National Weather Service offices regularly provide opportunities for college students to gain valuable work experience, both as paid employees and as unpaid volunteers. Many NWS employees participated in such programs themselves when they were students, and remain grateful for the experience. For this reason they understand how beneficial such programs can be, and they are eager to return the favor. This is true even if a student ends up not working for the National Weather Service.
Of course, the NWS benefits greatly from these programs as well. Not only do we gain a little extra help for a few months, but we also give potential future employees a running start toward a successful NWS career. When deciding which recent graduate to hire, a manager in the NWS often would like to select someone who has actual NWS experience -- and the positive recommendations to go with it!
Students may work either in a paid or unpaid capacity. As might be expected, the process of gaining a paid position is somewhat more formal and more competitive, and typically requires a greater commitment from the student.
The most common form of paid employment for students at NWS Chicago had been through the Student Career Employment Program (SCEP). Recently the Office of Personnel Management replaced the SCEP in favor of a new Pathways Program. The new program is currently in its first year going into 2015.
Designed both for undergraduates or graduate students, Pathways offers participants formal periods of work experience directly related to their academic field of study.
To browse opportunities, visit http://www.usajobs.gov. Note openings for Pathways students will come along infrequently. One can set up an account with query and notification for positions within the USAJobs portal.
Note: SCEP selections were not made by the local forecast office, but rather by regional committees. The selection process under the proposed Pathways Program is not yet known.
Another form of paid employment (and scholarship money!) is offered through the NOAA Hollings Scholarship. Once a year NOAA solicits applications for a scholarship program in honor of retired South Carolina Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, who promoted oceanic and atmospheric research throughout his career.
Scholarship students will be eligible for up to $8,000 of academic assistance per year for full-time study during their junior and senior years; a paid 10-week, full-time internship position during the summer at a NOAA facility ($650 per week); a housing subsidy for scholars who do not reside at home during the summer internship; and travel expenses to attend and participate in a mandatory orientation and conference.
Applications for the Hollings Scholarship Program are available online, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone to 301-713-9437 x150, or by mail to:
NOAA Hollings Scholarship Program
1315 East-West Highway, Room 10703
Silver Spring, MD 20910
NWS Chicago also offers an unpaid work experience through the Student Volunteer Service. This program offers work experience related to the participant’s academic field of study. Students have an opportunity to explore their career options and to develop both professional and personal skills.
Student volunteer selections for each semester are made locally at NWS Chicago. Factors for selection as a student volunteer are less formal than for a paid position. These factors may include:
Students don’t have to be studying meteorology in order to be considered for a volunteer position at NWS Chicago. We are also eager to host students with skills in Hydrology, Information Technology, Geographic Information Systems, or other related fields. We would be really eager to host students who have all of these skills!!
We understand that student volunteers have many other commitments, including their academic work and perhaps actual paid employment. For this reason we are flexible about the specific hours that a student works as a volunteer, though we ask that student volunteers average at least 8 hours per week over the course of a semester.
We also recommend that students try to work at least part of their time during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Ideally the 8 hours of work will be split into two 4-hour blocks on different days. This gives the student greater exposure to a wider variety of weather, and potentially allows the student to interact with a larger number of different forecasters.
A student will spend their work time on a variety of activities. Especially at first, some of the time will be spent shadowing forecasters and other staff members. Eventually the student may get more involved in certain activities like taking weather observations, editing content for the office webpage, writing newsletter articles, or working on specific projects. Ideally a student will find a project to work on with another staff member. Since many NWS employees work rotating shifts, a student may also vary their hours to better match those of their project leader.
Students may wish to check with their college or university about earning credit toward graduation for the time they spend volunteering. Specific policies vary by institution. For example, some schools may require the student to work more than 8 hours per week in order to earn credit. Otherwise it does not matter to the NWS whether a student is volunteering for credit or not.
The National Weather Service, as an agency of the United States Department of Commerce (DOC), is bound by the laws, policies, guidelines, and procedures regarding voluntary and uncompensated services as summarized in DOC Administrative Order 202-311. This is important information for potential volunteers. For example, Section 2.03.d in this document explains the citizenship requirements for volunteers: "If an agency may not hire citizens of a particular country, citizens of that country may not serve as student volunteers." Also note the Student Volunteer Agreement at the bottom of that document. The first point requires that: "The student is enrolled at least half time at an accredited school, is recommended by the school, and is acceptable to the agency."
Contact Eric Lenning, Science and Operations Officer, at Eric.Lenning@noaa.gov if you are interested in being a student volunteer at NWS Chicago. The best time to do this is early in the semester prior to the one in which you hope to volunteer. (For summer volunteers this would mean January-February.) Prepare to send a resume listing your previous work experience, your completed coursework, status as a U.S. citizen, and any other relevant information such as computer and programming skills, significant class projects, volunteer activities, research experience, participation in student clubs, etc.