Dewey Thriving on Outreach

Ken Dewey visited the Canadian Northwest Territories, documenting the impacts of climate change for his outreach speaker series and his photo web sites.
Ken Dewey visited the Canadian Northwest Territories, documenting the impacts of climate change for his outreach speaker series and his photo web sites.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
-- by Robert Frost, “The Road not Taken”

Faculty Profile by Ken Dewey, SNR Applied Climate Science

I began my career as a traditional tier-one university professor at UNL spending the majority of my time securing federal research grants, conducting research with my hired graduate research student assistants and publishing my research results in peer-reviewed scientific journals. My travel consisted of attending professional meetings in the U.S. and abroad. I taught undergraduates and graduate students. And of least importance, in terms of time spent, was my involvement in public outreach, which was limited to the occasional public presentation. All of this changed 12 years ago when I was introduced to web publishing at a workshop conducted by Al Stark, who was then with Ag Communications on East Campus.

I fell in love with the concept of providing climate information and my weather and climate photography to the public via the Internet and I quickly developed several web sites that I still maintain today. Ten years ago, as my interest in public outreach education grew, I came to that "fork in the road" and decided to choose the "path less travelled." I left the UNL city campus and joined the newly formed School of Natural Resource Sciences (now the School of Natural Resources) and moved into Chase Hall on UNL's East Campus. I also joined the group formally known as the Center for Agricultural Meteorology which was subsequently renamed the Applied Climate Science Group. My main focus shifted from research to outreach.

My interest in Applied Climate Science and public outreach and extension education flourished in this environment. Ten years later I look back at this decision to focus on outreach as one of the best that I ever made. Here are the various ways in which I am bringing climate information to the public of all ages in Nebraska and across the country:

Climate Corner Blog
As a primary contributor to the SNR “Climate Corner” Blog, I highlight current noteworthy weather and climate events occurring locally, nationally and globally. It is my intent to help the public increase their climate literacy and help the public understand current trends in weather and climate extremes.

Climate News
I began creating an archive of climate variation, climate change, climate extremes, and global warming news stories several years ago, selecting stories that are based on sound science. They are organized by month and year and continue to grow in number. This climate news web site is a virtual library of climate information intended to help the public better understand our complex climate system.

UNL's Weatherfest and Central Plains Severe Weather Symposium
The mission of UNL's annual Weatherfest has been to provide severe weather education and preparedness information to the public by bringing severe weather experts to our community and by offering hands-on weather and science educational exhibits for kids of all ages. One unique aspect of the free day-long event has been its ability to bring together different organizations and agencies under one roof to promote severe weather preparedness. It is exciting to tap into the passion that area residents have for weather and help them better understand the extreme weather of the Plains. More than 3,500 people of all ages attend this annual event held in Hardin Hall each spring. The 12th annual UNL Weatherfest will be held on March 31, 2012.

Summer Weather Camps
UNL held its first experimental weather camp on a Sunday afternoon in March 2010 for a group of local Girl Scouts. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, our first week-long Weather Camp took place June 13-17, 2011. It was funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the High Plains Regional Climate Center. The UNL Weather Camp, after two years of planning and development, was officially invited to join the national weather camp program for summer of 2012. These camps are part of the NOAA "CAREERS" camp program which is charged with "Channeling Atmospheric Research into Educational Experiences Reaching Students." The next UNL Weather Camp is scheduled for June 11-15, 2012. Campers will use instruments to make their own weather observations, meet forecasters at the National Weather Service, learn about the local weather of Nebraska from tornadoes to blizzards, visit the office of Emergency Management, learn about storm preparedness, learn about weather- and climate-related careers, and visit a TV weather studio to watch the news and weather live in the studio. The CAREERS Weather Camps are supported by funds from the NOAA Educational Partnership Program for Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI) through the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS) at Howard University. Weather Camps are being sponsored in Washington, D.C., Mayaguez, Puerto Rice, Jackson, Miss., El Paso, Texas, Greensboro, N.C., New York, N.Y., Lincoln, Neb., Phoenix, Ariz., Miami, Fla., and Houston, Texas. What has proven amazing is that when kids come in contact with similarly focused kids at our growing array of summer weather camps, we start to hear comments like, "I never knew there were others like me out there.”

The Chancellor’s Speakers Bureau
I accepted an invitation to join the UNL Chancellor’s Speakers Bureau seven years ago. This has proven to be another excellent opportunity for me to bring climate education to the general public as I give numerous presentations across the state each year. The Chancellor refers to his Speaker’s Bureau as “Ambassadors for the University.” I consider it as an ideal opportunity to meet the public and share my love of weather and climate with them (of course, educating them along the way).

KLIN Radio: The Climate Guru
As my interactions with the media increased due to my enhanced number of outreach activities, I was invited by KLIN radio to appear regularly on their morning show as their “Climate Guru.” It’s not a title I asked for but they have used it in appreciation for the frequent live appearances on their morning show to discuss climate events in the news, answer questions about our local climate and discuss climate variation and trends.

The Road Taken
My audience used to be limited to my research colleagues and my students as I pursued a career centered around peer-reviewed research. This was a very limited audience, both in numbers and scope. Shifting my emphasis to outreach has changed my audience to people of all ages all over Nebraska. Through my websites, I have the potential to reach out to the entire world. It is a road taken that I look back at with no regrets.