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Black History Month: A Leader in Protecting Lives, Livelihoods, and Property for All People

By Michael Morgan, Ph.D. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 

Protecting lives, livelihoods, and property for all people in this country through the use of continually improving observations and predictions - that’s the essence of my job description and one I take to heart. Especially the part about ensuring that our delivery of weather, water, climate, and ocean data and products is truly equitable.

Underserved and vulnerable communities have been systematically prevented from opportunities to fully participate in important aspects of our country's civic, economic, and social life. These very same communities are often impacted by hazardous weather and climate events. I am honored to support the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) commitment to ensuring that the needs of these populations are met through our delivery of services and preparing all communities for weather and climate hazards.  

Part of that commitment involves development and execution of practices that assure equal opportunities and treatment of employees as well as ensuring that our workforce reflects the multifaceted diversity of the communities that we serve. Creating a diverse workforce requires persistent, intentional actions. As we develop the workforce of the future, we need to recruit from diverse communities, provide opportunities for advanced training to the workforce, and continue to build a culture of inclusivity and belonging across NOAA to retain a talented and diverse workforce.

Before coming to NOAA last August, I had the opportunity to help build the workforce of the future as a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. For nearly 30 years I’ve had the privilege of helping thousands of students understand the world around them, and guided many of them to careers in meteorology and beyond.

The passionate pursuit of knowledge has been central to my life. My parents and maternal grandparents were all educators and nurtured and supported my interest in science. I grew up in Baltimore, MD and attended the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (“Poly”) for high school.  While there, I met one of the most influential teachers in my life, Irvin Yaffe. This truly talented instructor, who exemplified inclusion, was key to my increased passion for and confidence in mathematics. Even though I was a mathematics major at MIT, most of the math I use on a daily basis for research and in teaching at UW-Madison, I learned in high school - much of it from Mr. Yaffe. 

While an MIT graduate student, I volunteered with Boston Partners in Education to visit classrooms across the Boston area to talk about the science of weather to elementary and middle school students. I have continued engagements of this sort participating in summer science programs for middle and high school students in the Madison area. I believe an important component of broadening participation of underrepresented groups is accomplished by showing up and engaging with students - representation matters. 

While representation matters every day, Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate our many achievements throughout our Nation’s history, as well as sharing our collective stories and experiences.  My own experience – in academia, on Capitol Hill where I served as a senior legislative fellow for U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, and elsewhere in government as Division Director at the National Science Foundation Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences – has provided me with important opportunities. I take pride in my contributions to atmospheric sciences through research and mentoring; providing policy advice through the lens of a scientists; and contributing to the creation of new educational and research opportunities - all the while representing the future face of science.

I look forward to building on the solid foundation provided for me by my grandparents and parents and to encourage more young people to pursue their passion for science. My own journey will involve improving our Nation’s predictive capabilities; ensuring NOAA’s authoritative environmental intelligence is accessible broadly along with other relevant socio-economic data to allow communities to understand weather and climate impacts; and helping build a more diverse, inclusive workplace. I look forward to welcoming and working with the next generation of scientists in pursuit of these goals.

It’s a true privilege to work with today’s amazing professionals– especially NOAA’s National Weather Service professionals in offices across the country as they work with communities to understand and take action on hazards. Moreover, I have seen how these offices make innovative uses of technology to ensure that their engagements with communities is, in fact, equitable. I am honored to work in an organization with individuals so passionately committed to their agency’s mission and the communities they serve.

Dr. Morgan is responsible for providing NOAA-wide direction with regard to weather, water, climate, and ocean observations, including in situ instruments and satellites, and the process of converting observations to predictions for environmental threats. He is NOAA’s highest ranking Black leader.

This blog post is part of a series showcasing the diverse African American leaders from across the U.S. Department of Commerce in honor of Black History Month.