For the love of teaching: CIMMS employee utilizes background to improve training

*Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles about OU CIMMS employees working at the National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Denise Balukas, OU CIMMS research associate

Looking at Denise Balukas – she’s wearing a black T-shirt, slacks, boots and her NOAA name badge – she looks like most researchers at the National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Yet her background could not be more different.

Balukas is a research associate with the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies based in Kansas City. She researches, designs, writes and helps implement training for National Weather Service employees. For instance, she helped redesign the Effective Hurricane Messaging Course, providing a course booklet for notes and resources along with more hands-on activities and streamlined content. She’s also involved with the Impact-Based Decision Support Services Professional Development training, bootcamp and road show.

Unlike most meteorologists, she did not discover her love for weather as a child or while in school.

Her first love was fine arts. She earned her first Bachelor’s degree in sculpture and is a professional weaver and sculpture. Living in San Francisco for nearly 20 years, she was a freelance artist who worked in the foodservice industry.

“I took a course in physical geology and fell in love with the severe weather part of it,” Balukas said. “My best friend asked me, while I was explaining the cold air rushing toward us just ahead of a thunderstorm, why I didn’t go back to school to study meteorology. Clearly, I had a passion for it.”

Balukas went for it. In her early 30s, she went back to school to study meteorology at San Francisco State University, then moved to Tucson and earned a Master’s degree in Atmospheric Science from University of Arizona. She joined CIMMS, working at the NWS Training Center, two years ago.

“As for teaching, I’ve always loved teaching,” Balukas said, adding she taught courses at San Francisco State and University of Arizona. “CIMMS was a good fit for me to be able to use customer service skills, public speaking, teaching, meteorology and a fine arts background. I joke sometimes because if I could have written up a job for me, this would have been it.”

National Weather Service and NOAA employees have a real need and passion for training, Balukas said. “It’s been exciting to see it’s such a high priority and it’s good,” she said.

While streamlining current training and working on new topics, Balukas is saving for a loom. Someday she hopes to live on a farm with a weaving and ceramics studio, and a goat. She continues to pursue her dual passions of art and weather.