The 2021-2022 academic year welcomed a new experimental opportunity for students. The Valparaiso University (VU) Meteorology Department and the Valparaiso University Police Department (VUPD) have started a one-credit internship program.
Through this internship, students will be able to provide weather forecasts for VUPD and the university, and monitor large-scale events for possible extreme weather.
“[Student participants] help us predict the weather for the whole event. So, do we need to shelter people in place because of a tornado? Do we need to evacuate people from an area because of the weather?” said Chuck Garber, Assistant Chief of Police for VUPD.
Garber gave a brief overview of some of the experience interns can receive from the program.
“[The internship] helps us provide better safety, safety for all the events. What it teaches them is to work in the Incident Management System, and work alongside fire and police. And it teaches them emergency management,” Garber said.
Prior to this year, meteorology students still received opportunities to monitor weather during events, primarily through Valparaiso Emergency Management Organization (VEMO).
According to Garber, the relationship between VEMO and VUPD started because of the university's use of National Incident Management System guidelines, which requests that all involved receive weather information for events. VEMO members were brought in to give weather briefings, while some alumni who are former VEMO members continue to consult on event planning via the National Weather Service in both Indiana and Illinois.
However, this initial partnership did not award students credit for their participation in the program. The internship with VUPD was created to provide a more organized approach and to encourage meteorology students who aren’t in VEMO to participate in monitoring events by offering class credit.
“This summer, I happened to have a conversation with the Assistant Police Chief, Chuck Garber, where we were able to kind of dig in a little bit more and formalize this opportunity in a more distinct way and be able to offer that for internship credit,” Associate Professor of Meteorology Kevin Goebbert said.
Senior meteorology major Natalie Vernon described the process of tracking weather for activities.
“Usually, we’ll give them a forecast a day or two in advance, and then we are there on-site during the event to monitor the weather in case there are storms or rain coming in,” Vernon said. “So, you can tell them in advance, hopefully an hour or two, so they can get all the officers in rain gear, or to make sure, if there's a concert going on, that everyone should go inside.”
In addition to being able to observe weather at events, meteorology interns can also receive training in emergency management from VEMO. While the organization is open to anyone, Vernon noted many meteorology students join VEMO in order to receive required training for federal sectors like the National Weather Service.
“I’ve learned that if you do want a job in the government sector or FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], it's a good idea to have that training beforehand. We also do other training, like CPR and First Aid, or we were working on getting people HAM Radio-Certified. So, we don't want it just to be about weather, because emergency management isn't,” Vernon said.
This semester, the meteorology students have tracked weather for move-in day, the Welcome Back Bash and convocation. Additionally, students are scheduled to work at President Padilla’s Inauguration, sporting events and commencement. This will likely expand to other types of events either later this academic year or in the future.
“You know, I think, obviously weather impacts everything and everybody every single day. And so, ways in which this could evolve could be greater coordination with activities in Student Life, for example, that does a lot of outdoor activities. Or even other campus organizations. Or seeking out resources within, from our meteorology students to help them better plan and prepare for doing things,” Goebbert said.
The internship with VUPD currently only consists of three students (one intern and two volunteers) who have previously helped VUPD as a starting point. Goebbert said interested students can start by getting involved in VEMO or wait for a potential internship call-out.
“This is something that will be able to happen each and every semester. There’s always big events happening, so there will be the opportunity to serve at some point, if this is something that interests them,” Goebbert said.
Garber said that he likes the knowledge the meteorology students bring, as they help give more time to prepare for any extreme weather.
“It is comforting to me as the incident commander for the events to have somebody, you know, able to tell me lightning’s coming, winds are coming. Before that, either myself or one of the other commanders that work with me were watching the weather and worried ‘Is it gonna get us?’ This has really helped,” Garber said.