Florida State University

Kyle Ahern seems to have a sunny future as a meteorologist. The Florida State University honors student and Ernest F. Hollings Scholar with a 4.0 GPA has plans to pursue a doctorate in tropical meteorology and then teach — or write fiction or study graphic design.

"Tropical meteorology is what got me interested in weather in the first place," Ahern said. "I enjoy all kinds of weather, and my experiences with tropical cyclones far outweigh my experiences with other weather. But I don't want meteorology to define everything I do in the future."

Ahern's prospects didn't always seem this bright. Graduating from high school with less-than-stellar grades and financial woes, the path toward college success was, at times, stormy. In fact, he failed his first meteorology exam at Florida State. Nevertheless, Ahern decided to achieve his nearly lifelong goal of becoming a meteorologist with persistence and hard work.

"I made an academic '180,'" he said. "My resolve to improve pushed me through a difficult junior year with perfect marks."

With the help of Craig Filar, director of Florida State's Office of National Fellowships, the hard work that Ahern put into his studies resulted in his successful application to become an Ernest F. Hollings Scholar, granted to college sophomores through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Education. Through the Hollings Scholarship Program, Ahern is spending nine weeks this summer at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Anchorage, Alaska, studying patterns that produce freezing-rain events.

"I'm looking at past freezing-rain events to determine why some are light and others become heavy ice storms," Ahern said.

Ahern sees research opportunity afforded to him by the Hollings Scholarship as a glimpse into a potential career path.

"This gives me a chance to get my feet wet in conducting research," he said. "I had no previous research experience, and I had no idea if research was a personally viable option for my long-term future. The Hollings Scholarship is giving me that experience."

Sharon Nicholson, one of the two Florida State meteorology professors who recommended Ahern for the Hollings, praised Ahern as one of the best undergraduates that she has worked with in 30 years.

"Kyle stands out among his peers in many ways, and not just in class performance," Nicholson said. "As an example, he requested doing extra class work, not for extra credit but to obtain a deeper understanding of various topics.  He has a very promising future in meteorology."

During Ahern's upcoming senior year at Florida State, he plans to take an extra math course to get a head start on graduate school and complete an "Honors in the Major" project under the direction of meteorology Professor Henry Fuelberg.

"My project is still under development, but it will most likely focus on the meteorological transport mechanism of advection focusing on how the southeastern Asian monsoon can carry chemical compounds, including those that are man-made, into the upper atmosphere," Ahern said. "In other words, I will be studying how the weather can carry chemical compounds from point 'A' to point 'B,' and what effects might they have on weather."

Beyond the classroom, Ahern has spent time tutoring other Florida State students in calculus.

"Though I only tutored previously for a single semester, I really enjoyed helping other students," he said. "During my senior year, I hope to help out or mentor friends and colleagues in meteorology who are taking upper-level courses."

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