Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Why study climate and space?

Posted: January 11, 2016

Why study climate and space? Professor Perry Samson

By: Jennifer Judge Hensel

The fields of climate science and space weather are quickly growing – both in relevancy and scope. And the need to communicate both what is happening in that area, and how it impacts society, is critical.

"We really need to have people who understand the climate and how it's changing, because there are some pretty hefty changes coming to our way of life," said Jeff Masters (BSE AOSS '82, MSE '83, PhD '97). "We need students who can go out into the world and communicate with us what's coming, because it's going to get crazy out there."

Masters, co-founder of one of the first online weather services Weather Underground, believes in that need so strongly that he has created a $200,000 endowed student support fund for the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department (CLaSP, formerly AOSS). The Jeff Masters Student Support Fund will help recruit and enable students to study this area and participate in experiential learning programs.

Masters himself benefited first-hand from support while studying at U-M, and credits much of his early success to his former professor, mentor and Weather Underground co-founder Perry Samson, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Atmospheric Science. "Perry is a very creative professor who is ideal for innovating. He and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to build this company, but he is a team builder and recognizes great talent when he sees it."

According to Samson, part of his students' secret to success is in getting their hands dirty. "You learn a great deal in the classroom about the theories and background of the science," said Samson. "But having additional experience in the field makes it more real to students. Anyway we can get the students out of the buildings – whether it's chasing tornados or going out internationally to meet other people – that's where the real learning happens." 

Examples of that type of learning include the inclusion of CLaSP students at the International Climate Summit in Paris in 2015, or visits to Greenland to study glacial calving. While the department has been sponsoring students for these trips for many years, Samson values the experience so much that he has established the $100,000 Perry J. Samson Student Support Fund to enable these experiential learning opportunities.

"The areas of climate science and space weather are booming. We need to find ways to attract more students to our field, and my hope is these funds will allow us to appeal to a broader set of students," said Samson.

Creating powerful academic and experiential opportunities for students is a top priority for the U-M College of Engineering's transformational campaign currently underway. Find out more about supporting student in the Victors for Michigan campaign.

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