A pioneer honors diversity

Cover photo courtesy Ryan K Morris Photography and the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation.

Alum Warren Washington

Atmospheric scientist Warren Washington is also committed to diversity.

*President Obama will be conferring the National Medal of Science upon Warren Washington and several others on Nov. 17 at 2:20 p.m., PST. The ceremony will be streaming live on the White House website. Also, watch an interview with Washington on our Terra research magazine blog.

How much climate change will people face in the coming years? How will these changes impact our planet? These are the pressing questions that have been occupying Warren Washington’s mind for more than three decades. Washington is so good at trying to answer these questions that he’s advised six presidents throughout his career, not to mention racked up awards and recognition worldwide – the most recent being the National Medal of Science, which will be conferred to Washington and nine other recipients later this year.

Washington’s advisory role for presidents, including Obama, has been as a member and chair of the National Science Board, which not only oversees the National Science Foundation, but has statutory responsibility for providing science policy advice for presidents and Congress.

And Washington is an Oregon State alum.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Washington became interested in science at a very young age. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Oregon State (1958) and his master’s in meteorology (1960). He received his doctorate degree in atmospheric sciences from Pennsylvania State University in 1964. Washington has spent much of his career working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. He currently heads the Climate Change Research Section there.

Washington was one of the first developers of groundbreaking atmospheric computer models along with Akira Kasahara in the early 1960s. Over time, Washington began to incorporate oceans and sea ice into his climate models. He was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team, along with former Vice President Al Gore, that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

“Warren Washington has been one of the leading lights of modern-day climate modeling,” says Mark Abbott, dean of Oregon State’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “He has been a world leader for more than 40 years in the study of the Earth’s climate.”

Washington, the second African-American to earn a doctorate in atmospheric sciences, has been committed to diversity throughout his career. He has mentored countless graduate students, and is in part devoted to his work because it can inspire underrepresented populations. On Wednesday he will deliver the second installment of the MUPC Diversity Speaker Series at Oregon State. He will also deliver the keynote speech on Nov. 4 in Portland for the Urban League of Portland’s Equal Opportunity Day dinner, which will also be a celebration of the League’s 65th year in the city. Washington was also Oregon State’s commencement speaker in 2006.

Washington chronicles his experiences in the sciences as well as his diversity efforts in his autobiography, “Odyssey in Climate Modeling, Global Warming and Advising Five Presidents.”

*Photos courtesy of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research  

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