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If you are from the Caribbean and you're good at math and science, the advice you get is to become a doctor, says Andrea Sealy. "But I never liked biology much," she adds.
A great school teacher pointed her down what would eventually become her career path. "My geography teacher was really knowledgeable. I was fascinated learning about how weather works. I said to myself, this looks like fun, perhaps I can do this." That same year, a meteorologist at a school career day told Sealy that the field required a lot of math and physics—both subjects that she loved. "That was it. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and from then on, that was what I was going to do."
Her road to the United States started on the running track. In high school she was captain of the girl's track team, and she continued running when she entered college. "My coach said, Maybe we can get you to the U.S," she recalls. "One of the schools he was thinking of was Jackson State University, which has a meteorology major, so I didn't have to sacrifice my major to get a track scholarship."
Although she no longer runs, Sealy would like to coach someday. "I still really enjoy looking at athletes' technique and seeing where they could improve."
‘I said to myself, this looks like fun, perhaps I can do this.’
Gregory Jenkins recruited her for grad school when he was at Pennsylvania State University. "Coming from Jackson State, where she was an outstanding student, to Penn State where there are a lot of outstanding students, was a challenge," says Jenkins. "Also, it wasn't a diverse environment; it was a little hostile. But I always felt that she was destined to make an impact."
Sealy became Jenkins' research assistant. "Being with a great mentor like him gives you the enthusiasm to enjoy this stuff. So I started looking at West African climate for my master's work. Coming from the tropics myself, I've always been interested in tropical climate, and there's so much work that needs to be done in that area. It's a region where it would be good if scientists could contribute their knowledge to helping the people." The two studied rainfall processes using data from the TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) satellite. Sealy continued to Howard University and received a Ph.D. in 2006.
‘After being so well educated and having so many diverse experiences, it'll be good to see what I can contribute to the field at home.’
It was also Jenkins who encouraged Sealy to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship at NCAR, which she completed in 2008. "She's a creative person, and to bring the best out of a creative person, they need an environment with growth potential. I thought from my own experience [as an NCAR postdoc] that she would flourish out there, and that's what happened."
Throughout her education, Sealy took advantage of summer programs, internships, and any possible opportunity to stretch herself. One summer at the University of Oklahoma she participated in Earthstorm, a program that brings K-12 teachers to campus to learn basic meteorological principles. "I had always liked education and outreach, but that experience is what really fueled my interest, how as a scientist you can talk to others who are not in the field," she says. Since then she has been involved in a wide range of outreach endeavors. An award-winning Girl Guide in Barbados, at NCAR she helped coordinate a program that brings Girl Scouts together with women scientists.
After many years in the United States, Sealy is back in Barbados. She's now a researcher at the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology, part of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization.
"After being so well educated and having so many diverse experiences, it'll be good to see what I can contribute to the field at home. My new director is of the mind set that even though you're coming back home, don't fall off the radar. So I'll be coming back for professional meetings and workshops, and I'll continue to collaborate."
Jenkins believes that Sealy's outgoing personality and positive attitude "will inspire other young people to come into the field. She's going to encourage people who maybe have not been in the field traditionally—in fact I think she's going to encourage all people, because she's kind of a global person—to pursue their dreams. She's the role model now."
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.