Getting to know Carolyn Brinkworth

NCAR’s new director for Diversity, Education, and Outreach

January 6, 2015 | As part of a series of interviews with new leaders at NCAR/UCAR, Staff News recently chatted with Carolyn Brinkworth. We asked five questions to learn more about her, personally and professionally.

Staff News: Tell us a little about your background.

Carolyn: I grew up in a small village in the middle of England called Balsall Common. I went to a private school in Coventry and my family - my parents, my younger brother and I - moved to the Netherlands when I was 16. After finishing high school, I went back to England to the University of Leicester for my undergraduate studies in physics with an emphasis in astrophysics and then to graduate school in astrophysics at the University of Southampton.

While in graduate school, I did a six-month internship in California at Spitzer [the Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA program at the California Institute of Technology]. I finished my doctorate and got a job at Spitzer as a postdoc. Then I became a staff scientist doing scientist support, writing technical manuals, and working on my own research into binary stars and dust disks around white dwarfs.

Carolyn Brinkworth
Carolyn Brinkworth (Courtesy photo.)

I missed doing education and outreach so I volunteered to help out with Public Affairs. The head of public affairs was shocked because no one had ever volunteered to help before!  Later, I became deputy lead for Public Affairs after doing the job for a year and a half, and held that job before coming to NCAR. I was in charge of all education and outreach programs , and really enjoyed my job. Amongst many other things, I led the press release process, edited science content, and wrote scripts for science videos for teachers and the public. The video work was really fun. Our video director and producer at Spitzer used to work for Nickelodeon, and together we wrote scripts and created videos, working with celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Felicia Day, Sean Astin, and Betty White.

I started a Masters in Education while in California, and I’m still writing my thesis on equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education. I also volunteered for the Trevor Project - a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and crisis intervention for LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning] youth. I went to area schools and talked to kids about how to help their friends who might be at risk for suicide. I also volunteered with an organization called Learning Works,  working  with teens who had dropped out or been excluded from school and wanted to finish their education. In many cases, these students ended up going on to college.

Staff News: Do you have any hidden talents? What are they?

Carolyn:  I am a fabulous parallel parker. I’m a superhero at parallel parking and I have the cape to prove it. Living in Los Angeles really helped me get practice. But interestingly, I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was in my early 20s, because I couldn’t afford a car until then.

Staff News: What is one thing you can't live without?

Carolyn:  Music. I listen to all kinds of music – except maybe classical music or heavy metal. I especially love going to see live music, whether it’s tiny venues with local bands, or huge arenas. I recently went to see a fantastic Fleetwood Mac concert at the Forum in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving. It’s possible I have tickets to see them again in April here in Denver.

Staff News: What are your goals for the next six months in your new role?

Carolyn:  My goal in the next six months is to write a coherent strategic plan for NCAR diversity, education, and outreach. I am amazed by the depth and breadth of education programs here at UCAR and NCAR, and by the dedication of scientists and staff doing much of this work as a volunteer effort. I’m also currently gathering input from throughout NCAR, the university community, and Human Resources on the diversity element. My goal is to work with all of NCAR’s existing programs to pull everything together into one coherent strategic plan. That will enable us to all agree on where we’re going,  identify and plug any gaps in our programs, and help us measure our progress. This plan is due to NSF by June 1, 2015.

Staff News: If you could have a second career, what would it be?

Carolyn: I want to do all the things!  Lots of things!  I am really fascinated by psychology and aerospace engineering. I almost went into teaching after my undergraduate degree. People just fascinate me. The social science research I am doing now is interesting, too - looking at whether we can predict who is interested in funding and supporting science, based on other characteristics like religious affiliation, politics, demographics, science literacy, trust in scientists, and social behaviors. I love to talk about it, so ask me all about it if you want to know more!