Skip to main content

Meet Atmospheric Sciences New Professor: Kelvin Droegemeier

It seems appropriate that someone with a name that means “a unit of temperature measurement” would land in the Atmospheric Sciences field.  Ironically, he is also the hot topic around here as he returns for a second go-round at UIUC. It is time to meet Professor Kelvin Droegemeier - once a student and now our new professor in ATMS and special advisor to the Office of the Chancellor.

Kelvin’s face might look familiar to you; particularly if you follow governmental issues. He is the former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Science Advisor to the President of the United States. While holding that position, he was also Regents’ Professor of Meteorology and Roger and Sherry Teigen Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma. Coming from a state that averages sixty-two tornadoes a year, the man knows a bit about the weather.

Years ago, when MTV was the rage, ESPN was just starting, and E.T. was phoning home, a young Droegemeier made the decision to make his home the land of the orange and blue. He was a student when professors Larry Smarr and Bob Wilhelmson (his advisor) developed a proposal to establish NCSA (The National Center for Supercomputing Applications). It was a huge effort, creating five centers and, “… it changed the landscape of high-performance computing in the U.S. by providing access to the academic community.”

"I was privileged to watch from the sidelines and read drafts of the document. Bob involved me in the NSF proposals he developed throughout the years, so these experiences – which included meeting with NSF officials – proved valuable when I finished my Ph.D. and joined the faculty of the University of Oklahoma. Also, I had two foci as a graduate student – atmospheric sciences and high-performance computing. This dual emphasis played a major role throughout my career and even continues doing so   today.”

With Kelvin being a part of such impactful work, he has many highlights from being a student at UIUC. We wanted to know: which of those is he most proud? “Being educated in an academic program with such high-quality faculty, rigorous curricula, and such outstanding departments throughout the entire university. The campus experience – from academics to athletics to the fine arts – was simply superb. I made lifelong friends in graduate school, and we all continue to have strong emotional ties to UIUC.”

As the phrase goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”, so what does Kelvin wish he knew when he was here on campus the first time? “The importance of, and many opportunities for college and university graduates to play roles in society beyond those of an academic or purely research nature, e.g., in policy, governance, and even politics.” 

If he were the Kringle, he would not show up with wrapped weathervanes and bowed barometers in a sleigh; he would be cruising on his “hog” as he is the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he rides often. What other hobbies does he enjoy? “I  love to cook and as an avid storm chaser during my undergraduate days, I fell in love with photography as well.”

As we wrap up our spotlight on this accomplished individual, what suggestions does he have for our current students to be just as successful as he has been? “Focus not on what areas of work pay the most money or provide the greatest opportunity, but rather look inside yourself and decide what makes you really come alive – what inspires, motivates, and fulfils you. Pursue those things with vigor, and you will never regret doing so!”

Well-spoken and thanks for the advice, Professor Kelvin Droegemeier.  And just like Alma Mater, we at Atmospheric Sciences welcome you back home with open arms.