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  • STEM in DSM: Meet WHO meteorologist Amber Alexander

    For WHO Channel 13 meteorologist Amber Alexander, watching storms on the front porch of her Council Bluffs home inspired a career complete with weekly trips to the Science Center of Iowa. We sat down with Amber to discuss her path to the green screen, her lifelong Husker fandom and how she hopes to encourage future meteorologists at SCI.

    SCI: What inspired you to go into meteorology?

    AA: I was 11 and in sixth grade, and we were studying the basics of weather. That caught my attention, and I thought it was so cool. We were watching the news at home that night after school, and the screen said, ‘meteorologist,’ and I thought, “Wow, that’s really neat! That’s what I want to do someday.” I’ve stuck with it ever since. I grew up a huge Husker fan, so when I went to visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I thought, “I can’t compete with this.”

    SCI: What is something aspiring meteorologists might not expect from an academic perspective?

    AA: I don’t think they expect how tough the coursework is. You see meteorologists on TV every day and might not realize their whole background involves math and very tough science classes. It goes all the way through the whole calculus sequence, a statistics class, plus a differential equations class. I loved math growing up, so that wasn’t a big deal for me.

    SCI: What kind of professional experience did you gain before coming to WHO-HD?

    AA: By my sophomore year of college, I was practicing to be a broadcast meteorologist the green screen. I had an internship with the state climatologist my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old, and I had my own little office. I felt so cool. I was doing basic climate work and was tracking temperature trends throughout Nebraska.

    SCI: Can you describe your experience delivering the weather at the Science Center of Iowa?

    AA: The first day I worked at the Science Center of Iowa was actually Noon Year’s Eve, and it was absolutely crazy, but fun. It’s always fun to see kids come up and give me a hug. They’re so sweet, and they love to learn about the weather.

    SCI: How do you hope to inspire future meteorologists?

    AA: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching young kids, especially young girls, that they can do it if they stick with it. We all have times that we don’t think we can get through it.You just have to stick through it and try your best, and you’ll eventually get where you want to be.

  • STEM Across the State: An SCI Outreach Road Trip

    By Rachel Braak, SCI Outreach Presenter

    I like to call myself a morning person because compared to some people, I am. But 3:30 am is a little early, even for me. Luckily, I went to bed early, prepared everything the night before and hit the road right away with a fresh cup of hot chocolate in my hand. Time for a day of Outreach for the Science Center of Iowa!

    I arrive at SCI early in the morning, and all I hear is the quiet hum of the building at work. As I load the van with liquid nitrogen, a tank of hydrogen and a whole box of matches, among other experiment components, I know I’m in for an exciting day. I get in the car and settle in for the three-hour drive to North Fayette Valley Community Schools.

    When I arrive at the school I am greeted with smiling faces and eager questions from students in Pre-K all the way through 8th grade. “What are those balloons for?” “Are you a scientist?” My favorite question is, “Are you going to blow things up?” If I am doing our popular “Boom!” program, I happily reply, “Yes, I will be setting things on fire and there will be explosions.” Most of the time students think I am kidding. I mean, 99 percent of the time they ask that question the answer will be “no.” I love getting to tell them “yes”—their eyes light up!

    I set up and am all ready for the students when they start to come in. They stare at me in my goggles and lab coat in awe. No matter their grade level, they all start guessing what I’m going to do. Throughout the show, the look of excitement in their eyes makes the early morning and long drive well worth it. From our “whoosh” bottle experiment to the fiery hydrogen balloon explosion at the end of the program, students are on the edge of their seats, answering and asking questions, learning and having fun.

    Even after five shows in a row, the students’ energy is contagious. I always find myself in awe of science just as they are. I can’t wait for each experiment, even though I have done them many, many times.

    As I pack up the van and prepare for another three-hour drive back, I look across the parking lot and see busloads of kids waving at me. I wave back, get in the big, green SCI van and head on my way. I’m still smiling because I know my day was well spent inspiring kids to explore the world of science.