Matthew Vaughan, a senior in the Applied Meteorology program at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach campus, grew up in the hills of Western Massachusetts in the small town of Dalton. Since preschool, Matt has had a strong interest in flying and weather, so he planned to become a professional pilot when he grew up. He attended Mt. Greylock High School, playing varsity soccer and tennis. Matthew was an active Mt. Greylock student; serving on the Student council, representing Greylock at Massachusetts Boys’ State, and delivering the commencement address at his graduation ceremony were among his activities. Induction into the NHS and recognition as an AP Scholar with Distinction status rounded out Matt’s academic success before heading to Embry-Riddle.
At Embry-Riddle, Matthew continues to work hard on his academics. As a member of the university Honors Program, Matthew has the opportunity to work one-on-one with professors pursuing various research topics in meteorology and recently completed an internship with the NOAA National Severe Storm Lab. As president of both Chi Epsilon Pi meteorology honor society and the ERAU chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Matt remains active on campus. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports including tennis and archery, volunteering at the local HospiceCare, and reading. Matthew plans on going to graduate school for meteorology and hopes to stay in academia as a professor.
What was the application and interview process like for your NOAA internship?
Applying for the NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program was fairly straight-forward. The application was available online under NOAA’s Office of Education page. Eligibility requirements consisted of maintaining a 3.0 GPA, having U.S. citizenship, and majoring in a NOAA-related science field. The application called for 2 letters of recommendation, a resume, leadership experience, extracurricular activities, various honors and awards, and 2 essays. The essay topics concerned my career interests and how my academic pursuits aided NOAA and its mission. I sent in my application to be considered among the approximately 900 applications NOAA received each year, and fortunately, I was one of the 104 scholars to be selected.
After being selected as a scholar and attending the week-long orientation program in D.C., I was given a list of potential research topics at various NOAA facilities across the country. The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) had some interesting experiments going on at the time, so I sent a resume and a letter of interest to a NOAA scientist there. Two other Hollings scholars and I were selected to intern at NSSL over the summer with each of us working under our own NOAA mentors. I travelled to NSSL over winter break for a site visit and a final interview with my mentors.
How did this experience help solidify your future career aspirations?
My experience at NSSL gave me an introduction to all the NOAA does to serve this country. Also, having NSSL co-located with the University of Oklahoma gave me an insider’s view of what it is like to work as a scientist and professor at one of the world’s most prestigious meteorology research facilities.
My research was an extension of what my NOAA mentors were working on at the time. We were attempting to improve tornado warning lead times by modeling a tornadic supercell within a high resolution computer model using geostationary satellite and local radar data. The scientists charged me to write computer programs and scripts to analyze the model output and determine how effective the simulation was at predicting the location, path, and strength of the storm. I wrote up my findings into a manuscript and am currently trying to publish the paper in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. Being on the forefront of tornado research was exhilarating and has sparked an interest in research that I didn’t have previously.
“Research” was a frightening term before this past summer. It was a word that conjured up images of staying up reading technical articles all night and spending countless hours writing scientific papers. However, after being exposed to real research, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now, I’m dead-set on going to graduate school and pursuing a Ph.D. in meteorology. I enjoyed the atmosphere at NSSL and OU, and I will attempt to find employment as either a government researcher or a university professor after I’m done with graduate school.
What was the most beneficial part of the internship?
Being at the National Severe Storms Lab was the most beneficial part of the scholarship program. Overhearing the office banter and discussions between the NOAA scientists there was incredible. The amount of information I gained simply by listening to the scientists was like an additional semester of 400-level courses. On the first day of work, a federal meteorologist from the Storm Prediction Center invited me to go storm-chasing with him that afternoon. Those few hours in his hail-dented Civic easily doubled my knowledge of thunderstorm structure and dynamics.
Also, writing a publishable article for a scientific journal was an invaluable experience for me. Not only did I learn new techniques in technical report writing, but I gained a significant amount of confidence from completing the manuscript. Writing long scientific articles and theses doesn’t seem like such a daunting task anymore. As a result, I’m greatly anticipating my time at graduate school and continuing my research.
What advice do you have for other students searching for an internship?
The best advice I could give to my fellow students is to talk with your professors. I was a regular in my professors’ offices even as a freshman and sophomore. Ask about their academic careers and research interests outside of the specific course they teach. The professors here at ERAU are a cornucopia of information and can provide insights into the industry that textbooks can’t.
Lastly, increasing your skills as a public servant is an important part of your collegiate experience. Any government worker is, in essence, a public servant, and NOAA’s mission is all about serving the U.S. public. There was a strong sense of service among the employees I met when I visited NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. Showing that you are a strong contributor to your community will make a profound impact on how a potential employer will view your resume, whether you are working to serve the public or a company.