At age 5, the question "Why is the sky blue?" made East Carolina University senior Joel McAuliffe realize that the atmosphere could be truly magnificent.
"We shouldn't just view the sky as simply air," McAuliffe said. "I have always loved sitting outside, watching the darkness of a thunderstorm loom on the horizon."
A Stephens City, Virginia native, McAuliffe is double majoring in applied atmospheric science and mathematics.
"I have always been curious about the atmosphere and the environment," McAuliffe said. "I added math as a major because I found the mathematics behind the sciences just as interesting."
During his sophomore year, McAuliffe participated in an undergraduate research project studying sea breezes on the Atlantic Coast with associate professor Dr. Rosana Ferreira.
"This research experience was very beneficial because it was a way I could get a sense of the research process, and I was able to develop valuable skills in coding and scientific writing," he said. "The sea breeze was actually a topic my professor was researching and though it was something I learned in class, I felt I could learn even more if I participated in the research project."
In summer 2015, McAuliffe participated in the 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates program with the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma where he contributed to a study relevant to predicting future climate and possibly increasing warning times for severe storms.
The program admits approximately 10 students out of nearly 100 applications.
"Along with research, the program focused on skills such as presenting, writing a formal scientific paper and continuing education," he said. "I made some quality friends and memories during my stay."
Last April, McAuliffe presented at ECU's Research Creativity and Achievement Week regarding his time at the National Weather Center. He has also attended the national American Meteorological Society conference twice.
"At the national conference, there are multiple presentations on different scientific research projects conducted by real atmospheric scientists and informational panels regarding various career opportunities in the field," he said. "I attended the student conference last year and had the opportunity to present my research."
This past spring, McAuliffe was also awarded an N.C. Space Grant to study precipitation variability in the Atlantic Ocean.
"The application required an essay along with an original research project," he said. "Overall, this was a rewarding experience because I was able to conduct my own research project with a trusted faculty member. I was also exposed to atmospheric modeling and new coding languages, which will be handy in the near future."
After graduation, McAuliffe said that he wants to focus on climate research. "I'm looking into grad schools now, but for now I want to focus on atmospheric research, specifically studying climate research and numerical modeling."
However, McAuliffe said that he does not want to be a meteorologist on TV. "Unfortunately, no, I believe it would be better to keep me as far away from cameras as possible," he said.
McAuliffe is a member of the Student Association of Latino and Spanish Affairs, the ECU American Meteorological Society Chapter and the Society of Physics Students Club.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year?
That no one wears their lanyard around their neck.
What advice do you have for other students? Remember why you came here. Live your life for the present and the future.
Written by: Sophronia Knott
Photography by: Cliff Hollis