Senior Spotlight: Erica Lopez

Each year, the School of Meteorology produces graduates that we are extremely proud of, and this year is no different. In order to highlight the hard work of our students, we are featuring a few of them in a Senior Spotlight series. Up next is one of our inaugural Student Media Assistants, Erica Lopez!

Erica Lopez is a Mexican-American student from Ennis, Texas whose initial interest in meteorology started when she was learning English in first grade. She picked up a book by the title “El Niño” and Erica tells us that at the time, she thought it was so cool that a book with English concepts had a Spanish name. After reading that book, she became obsessed with weather and reading all kinds of weather books and watching her local favorite TV meteorologist, Ariel Rodriguez, who at that time was at Telemundo Dallas.  (Erica got to meet Ariel for the first time this past January at the AMS annual meeting! See photo below.) She attributes her love for weather to him because she loved his presentation and style of presenting the weather in Spanish.

However, when Erica arrived at OU she said she’d “never ever be a TV meteorologist”. That all changed in 2015 when she participated in research through the OU Political Science department with Dr. Joy Pendley. Through this research, she learned that in the May 2013 outbreak in Moore, OK, 9 of the 24 fatalities were Hispanic. At the time of this event, there were no Spanish speaking meteorologists in OKC, something which surprised Erica. Feeling that the lack of Spanish-language coverage could have directly impacted the safety of Hispanic residents of the OKC metro, Erica was deeply impacted and felt the need to change her career path. Erica decided to pursue broadcast meteorology with a focus on a Spanish-speaking audience, something that is rare in the United States. Her research led her to start interning at the local Telemundo station in Oklahoma City. After 9 months of interning, she was offered a part-time weather anchor position on the weekends, where she learned the ins and outs of TV meteorology and grew in her Spanish and on-air experience. In October 2016, she was selected as a recipient of the NBC 5 Harold Taft Lone Star Emmy scholarship for her research and dedication to Spanish-language Broadcast Meteorology.

Erica continues to have a passion for research – she took on an additional internship with the South-Central Climate Science Center in Summer 2016, an internship that provided travel and networking opportunities (see photo below). In this program, she learned all about climate variability across three states: Louisiana, Texas, and California. This incredible internship prepared her to transition into work with Ty Dickinson and the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program.They created a Climate Podcast during a special OWL (Oklahoma Weather Lab) climate shift. (Learn more about this program here.) Erica and Ty took their work on the road, presenting it at the National Weather Association conference in Garden Grove, California in September 2017 and at the Texas Weather Conference and AMS annual meeting in Austin, TX, in March 2017 and January 2018, respectively.

Relatively recently, Erica began interning at KOCO 5. the Oklahoma City ABC outlet, under Damon Lane, who she says has been a great mentor to her and has taught her much about meteorology and broadcasting.

During her time at OU, Erica has also been involved in student organizations within the university and working within the National Weather Center. She has worked for the National Weather Center Library and is currently a School of Meteorology Student Media Assistant, which allows her the opportunity to highlight the achievements of the faculty, students, and staff. She is also involved in OU’s student chapters of the American Meteorological Society, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the National Weather Association. She participates in OU Nightly and is currently the Deputy Director of Climate for the Oklahoma Weather Lab, all of which have given her many opportunities.

When discussing her future plans, Erica mentioned that when she was in California for the NWA meeting, she told herself she would never live in California. Once again, though, her world turned upside down: she was offered a position that seemed designed just for her. Erica will be a weekday morning on-air bilingual meteorologist in Salinas, California for both the CBS affiliate and the Telemundo affiliate beginning in May 2018. She tells us that she is excited to start a new chapter in her life in a place she thought she would never have the opportunity to live.

Advice she gives to current and future OU students is “Never say never!” and to always have an open mind when figuring out what your career choice should be. “Never be afraid to try new things even if they seem scary because the shy, small town, Texas girl would never have pursued broadcast meteorology, let alone move thousands of miles away from home.” Erica also wanted to expres thanks to all the wonderful people she has met at her time at OU: the professors, mentors, and friends she’s met along the way, because without all of them she feels she would not be where she is today. “I am incredibly thankful to have pursued a degree at OU because it gave me so many opportunities I never thought I’d have.

Heartiest congratulations, Erica! We’re incredibly grateful for your service to the School’s media and recruitment efforts, and we can’t wait to see you on air in NoCal!

Erica shared some fun photos of her time at OU and her other opportunities along the way – see below: