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Howard Alumnus Making Waves as First African American Director of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory

Dr. DaNa Carlis flying in the NOAA Gulf Stream IV releasing weather instruments over the Pacific Ocean during a reconnaissance mission supporting National Weather Service forecasts. Photo courtesy of Dr. DaNa Carlis. 

Dr. DaNa Carlis, a three-time graduate of Howard University, has been named the first African American director of the Severe Storms Laboratory for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He credits mentorship and his education at Howard for the many opportunities that he has had to succeed.

Carlis’ work at the National Severe Storms Laboratory will include data analysis of all severe weather hazards from the impact of flash floods in neighborhoods to predicting models of upcoming snow storms. The information collected will also help scientists and engineers create the next generation of weather radars that measure precipitation across the country.

When you check your phone’s weather app or watch your local meteorologists’ daily forecast, these services are both created using vast amounts of research and data collected by agencies like NOAA where they analyze global weather patterns and create weather models.

“There’s a portion of the work that we do that goes unnoticed, but if you pulled back the curtain you would see how much research goes into the services that you use on a daily basis. If you ever get an alert on your phone regarding a tornado warning or a severe weather warning, a lot of research has gone into ensuring that that alert is tailored to help you make the best decisions,” Carlis said.

While studying for his bachelor’s degree, professors in the Chemistry department at Howard University encouraged Carlis to continue pursuing his education past his first degree. Dr. Vernon R. Morris, the founding director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at Howard University, extended the opportunity for Carlis to study for his Master’s degree in the field for free. 

“I would not be where I am today without people really pouring into me,” Carlis, a first-generation college student and native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said. 

After attaining his Master’s in Atmospheric Sciences and working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, Carlis obtained his in Atmospheric Sciences doctorate at The Mecca. He was a member of the second class of Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. recipients at Howard University and the second African American male to earn this distinction. 

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“After that, I got an opportunity to work at NOAA headquarters which helped broaden my horizon and experience across the agency. I was able to go to fishery science centers, national marine sanctuaries, and NOAA research laboratories. That just helped provide me with a level of understanding of the broader NOAA mission regarding being stewards of our land, being conservationists, and environmentalists,” Carlis, who joined NOAA in 2002, said. 

Carlis believes that it is very important to be a role model for young African Americans and other people of color. He is currently the President of The Seed of a Nation Ministry at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Washington, D.C., where he mentors young men in their personal development and gives professional advice on ranging topics.  

Students like Khalfani Fields, who is a graduating senior majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry at Howard, are proud to see figures like Dr. Carlis becoming more visible for the next generation of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. 

“Just seeing that is very inspiring because, when you’re growing up, you always see the white doctor being shown in STEM. To see some representation gives me hope that I could actually get to that point and that he is even someone that I could potentially reach out to and see how he got to that point,” Fields said.

At the age of 16, Carlis recalls meeting his first Howard University graduate who told him the wonders of The Mecca and inspired him to pursue an education at the university. He was so confident in his destiny at Howard that it was the only college that he applied to. 

“I have had really amazing leaders and mentors who have given me a lot in terms of wisdom and they’ve helped develop me into the person that I am. I would consider it robbery if I didn’t give back to my community and to young people,” Carlis said. 

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In 2016, Carlis and his wife, Dr. Lydia Carlis, wrote a book called “M.I.T.: Meteorologist in Training” in response to his wife noticing a lack of representation of people of color in children’s books. Carlis, who is also a graduate of Howard University, has an extensive background working in early childhood education and encouraged her husband to write the book that is now incorporated into the curriculum of AppleTree Early Learning Center. 

Evan Britton studies sports medicine at Howard University and is minoring in chemistry. He feels happy that there is more representation in a field that historically has not been racially diverse. He also thinks that there are many professionals of color similar to Carlis that are simply not well-known for their contributions. 

“It’s definitely helpful for the younger generations to have people that look like them to look up to. Personally, I have already had some figures that I look up to, but this is certainly a positive thing to see,” Britton said. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew 

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