NCAS-M Former Director, Vernon Morris Recognized for Significant Contributions to the Production of Black and Latina Atmospheric Science Doctorate holders in the Country!

At Howard University, Vernon Morris helped train more than half of recent U.S. Black atmospheric science Ph.D.s. Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Photo by: MARISSA LESHNOV

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recognized Morris’ impact in a recent article.

More than 20 years ago, a small group of early career Black atmospheric scientists created a new graduate program at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The Howard program has turned into an influential success in what otherwise remains a very white discipline: From 2006 to 2018, Howard produced more than half of the United States’ Black doctorate holders in atmospheric science. Its faculty recruited from overlooked colleges and created rigorous scientific field campaigns for its students. Its students have now gone on to influential positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and elsewhere. But the program has also faced challenges: Nearly all of its original faculty have left, burned out by the strain of building careers and a program at once. And although its students have gone to federal agencies, few have found purchase in traditional academic departments.

For the university, Morris’s departure served as a wake-up call. The university is now creating a department of earth, environment, and equity based on the program, giving it a lasting home that will include undergraduate students (Previously the program was jointly administered by three departments, diluting its clout with the administration). Charles Ichoku, a former senior NASA scientist originally from Nigeria, joined the faculty just before the pandemic and is pursuing grants for upgrades at Beltsville. Howard has hired a new director for its NOAA center and three new faculty in atmospheric sciences, two junior and one senior.