Senior Spotlight May 2020 – Christiaan Patterson

Senior Spotlight May 2020 – Christiaan Patterson

This year we are continuing our tradition of Senior Spotlights! With graduation postponed, it is more important than ever to highlight this spring’s graduating class.

The class of May 2020 is experiencing their last few weeks of college unlike any of those who came before them. It has been a tough time, but the seniors are adapting to new ways of learning and are continuing to celebrate their accomplishments thus far.

The May 2020 Senior Spotlights begin with Christiaan Patterson. Her path to a meteorology degree is very unique with many twists and turns.

Christiaan tells her story:

Like most meteorologists, I became curious about the atmosphere at a very young age. My mother describes having to deadbolt the front door when monsoons came barreling through the Mojave Desert, as she would quite frequently find my toddler-self running outside to gawk at the lightning. As the younger years of life marched on, I looked forward to the summer months as this generally meant a few weeks of strong thunderstorms and intense lightning. These days meant I could be found sitting on top of the shed overlooking the desert, taking notes, snapping pictures of rising cumulus and recording the number of lightning bolts in a weather journal. As the curiosity of weather grew, so did the experiments and outdoor adventures to document these desert wonders. At age ten, I scavenged the desert and discovered metal rods, which I decided to turn into a lightning experiment when my mother was at work. Over the next few years, I could be found biking for miles into the middle of nowhere with a video camera, mini instruments for temperature and wind and another journal. These outings resulted in hours of watching a tiny cumulus turn into a black, towering, cumulonimbus, which I raced ahead of to avoid getting drenched. The moment when curiosity turned into a passion for severe weather and tornadoes could be pinpointed to 1996, after seeing Twister in theaters and becoming obsessed with learning about those violently rotating columns of air. I even swore I’d one day move to Norman, OK, chase tornadoes like Jo and become a meteorologist. Though the family laughed it off, I secretly kept those dreams and promised myself that one day, I’d make it happen.

Now, the road getting to meteorology has been anything but orthodox. My academic path toward becoming a meteorologist began in 2004 when I graduated a year early from high school and started college. I struggled with math but was determined to learn and understand its secrets. Four semesters into college, I suffered a personal tragedy, which altered the course of meteorology for a while. Instead, I pursued other dreams and joined the United States Navy to become a pilot. Two years later a physical injury altered that ambition and once again, I found myself at an impasse: Do I travel back down the meteorology path or chose another? A bit of self-doubt and a knack for writing ultimately made the decision toward journalism. During the first-degree pursuit, I kept the weather passion alive by interning at a local TV station, shadowed the On-Air Meteorologist and filled in while he was unavailable. I also picked up a radio broadcast meteorology position for Catalina Island, CA and gave entertaining daily weather updates for the island.

In 2011, I graduated with a B.A. and fulfilled my dream of moving to Norman, OK. Life in a new place turned out to be adventurous, yet terrifying as this was the first time I was completely alone. Eventually, I landed my first reporting job with the Moore Daily in Moore, OK. I decided I would use this opportunity to save money and return to school for meteorology. These plans were put on hold in May 2013 when an EF-5 tornado destroyed my coverage area, resulting in 11 months of being thrown into absolute chaos in both the professional world and personal life. I ended up quitting a month before the year anniversary to reassess my mental health and figure out my next steps.

After a few failed attempts at rebuilding a career, working as a receptionist at a credit union and freelance writing, I decided to try a new path inspired by the late Tim Samaras. In the Spring of 2016, I enrolled at OU as an Electrical Engineering major. Three semesters in, I was absolutely miserable as this field was not my cup of tea. It was the most challenging time in school and I found myself still gazing at the National Weather Center and yearning to pursue meteorology. However, this experience laid the foundation for a tougher curriculum and ultimately, weather. After many discussions with meteorology friends, family and inner reflection, I decided to finally pursue what I had always truly desired: Meteorology.

The past three years in the School of Meteorology have been an adventure, both academically and personally. A few of these enriching opportunities included: an amazing Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in Colorado, fieldwork on the 2019 TORUS campaign, shadowing forecasters at the SPC, working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant with faculty, three AMS conferences, and working as a Communications Specialist for the South Central CASC. Personally, during this time, I endured knee and hip surgery and multiple family losses. Thankfully, I always had my husband, friends, and family around to assist and keep pushing me forward.

This May, I will virtually graduate with my classmates and become a meteorologist. The time I’ve spent at OU has been extremely fulfilling and has taught many lessons, both inside and outside the classrooms. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade any of the challenges and hard times, as these were all opportunities for personal and professional growth. The winding paths traveled to get here, the diverse experiences in academia and the professional world, and the overall deep-down determination to never throw in the towel, are a few of the reasons I cherish the tough times of the past. Challenges are growth, mistakes are lessons and failures can be personal successes. I, like everyone else, face an uncertain future. But I challenge us all to further build ourselves into stronger, more open-minded and kind humans during these darker times, so we may embrace whatever lies ahead with resilience and compassion.