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‘When I was younger, I always liked watching The Weather Channel. I liked Storm Stories, and learning about hurricanes and tornadoes that were coming through. Storm Stories was my main thing that I would change the channel to when I was little.’

Marisa Hess (’15)

How did you decide to major in Earth Science?

I was always really good at math and sciences. I’ve done well in the other subjects, too, but I’ve never really had an passion for those. I took physics and astronomy my senior year of high school and I really liked both of those classes. They were super tough but I did well in both of them. I always liked watching The Weather Channel. I liked Storm Stories, and learning about hurricanes and tornadoes that were coming through. Storm Stories were my main thing that I would change the channel to when I was little. So as I was looking at college, I looked to see if there was a weather-related major, and JMU came up as one of the top ones around. And then because I always think of a Plan B — like what if I get an internship in meteorology and then find out that I’m terrible on camera — I looked at the broader picture and wondered what if I major in something that has meteorology as part of it but not all of it so that I wouldn’t necessarily limit my options for the future. So my whole thought process was: I like weather, and earth science has oceanography, astronomy, geology and meteorology all built in. With earth science, I have a lot of options.

How was your internship?

In one word? Amazing. It was a semester long. It started out with me just shadowing the meteorologists — watching them and how they do what they do, me asking questions. And then they started giving me tasks like going with them to record radio cut-ins, helping them design the images that viewers see on TV broadcasts, helping them write the closed captioning. I practiced on the green screen. I forecasted, which is really hard. You have to look at so many different sides of the weather — fronts, lows, highs. I mean, there are four different kinds of fronts — warm, cold, oscillatory and stationary. You have to look at how thick the clouds are. How high up the clouds go can tell you have much they can condense and how much it’s going to rain. 


More from the College of Science and Math: Geology and Environmental Science


Can you explain percentage of rain in a forecast?

So for isolated rain, when you look at the radar, there are just these little puffs of rain here and there popping in. So basically you just make an educated guess on how much rain you think we are going to get. The higher percentage is, obviously, the greater the chance of rain. They only forecast 100 percent chance of rain when looks like rain from sunrise to sunset or most of the day that is going to make your day super inconvenient.

Who are your favorite professors?

It would have to be Dr. Stan Ulanski and Dr. Lynn Fitcher. They both have such passion for what they do, and you can tell this really, really quickly. Both of them love to help their students. I went for help from both of them for classes I had with them. I would go in and talk to Dr. Ulanski before tests just to make sure that I had my facts straight, and it would help me every time. He is so passionate about weather, and he knows that I share that passion, so we have just had some amazing discussions that I have learned so much from over the years. And Dr. Fitcher is so brilliant that I could just talk to him for hours and hours.

So they’re your clear-cut favorites?

OK, the only real reason I pick two here is because Dr. Ulanski is weather to me and Dr. Fitcher is rocks — a geology buff to the max — but, really, all the earth science professors have been genuine and giving and just amazing. 

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Marisa Hess (’15)

Major: Earth Science
Hometown: Woodbridge, Va.
Highlights: Accepted Early Action; wants to be a TV meteorologist; favorite class was a summer geology course in Ireland; loved her rigorous internship experience at a Harrisonburg TV station.

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