A Visit to the SACNAS Conference and the University of Hawai’i


Editor's Note: As a part of Unidata's committment to broadening participation through concerted efforts to introduce Unidata resources and capabilities to universities with underrepresented student populations, Unidata's Jeff Weber attended the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) conference earlier this month.

The 2019 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference was held October 31 - November 2 in Honolulu, Hawai'i. This is the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country, and I was fortunate to be able to attend and make valuable connections for Unidata and for the UCAR Community Programs (UCP) in general.

The conference was opened with a keynote talk from H.E. Hilda C Heine, President of the Republic of Marshall Islands. The keynote highlighted President Heine’s evolution from classroom teacher and school counselor to college president, Secretary of Education, and finally President of the Republic, setting the tone for a conference whose aim is to “equip, empower, and energize participants for their academic and professional paths in STEM.” Over the course of the three days, college-level through professional attendees were immersed in cutting-edge scientific research and professional development sessions, motivational keynote speakers, a Graduate School & Career Expo Hall, multicultural celebrations, and an inclusive and welcoming community of peers, mentors, and role models.

The exhibit hall was quite full, with many universities and government agencies present to recruit attendees. Lunch on the first day was spent at a “lunch with a scientist” event, where I sat at the “Atmospheric Scientist” table. Staff from UCAR's Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) were also also present, and we were joined by many students, with whom we had the chance to discuss opportunities at UCAR/NCAR specifically including the SOARS internships and the Unidata Technical Internships. All told, we talked with about a dozen students from various colleges and universities, most of whom expressed interest in both internships.

One of my primary objectives was to meet up with Bill Thomas, Senior Lead for Islands, Indigenous and International Issues for the NOAA Office for Coastal Management ‒ Pacific Islands. Bill has been involved in the UCAR program “Rising Voices” and suggested an even closer working relationship with this group. Unidata’s Josh Young and I have been loosely involved in Rising Voices for the past couple of years, and we agree that this relationship can be made even stronger and more involved. One option we’re exploring to expand this relationship is forging stronger connections with the Haskell Indian Nations University and their sister school, the University of Kansas. The best conduit for this dialogue is HERS, the Haskell Environmental Research Studies program.

Navigation stones
Traditional navigation stones (click to enlarge)

I also attended the “climate change” sessions at which many University of Hawai’i students and professors presented. Saturday was another opportunity to spend time with Bill Thomas and others of the Island and Indigenous communities. Sessions included fascinating talks about Polynesian navigators, where I was privileged to meet and engage with Dr. Failautusi Avegalio, professor at the University of Hawai’i and 4th generation King of Samoa. Bill Thomas also introduced me to Reverend Kalani Souza, who is actively engaged in the Rising Voices program and spiritual leader of the Island and Indigenous community. All in all, the conference was a valuable opportunity to make connections with a range of people in the wider STEM community.

Visit to the University of Hawai’i

Since I was already on the island, I had the chance to follow up the conference with a site visit to the University of Hawai’i, Manoa at the invitation of the Head of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Dr. Steven Businger. The SOEST provides real time forecasts for the observatories at Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Halekala from their offices on the Big Island.

SOEST uses Unidata’s Local Data Manager (LDM) to ingest satellite (GOES-17) and high resolution forecast model output into their computing systems, but they were missing valuable data and output needed to initialize local models used for observatory forecasting. Ryan Lyman, lead forecaster for observatories, flew from the Big Island to Oahu to meet with me and try to solve this missing data issue. After some discussion with Ryan (and some phone and e-mail exchanges with Unidata staff member Tom Yoksas back in Boulder), we were able to successfully tune the University of Hawai’i’s LDM so that no products were missing or being dropped. This was a huge success and very valuable to their mission.

SOEST student lab
SOEST student lab

I also had the opportunity to help with the student lab at SOEST. They were unable to run Unidata’s Integrated Data Viewer (IDV) visualization package, and consistently got error messages upon install. Again, working with Unidata staff members (this time IDV developer Yuan Ho) we determined that the problem was a video card driver issue. After unsuccessful attempts to update the driver on the existing Ubuntu OS, Mike Gonsalves (SOEST Lab Administrator) and I wiped the OS off all the lab machines and installed CentOS 7. This solved the problem with the IDV and also positioned them well for running Unidata's version of the National Weather Service's AWIPS CAVE client. I was able to fully demonstrate the IDV for Professor Giuseppe Torri, who now plans to use the package for his synoptic meteorology class next semester.

The following day I was to meet with postdoc Lacey Holland. Lacey does operational VOG (Volcanic Fog) forecasting and populates a Unidata THREDDS Data Server with model output. Lacey was not aware of the tight IDV/THREDDS relationship, and I was able to demonstrate client access to the THREDDS server via the catalog chooser. This greatly simplified Lacey’s workflow and opened up new ways to visualize the model output and share data and imagery. I was also able to demonstrate some new GOES-17 derived products that can be quite valuable for volcano monitoring during eruptions. Lacey was also very interested in Unidata’s Python offerings; I was able to show her the updated Python Gallery as well as the many instructional videos, including the MetPy Mondays videos available on Unidata’s YouTube channel.


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