Meet ACM Member Alicia Wasula, PhD, CCM

Owner of Shade Tree Meteorology

Published: May 26, 2021

When it came time to pick a college major, several factors came into play which led me to the University at Albany, where I learned that they had a top-notch Atmospheric Science department. The choice was easy from there, and I jumped into my studies with great enthusiasm.

One of the best things about my time as an undergraduate was the exposure, I had to all of the different research projects that were going on in the department. I learned pretty early on that forecasting and shift work were not for me, and so I spent a lot of time learning about what other types of careers there were in meteorology. I was able to do an internship with a local forensic meteorologist and, although I absolutely loved the work, I came out of it thinking that I probably wouldn't pursue that as a career (I wonder if watching my mentor testify in court scared me off just a little bit!).

During graduate school, I spent lots of time teaching undergrads as a teaching assistant for both non-majors (gen-ed) and majors. I learned through that time that I had a knack for explaining science to people who were having trouble understanding concepts. I also learned in graduate school that I really enjoyed the data analysis that came with doing numerous case studies of tornado events in the northeast U.S. and southeast U.S. Looking for small but significant signals in observational data was something else which gave me great satisfaction.

After graduate school, I found myself with a husband employed by the National Weather Service and working all kinds of crazy shifts and a brand-new baby (born six months before I defended my PhD!). I spent about five years teaching as much as I could at any place I could. While very challenging to manage in terms of scheduling and content development, it was invaluable experience to be able to teach courses both in meteorology and in other related sciences.

In 2013, I reconnected with Dick Westergard, whom I had met as a student intern at the NWS many years before when he was the Warning Coordination Meteorologist in the Albany office. He had retired from the NWS and founded Shade Tree Meteorology and was looking for some help in the company. I was so excited to jump back into data analysis and forensic meteorology. I trained and worked with him, eventually moving into writing reports for clients once I obtained my CCM. I benefitted from his excellent mentorship for three years, and when he retired in late 2016, I was able to purchase Shade Tree Meteorology.

Owning my own business has been one of the best experiences of my life. I count myself so blessed to be able to do a job I love every day and have the flexibility I need with my growing family (even more significant now, as everyone is home more since COVID hit!). While my career path has been anything but 'traditional', I now speak to students about my experience with the benefit of hindsight. I can honestly say that every experience I had as a student, from internships, to research projects, to assistantships, helped shape me as a scientist and prepared me for the work I do in my job today.