Heroes of #STEMtember: Sunny science with Meteorologist Shannon O’Donnell

Editor’s note: This month we have been taking a look at science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for K-12 students. To kick things off we released the findings of a study on what parents and students think of STEM education. We also thought it would be interesting to look at some of the interesting and different careers you can choose studying STEM. The list is endless, so this blog series “What is cool about STEM?” will focus on some out of the STEM careers you or your child might not have thought about.

Forward by Yvonne Thomas

As a kid, I was interested in all kinds of things that were STEM related – even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I thought I was going to be a marine biologist when I grew up - I even had my own kid sized microscope – and I’d look at everything I could fit on a slide. Through middle school, high school and even college, I thought biology, chemistry, and geology were really interesting subjects, inspired by great teachers.  I also got exposure to technology as it was starting to become more available in the mainstream. Fortunately, my parents were believers in, and early adopters of technology.  In high school, I learned to write (very) introductory software code and got my first email account. In college, I was one of the few kids who had my own computer. And while my career direction changed over time, I never lost my interest in STEM subjects. If anything, my interest and appreciation for STEM studies and careers has only increased as my knowledge of their importance in the world has grown. As a Microsoft employee, I have an added appreciation of the incredible opportunities that people with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds have in their careers – and in life.

Shannon O’Donnell, a Broadcast Meteorologist at KOMO-TV in Seattle, has a fantastic and unique career as a result of her deep background in STEM subjects. I had the chance to interview her about her job and how her interest and studies in science and math plus her hard work got her where she is today.

Tell us a bit about your current occupation?

I’m a Broadcast Meteorologist at KOMO-TV in Seattle.  I worked full-time until recently…I have 3 little ones at home (including a new baby), so now I work part-time.  It’s a wonderful schedule…the best of both worlds!  A perfect balance of career and mommy-hood!

What inspired you to start studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects?

I fell in love with the study of weather when we covered the basics in a weather unit in the 2nd grade.  I decided at age 7 that I wanted to go into broadcast meteorology when I ‘grew up’, and I never wavered on my decision!  My best subjects were always math and physics, and they made for a great foundation for my eventual study of Atmospheric Sciences.  Plus—I love to talk.  So I get to ‘talk about the weather’ for a living…two of my favorite things, all in one job!

How did studying (STEM) help you to get where you wanted to be in your career?

You won’t get very far in your weather studies if you don’t have a solid background in math, chemistry and physics…they lay all of the ground work for studying the atmosphere.  A four year Bachelor degree in Atmospheric Sciences requires MANY math courses—from differential equations to matrices (my favorite!  They are like crossword puzzles for math equations!), you will nearly receive a minor in math by the time you graduate in the program.

If you could offer advice to the next generation, why study STEM subjects?

It’s an increasing tech-savvy world!  Your expertise will always be in demand if you focus on Science, technology, engineering and math.  You can better ride the ups and downs of the world economy with a solid background in STEM subjects, because companies will always need employees with your skill set.

What is the coolest story you could tell a group of students or teachers about what STEM education has helped you do?

I worked as a Research Assistant in the University of Washington’s Atmospheric Sciences Department for 7 years…I started during my sophomore year in college, and I continued on well after graduation on a part-time basis, even during my early years in t.v. weather!  I stayed on because assisting with studies in the Department afforded me so many amazing opportunities…from heading up into the heart of big Pacific storms in a P-3 jet, to touring the Equatorial Pacific on a NOAA ship and launching weather balloons, it was a great experience!


(Shannon on air for KOMO, 2009)  

You can also check out this video Shannon took part in for Microsoft.      

Many thanks to Shannon for taking the time to speak with us on the importance of STEM education.

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