2023 NESSI Interns

The NSF NCAR Earth System Science Internship (NESSI) program strives to provide students from underrepresented communities the opportunity to conduct scientific research and connect with scientists from a multitude of backgrounds. Presented below are the biographies of our interns from the 2023 NESSI cohort. We hope you enjoy getting to know our interns, their journeys within the earth-system science field, and how this program is shaping their career paths moving forward.

Daniel Bonilla

Undergraduate Student, Pitzer College

Hi Everyone! My name is Daniel Bonilla and I am a proud First-Gen College student from Los Angeles and an incoming Junior at Pitzer College. As the first in my family to attend a 4-year college, I am so fortunate for the perseverance and support of my family to ensure my equal opportunity within higher education. Growing up Chicano, it was rare to see myself and community within science. Frankly, it was difficult to ever envision a place accepting of me for who I truly was. It wasn’t until I was accepted into an all-expenses paid research expedition during high school, that made me realize diversity within STEM is not as fruitful as I could have hoped. From then, I knew that I had to be the representation that I wanted to see. I have to be the change that makes a difference. And I have been on that path since. This has led into my undergraduate academic pursuits, where at Pitzer College, I study environmental science and sociology with a research focus on atmospheric and environmental chemistry.

As a NESSI intern, I am working in the Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling and Observation Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Jun Zhang, and researching the Atmospheric Chemistry and volcanic perturbation interactions in the atmosphere as a result of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano that most recently erupted in early 2022. This is a change from the typical research I do, moving from anthropogenic air pollution, to biological cases. This opportunity has challenged me in the best ways, and allowed me to grow my skill set in various technical capacities.

Since I am only halfway through my undergraduate education, I hope to eventually attend graduate school and study the intersection of Atmospheric Science and Public Health. My passion lies in advocating for marginalized communities that are exposed disproportionately to environmental health risks and air pollution. I see within my own community the increased health risks that my loved ones are susceptible too and know that I can be a frontline advocate and researcher in this field.

Through this internship program, I have learned valuable technical research skills and broadened my scope of the atmospheric sciences and am thankful for the opportunity to do such. Utilizing the NSF NCAR SuperComputer, developing further coding skills in Linux and Python, and making more complex figures have been some of the most rewarding learning opportunities. Additionally, in my time in Boulder, I was able to organize NSF NCAR and UCAR-wide events that allowed for networking and connecting opportunities with first generation college students and graduates. Working with Jerry Cyccone and Marissa Vara to implement this type of programming for the first time was an amazing way to leave my mark this summer. I am thankful to find a way to make the workplace a more equitable place and continue to find ways to support marginalized individuals. I thank NSF NCAR, NESSI, and NSF for allowing me to do so.

Harvana Laing

Undergraduate Student, Jackson State University

My name is Harvana Laing. I was born and raised in the Bahamas. I am an incoming junior at Jackson State University majoring in Meteorology. Since a young age, I have been fascinated about the weather and everything that comes with it. As I got older, my passion for the weather and atmosphere grew deeper, and I knew that I would eventually work in the meteorology field. I am working toward my long-term career goal of becoming a Broadcast Meteorologist. With my experience here at NSF NCAR, I have been exposed to new skills and people, and learned so much about the meteorological field through different scientists. With the help of my mentors, Mari Tye and Agbeli Ameko, I am creating an interesting and captivating project centered on analyzing the rapid intensification and translation speed of various hurricanes. In addition, I will look at how forecasters can better improve their communication with the public. I realize that not many forecasters talk about rapid intensification and the severe impact it can cause, which is why I am addressing it within my research project this summer.

Isabela Suaza Sierra

Graduate Student, University of Texas at El Paso

I was born and raised in Apartadó, Antioquia, Colombia, a town known for its rich cultural heritage. The name "Apartadó" derives from the local indigenous language, meaning "river of plantains." Situated near the Gulf of Urabá, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean, the town's economy thrives on agricultural products such as bananas, plantains, corn, cassava, cocoa, wood, and livestock. My upbringing was shaped by my resilient and hardworking mother and grandmother, who did not have the opportunity to access higher education. Nevertheless, they instilled in me a belief in the transformative power of education, inspiring me to become the first in my family to pursue a bachelor's degree. I obtained my bachelor's in geological engineering at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Currently, I am pursuing a research master's degree at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I will be transitioning to the Ph.D. program in Geology this fall, 2023. I aim to develop a spatial planning tool to assist decision-makers in evaluating the potential impact of proposed water management decisions and climate scenarios on reservoir fisheries, instream flows, and human water needs in the Red River basin, which spans Texas and Oklahoma. During my graduate experience, I was honored to represent UTEP in the Hispanic-Serving Research University Alliance at the University of California Santa Cruz in June 2023. This alliance focuses on enhancing the representation of Hispanic women in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Disciplines.

As a NESSI intern, I am working on calibrating a hydrological model called WEAP (Water Evaluation And Planning system). Our calibration efforts primarily concentrate on 11 natural catchments devoid of human influences, such as reservoirs. By calibrating these natural flows using soil and land cover parameters, we aim to obtain accurate representations of the hydrological processes in these catchments. Once the natural flows are calibrated, our next step involves integrating reservoirs into the model. The Red River Basin consists of 38 lakes or reservoirs, and we intend to simulate their volume dynamics within the WEAP model. The output from the reservoir modeling, including storage and water elevation data, will serve as inputs for the machine-learning temperature models that I previously developed in my master's thesis. Integrating the physical model (WEAP) with machine learning techniques is a key objective of my current work. By combining the strengths of the physical model and machine learning approaches, we aim to enhance our understanding of the hydrological processes within the Red River Basin. This integrated framework holds the potential to provide valuable insights and assist in water resource planning and management in the region.

My career aspirations revolve around three key objectives. Firstly, I strive to serve as a role model for young Latina female scientists, especially as a first-generation student. By sharing my journey and experiences, I hope to inspire and encourage others to pursue careers in science. Secondly, I aim to become a prominent researcher and expert in hydrological modeling under climate change conditions. I am driven by a passion to understand and mitigate the effects of climate change on our natural resources and the planet. Lastly, I am dedicated to raising awareness about climate change and its environmental impact. Through education and outreach initiatives, I seek to inform the public and promote sustainable practices that can help mitigate these effects.

During my internship at NSF NCAR, mentorship and workshops have played a key role in my professional development. The guidance and support I have received from the esteemed scientists and mentors at NSF NCAR have been invaluable to my growth. Their expertise and mentorship have allowed me to expand my knowledge and skills, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from such high-caliber individuals. This mentorship at NSF NCAR will prove invaluable in achieving my goal of completing my Ph.D., as it equips me with the necessary knowledge and tools to excel in my research and become a better person academically and professionally. Furthermore, I am amazed as a Colombian to have the opportunity to be at a USA national research center like NSF NCAR. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be here, as it has opened doors for me, and will continue to do so. NSF NCAR is a place full of amazing people and provides a conducive environment to work in.

Joe Loffredo

Undergraduate Student, SUNY Albany

I grew up in East Hanover, a small town in northern New Jersey. So, naturally I was fascinated by the frequent snowstorms from a young age. I went to the University at Albany where I got my undergraduate degree with honors in Atmospheric Science and minored in Mathematics. I interned at the National Weather Service for a year gaining valuable operational skills. I wrote my thesis on an analysis and comparison of National Lightning Detection Network and United States Precision Lightning Network data for the period 2014-2022. I just graduated this past spring (2023) and plan on taking a gap-year before going to graduate school.

I am currently conducting research at the Earth Observing Laboratory with Tammy Weckworth, looking at MPD (MicroPulse DIAL) Differential Absorption Lidar data from previous field campaigns to show off the high vertical resolution of water vapor and ability to operate autonomously long-term. We are specifically looking at various atmospheric phenomena that passed overhead of the MPD, like gust fronts, a MCS, etc. The main goal of this project is to motivate future field campaigns and forecasters to use this instrument as it is still relatively new.

I would like to continue to conduct research in some capacity moving forward with my career. While I don’t know exactly what career I want to have, I do know I want to leave an impact on the world. 2023 is already seeing unprecedented heat and may go down as the hottest year on record. Some of my motivations come from having worked with special needs children the past two summers and wanting to be able to say that I helped to leave a better world for them and future generations. Whether that is through doing research, advocacy, teaching, and/or non-profit work.

Nish Etige

Graduate Student, Boston University

My story starts in Sri Lanka, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean. While living there for more than two decades, I studied aquatic science in a small mountainous college called Uva Wellasaa University of Sri Lanka. In college, I developed an interest in ocean science. After graduating, I worked for a couple of years in two organizations (the International Water Management Institute & International Union for Conservation of Nature) in Sri Lanka. Afterward, I pursued a Master’s degree in Marine Science (Physical Oceanography concentration) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmout's School for Marine Science & Technology. There, I researched the seasonality, variability, and survival of the Gulf Stream’s Warm Core Rings. Currently, I am a Doctoral Candidate at Boston University within their Department of Earth & Environment where I research large-scale interactions between the Kuroshio Extension and North Pacific Atmosphere.

At NSF NCAR, I am working with Dr. Anna-Lena Deppenmeier of the Oceanography Section of the Climate and Global Dynamics (CGD) Laboratory. I am using high-resolution Community Earth System Model (CESM) data to investigate the interactions between the Kuroshio Extension and the North Pacific atmosphere in a changing climate. The research I conduct at NSF NCAR will be the basis for a chapter in my doctoral dissertation.

My career aspirations revolve around my progress as a researcher in the field of ocean-climate science. I want to do this while supporting a future generation of ocean-climate scientists to thrive through time. During this internship, I was able to mix up well with the NSF NCAR community and expand my professional network effectively within and beyond NSF NCAR. The mentorship I received from my NSF NCAR mentor has been an amazing one where I learned a lot of lifelong competencies within a short span of time. I am expecting to use these lessons and broaden my network in my pursuit of excelling in ocean-climate science.

Paulina Soto Robles

Undergraduate Student, University of Arizona

My name is Paulina Soto Robles. I grew up in a relatively small northern city in Mexico called Chihuahua. Yes, like the dog. I spent the first 18 years of my life there until it was time for me to continue my higher education path. I always knew I wanted to study the cosmos. Everything started with the stars but evolved into an immense curiosity towards the unknown. What lies beyond the observable? And how are these phenomena even possible? Pursuing an astronomy degree became a dream of mine, one that involved major changes in everything I knew as Mexico’s universities did not offer a bachelor’s degree in astronomy. Therefore, the next plausible option was majoring in physics, but something felt wrong. I knew that was not for me and that I needed to leave my comfort zone. I started looking for opportunities in different countries; opportunities that would help me achieve my goals while also being as close to home as possible. With the support and encouragement of my parents, family, and friends, in Spring 2021, I began my professional path at the University of Arizona in Tucson pursuing an astronomy degree with a specialization in mathematics and physics. Simultaneously, I started doing extragalactic research guided by my mentor, Dr. Brenda Frye, who has played a huge role in my personal and professional development. Happily and proudly, after a rollercoaster of emotions and indescribable challenges, I stand here not regretting a single decision because I know I am where I belong, as well as where I am heading.

Alongside my mentors, Dr. Michael Wiltberger and Dr. Wenbin Wang, this summer, I am analyzing two substorm (auroral) events caused by a specific kind of solar activity called Coronal Mass Ejection, or CME. The main focus of this research project relies on quantifying the accuracy of the Multiscale Atmosphere-Geospace Environment model, MAGE, for its improvement on further research implementation . This will be achieved by completing an in-depth comparison between the observed data obtained through NASA’s The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS)) All-Sky Imagers and the data produced by the digital model itself.

At the beginning of everything, I wanted to be an astronaut and I am still holding on to it. On the other hand, other priorities have come into the picture as well. In five years, I see myself pursuing a graduate degree in planetary sciences. In ten years, I picture myself starting a family while continuing my astronomical research hoping to contribute to answering a few of the million questions we have about our amazing universe. In twenty years, I have no idea where life will take me, but there is one thing I expect. I expect myself to feel completely happy with the place I am in and feel accomplished in all the possible areas of my life. I hope future Paulina keeps fighting for her dreams, but there’s nothing to worry about because I know she will :).

NSF NCAR has opened my mind to new possibilities, something I will be forever grateful for. The welcoming community and the hands-on research opportunities have helped me learn more about myself, things I was too scared to admit myself before. NSF NCAR has reminded me that everything is possible, something we tend to forget or doubt as we grow up.

Stephanie Ortiz Rosario

Undergraduate Student, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez

I was born in Puerto Rico, where I grew up experiencing its tropical cloudiness and rainfall. My interest in the atmosphere finally sparkled when I traveled for the first time. I remember being mesmerized by how the clouds were formed over the island as I was 35,000 ft up in the sky. This eventually led me to pursue a major in Theoretical Physics, with a curricular sequence in Atmospheric Sciences & Meteorology. My undergraduate studies in Puerto Rico have reinforced my passion for understanding the cloud formation that takes place over the tropics, with a focus on mesoscale or local processes. As a Latina atmospheric scientist in progress, is it important for me to serve as an advocate for diversity and inclusion efforts. Among those efforts, I have enjoyed supporting my local AMS student chapter, la Sociedad Meteorológica de Puerto Rico, which aims to provide opportunities in the Atmospheric Sciences for students on the island and educate the community about weather and climate in Spanish.

As a NESSI intern, I am working in the Mesoscale & Microscale Meteorology Laboratory (MMM) alongside my mentor, Dr. Kelly Núñez Ocasio, and in collaboration with Dr. Zachary Moon and Dr. Chris Davis, to understand how African Mesoscale Convective Systems (MCSs) are modulated by changes in moisture. We are using simulations from the Model Prediction Across Scales (MPAS-A), where the relative humidity was altered to add and remove water vapor from the environment. To identify and track the MCSs that developed across the simulations, we are using the Tracking Algorithm for Mesoscale Convective Systems (TAMS).

During the summer, I have been gaining so much knowledge about tropical meteorology, Python coding, and scientific communication, which will propel me to finish my undergraduate studies and pursue a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences. My mentor has been my major inspiration and it has been an honor to work with an atmospheric scientist who is also Latina and understands my career path and challenges. In the future, I see myself as a research scientist but, most importantly, as an open resource for Latinx students who also wish to pursue a career in Atmospheric Sciences, where they will contribute to more diverse workspaces with their experiences, knowledge, and ideas.

Ye Mu

Graduate Student, University of California, Santa Barbara

I grew up in the bustling, vibrant city of Tianjin, China. A city steeped in rich history and pulsating with modern life, Tianjin was where I first developed my fascination with the world's diverse geographies. I pursued Bachelor's and Master of Science degrees in Geography at San Diego State University (SDSU) in California, immersing myself in the study of physical geography, climates, and how they interact with human societies. My love for the subject then brought me to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Climate Sciences and Climate Change in the Geography Department. My current summer research at NSF NCAR delves into the dynamics of the South American Low-level Jet (SALLJ). This atmospheric phenomenon, vital for moisture transport, holds significant implications for South America's climate patterns. My mentors are Dr. Lulin Xue and Dr. Changhai Liu at the Research Applications Laboratory (RAL). My project goals include: (a) understanding the remote forcings influencing the SALLJ, particularly at subseasonal-to-seasonal and decadal scales; and (b) identifying any consistent trends in the SALLJ and remote forcings. In collaboration with my mentors, we are using cutting-edge analytical tools to enhance our understanding of South America's complex climatology.

My ultimate career aspiration is to become a prominent climate science researcher and educator at a university or research institution. I see this internship at NSF NCAR as a key stepping stone towards this goal, where I leverage high-performance computing and high-resolution modeling data from the NSF NCAR programs. The chance at NESSI to present my latest findings to diverse audiences will not only refine my research but also broaden its impact. Engaging with a network of students, interns, and professionals, I anticipate gaining diverse perspectives and deeper institutional knowledge. NSF NCAR's events provide a unique platform for fostering academic and industry connections, offering potential pathways for future collaboration. This synergy of open science discussions, shared research insights, and professional networking will significantly extend my professional network, paving the way for a thriving career in climate science research post-graduation.

Benjamin Fellman

Graduate Assistant, University of Oklahoma

My meteorological journey began at the grand age of 3 years old. I was infatuated with the weather and how this information was communicated to the public. My family will recount the many hours we spent watching The Weather Channel, and how my obsession with the weather slowly turned into pursuing a career within this field.

Beginning as a child, I always knew there was something different about me. As a teenager, I later discovered these underlying differences I felt from a majority of my peers was because of the fact that I was gay. For many years, I struggled hiding this side of me, doing everything I could to get by without being judged for my sexuality. My life carried on this way until one day, I realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of and that I want to live a life without holding back on my true identity. On November 3, 2016, I came out to my family, and shortly after, to my friends and the world. This singular experience in many ways shaped me into the person that I am today; resilient, self-confident, and ready to take on any challenge that comes my way.

During my undergraduate career, I had the unique opportunity to pursue a Meteorology degree at Millersville University as a student-athlete, playing Division II tennis within the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) for four years. As an openly gay athlete, I felt extremely underrepresented and vulnerable at times. However, the opportunity to serve this role was empowering, and allowed me to be completely authentic throughout my academic career. I was a captain of my tennis team for several years, and served as the President of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) during my senior year. These experiences enhanced my professional skill set, and provided me with the opportunities to connect with student-athletes and serve as a liaison between them and the athletic department.

Furthermore, during this time at Millersville as well, I became interested in research. This first inspiration occurred during my first semester when I had the chance to fly on the University of Wyoming King Air research aircraft. This opportunity intrigued me, and I became extremely passionate about finding additional research experiences within the field. Through the guidance and support of my advisors, Dr. Richard Clark and Dr. Sepi Yalda, I was inducted into the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship Program, Class of 2019. This scholarship program allowed me to complete an internship through the National Weather Service (NWS) Office in Key West, Florida, where I studied how synoptic-scale features affect the probabilities of waterspouts in the Florida Keys. Following this research experience, I knew graduate school still interested me and I began pursuing opportunities to obtain a Master’s or PhD degree.

In Fall 2021, I started my master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma, advised by Dr. Jeffrey Basara. During my first year, I became interested in completing an internship opportunity within the field to build on my professional skill set. In the summer of 2022, I received the opportunity to intern at the U.S. National Science Foundation National Center for Atmospheric Research (NSF NCAR) through the NSF NCAR Earth System Science Internship (NESSI) program. Working with Dr. Mari Tye from the Climate and Global Dynamics (CGD) Laboratory, we conducted an analysis investigating rapid drought development across agricultural regions of the United States. This work was continued throughout my master’s degree, and was used as part of my master’s thesis that I defended this past April.

This past summer, I served as the Graduate Assistant for the NESSI program. Through this experience, I have worked closely with the internship leads across NSF NCAR and UCAR to help assist with the day-to-day support of these programs, and provide guidance for the NESSI interns and others within Boulder. The experiences of both interning and assisting within the NESSI program have completely changed the trajectory and direction I want to pursue moving forward. Through the opportunity of supporting the NESSI program along with other experiences such as being a teaching assistant at the University of Oklahoma, I have gained a greater sense of appreciation for providing support and resources to students within our field. With a changing climate and impacts now being faced as a result of it, it is so critical that we are providing the next generation of scientists the opportunities and resources to be successful in this discipline, and to provide students the opportunity to find the work that is most meaningful to them. Through my two summers at NSF NCAR, I have developed the technical and soft skills to be successful in an array of applications within the meteorological world. I am so thankful to NSF NCAR for providing me these experiences, which is why I am so proud to be working and assisting with NSF NCAR and UCAR programs this summer.