (perfect game) in league about 6 weeks after we started!

Q: Why volunteer for the D&I committee?
A: I volunteered for the D&I committee because I wanted to bring a unique perspective to the table. Specifically from my time spent in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed and with the Spring End User Experiments. I have not seen many people that “look like me” (i.e., young African American female) walking around or working here. Therefore, I wanted to bring at least a little bit of that perspective to the table. Similarly, most of my encounters with the employees here have been mid- or late-career scientists, both male and female. I also wanted to bring an early-career perspective to the table. I believe in bringing service where you can, and I thought this might be a committee I could meaningfully contribute to.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: Leadership, to me, means being in the trenches with the team. Leading by example, helping out, letting your team see your hard work toward the goal. Giving blood, sweat, and tears right alongside your team fosters buy-in and loyalty for those being led. Also, hearing people out is important for true leadership. Leaders genuinely listen to the concerns of those they supervise and make honest and dedicated attempts to better the environment, foster growth and development, and rectify problems when needed. Leadership, when done right, is inspiring.

Alexandre Fierro, CIMMS Research Scientist

Alexandre Fierro

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
A: I speak nearly six languages, can read Mandarin Chinese and have traveled to more than 100 countries. I also have a passion for morel foraging, mycology, and trees in general. I regularly attend meetings at the Norman City Hall to share ideas for tree protection (i.e., ordinance) with the City Council.

Q: What is one thing you couldn’t live without at work?
A: Japanese and/or Taiwanese green tea, a window and enjoyable/interesting/culturally diverse office neighbors.

Q: Why volunteer for the D&I committee?
A: Because, as a foreign national and former student, I noticed that the majority of the student body within United States universities tend to be comprised of a conglomeration of distinct groups, many of which seldom interacted with each other [e.g., Chinese, Latinos, Indians, sorority members, fraternity members, African Americans, Native Africans …etc]. Although some US students I met throughout those six years as a student did exhibit a genuine desire to learn more about the many rich foreign cultures worldwide through cultural events/mingling, I believe that fostering such interactions further would, in my humble opinion, help aspire toward an even more agreeable and healthier work environment.

Q: What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
A: Diversity, in particular, has many facets: (i) country of origin, ethnicity and gender, (ii) fields/tropics of research within meteorology itself and (iii) outreach to countries in need as I believe this our moral duty as a developed nation. Inclusion is a concept I believe would be more aligned with my response to the above question.

Q: If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
A: Anthony Bourdain’s job: I love cooking/gourmet (high quality) meals and happen to have an unquenchable thirst for exploring different places/cultures. I have also always been interested in research and development in the field of Medicine/Cancer research.

Nusrat Yussouf, CIMMS Research Scientist

Nusrat Yussouf.
Nusrat Yussouf

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
My job responsibilities include the development of a Warn-on-Forecast system that will enable the National Weather Service to issue advisories and warnings of high-impact weather much earlier than is possible today. What interests me most about this work is the potential to reduce loss of life, injury, and damage to the economy.

Q: What is one thing you couldn’t live without at work?
A: The one thing I couldn’t live without at my workplace is the interaction with the wonderful people I work with.

Q: Why volunteer for the D&I committee?
A: I volunteered to serve in the Diversity and Inclusion committee to help CIMMS in creating a more diverse workforce and foster an inclusive work environment where all employees have the opportunity to thrive and succeed.

Q: What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
A: To me workplace diversity means a diverse workforce with differences in education, skill sets and experiences from different races, ethnicities, genders, social class, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations. Inclusion means a collaborative, supportive, and respectful work environment that increases the participation and contribution of all employees. Research repeatedly shows a diverse and inclusive workforce leads to greater productivity and increased innovation in thinking compared to those with a homogeneous workforce.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: To me true leadership means creating more leaders, not just followers.

Madisyn Farris, CIMMS Associate and OU School of Meteorology Student

Q: How did you get into your field?
A: My interest in meteorology was sparked in the eighth grade when we learned about the different types of clouds and what kind of precipitation they produced.

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: I want to be a data analyst and this intrigues me because of the endless opportunities that this information can provide for research to better our understanding of the weather and the atmosphere.

Q: Why volunteer for the D&I committee?
A: I volunteered for the committee because I heard opinions from my friends about how they felt at the School of Meteorology, and more specifically in the workplace, and I want to make a positive change for everyone.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: Leadership means representing those without a voice and doing whatever it takes to make a positive environment for those you are representing and making everyone feel appreciated and respected.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in life thus far?
A: My greatest challenge in life thus far is realizing my weaknesses and trying to make them strengths. It is hard to move forward when you cannot improve your weaknesses.

Melissa Lamkin, CIMMS Research Associate

Melissa Lamkin

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: Working with the National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Division (WDTD) is very rewarding because we get to work with hundreds of new NWS forecasters every year, and it is always encouraging seeing the enthusiasm and excitement they have while doing our trainings and going through our workshops.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you?
A: Something that may be surprising about me is that I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and I have three kidneys.

Q: Why Volunteer for the D&I committee
A: I volunteered for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee because I know what it is like feeling excluded from different groups or experiences just because of your background, and I want to assist CIMMS as it continues to work toward a more inclusive environment. I also volunteered because I want to be an advocate for the idea that Diversity can come in many different shapes and sizes.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in life thus far?
A: The greatest challenge I have faced so far in life would have to be getting my American citizenship. The immigration process was very difficult for my family, and the path to obtain my American citizenship was no different. Thankfully after five long years, I was able to take my oath to be an American Citizen in December 2014. The best part of being an American citizen is being able to vote and feeling like my voice matters.

Q: If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
A: If I could do another job for a day, I would like to be a pastry chef because I would get to create beautiful and delicious desserts all day long.

Yixin Berry Wen, CIMMS Research Scientist

Yixin Berry Wen

Q: What is it about your job that interests you?
A: My job provides chances to better understand our earth and even the cosmos. Where are we from? Are we alone in the cosmos? Do we have back-up planets for earth? How do we make a healthy relationship with our earth? Does our earth now have a fever? Are more natural hazards related to the changing climate? Can we understand and predict these changes in climate and weather? How can we share that knowledge and information with others accurately, efficiently and effectively? My job is trying to answer these questions, which is kind of cool.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us about you?
A: I once rescued a baby bat when I was 10 years old, even though I thought bat was a vampire and he might drink my blood.

Q: Why Volunteer for the D&I committee?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Segregation is a glaring evil. … Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity.” Separating people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, economic background, and many other factors and applying different standards to treat segregated groups is wrong. We need inclusion and diversity, which means we welcome everyone and we value everyone, regardless of their different backgrounds. It’s my honor to volunteer to serve in the D&I committee and to make a contribution to create a more inclusive environment.

Q: If you could do another job just for one day, what would it be?
A: District attorney, maybe.

Q: What does true leadership mean to you?
A: Leadership, to me, means helping people. A leader inspires people and encourages them to find their best selves. A leader helps people happily work together and provides all available resources if needed.