Senior Spotlight: Nicholas Goldacker

Senior Spotlight: Nicholas Goldacker

The School of Meteorology is extremely proud of the graduates produced each year, knowing that OU Meteorology alumni go on to do amazing things. For the next few weeks, we’re publishing stories of our students who are excited about upcoming jobs, graduate school placements, or overcoming hardships to reach where they are today. Up next is Nicholas Goldacker

Originally from Ohio, Nicholas Goldacker is one of a select few students to graduate with a BS in Meteorology and a perfect 4.0 GPA; he also quadruple-minored in chemistry, hydrologic science, mathematics, and physics. Nicholas’ academic success led him to be awarded the Junior and Senior Academic Achievement awards, and his work ethic earned him a position at NOAA’s Radar Operations Center, where he also worked on joint projects with the National Severe Storms Laboratory.  He was selected to represent the School of Meteorology at the 2018 College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences  Awards Ceremony in May and gave a moving speech describing his path to OU and Meteorology. We couldn’t imagine anything better encapsulating his OU experience, so we have provided the text of Nicholas’s speech here:

It is truly an honor to be here tonight. My undergraduate journey can be more accurately described as a roller coaster. A roller coaster with loops, corkscrews, freefalls, and quasi-fastened seatbelts. At 8:30 p.m. on March 31st, 2014, I was accepted, enrolled, and picking out my classes at The Pennsylvania State University. It was time to submit my course requests… and I just couldn’t do it. For some reason, I had a feeling that I needed to go to The University of Oklahoma instead. So, I scrambled last minute during my high school’s Spring Break to submit an application to OU by 12:00 a.m. on April 1st. I was worried about the distance from home and my ill family members, but I felt the peace that attending OU would be the right decision. I began my degree in meteorology in August 2014 and learned I needed some credits to fulfill my full-time enrollment. So, I looked back on high school at my most hated class: physics. The concepts were never clear to me, and I was determined to counter that with a minor in physics. I always enjoyed chemistry and math, and hydrologic science is crucial to meteorological applications. The rest of the minors fell into place.  

Now, meteorology was not my original career path. I wanted to become a doctor in emergency medicine. The compassion, love, and emotion expressed in an emergency room in my eyes is incomparable… or so I thought. After a devastating hail, wind, and tornado event in my hometown in 2011, I watched neighbors and community members who never even spoke to each other exchange hugs, emotions, and help to salvage their homes… their memories. Standing in my front yard with debris all around, I noticed the same compassion, love, and emotion expressed in an emergency room was being displayed on a grander scale. To be honest, it was overwhelming… to see something so unbiased towards humans bring people of differing backgrounds together. I knew that I needed to spend the rest of my life trying to understand these atmospheric events that possess the power to break down walls of opposing perspectives, opinions, and lifestyles… even if only temporarily. After watching my best friend fight back his emotions while searching for his parents, I understood the crushing potential that weather has to also take away life. I wanted to help. I wanted to make a difference for future potential victims of loss and tragedy, and I still want to make that difference… especially now, as I stand here before you, more than ever. 

On February 16, 2016, one of my closest friends was killed in a car accident. On April 25, 2016, my great-grandmother, my friend, my mentor lost her fight to breast cancer. Once my own mother started facing off with cancer, I began questioning my career. I began thinking “How can I help others when I can’t even help my own family and friends? Did I pick the wrong field of study to help others?”. But, during all of this, my professors, classmates, and administrators were nothing but supportive, understanding, and caring. I was encouraged to continue pursuing my passion of meteorology. Learning meteorological processes became the one thing I could always look forward to regardless of what was going on around me. However, last year even that was almost taken away from me. On July 15th, I was injured by a lightning strike which damaged a fair amount of nervous and pulmonary tissue. Determined, I still came back to OU in the fall to complete my degree. On November 29th, I was in a serious car accident that caused permanent damage to my lower back tissue; both events led to medications that temporarily impaired cognitive function.  

However, I was even more determined to complete my fall semester without holding any effort back, even in my incapacitated state. There are two very important things that I have learned over the past four years. The first thing is that life is too short. At the end of the day, friends and family are the most important thing you can have in your life and time with them should never be wasted over meaningless disputes or trivial disagreements. Once they are gone, you don’t get them back.  

The second thing is that my current state of academic and professional standing is only possible because of the “atmosphere” here at OU. My experience in the School of Meteorology can be summarized as… life-changing. While this school is renowned for academics and teaching, the most valuable thing I saw throughout the last four years is that the department and college offer an opportunity. Professors, faculty, staff, and administrators saw these downfalls as simply hurdles to jump over while pursuing my dreams. They saw them just as obstacles to work around to ensure that I get the same opportunity to excel and obtain my degree in meteorology as the people who sit next to me in class. Everybody at this institution is willing to work with me, support me, and encourage me through the tough times while still believing in me when what I perceived was the world crashing down around me. My mentors here saw my hopes and dreams and did everything in their power to give me the chance to achieve them… to help me get to that end goal. The care and consideration I received here at OU, in my opinion, trumps any academic credibility because anybody can take a piece of paper with them in life, but we get to take so much more. I’m going to be taking with me the incomparable treatments of humanity and encouragement. 

This fall I will be attending North Carolina State University for a master’s degree in atmospheric science studying convective dynamics under Dr. Matthew Parker, and I am privileged and honored to be able to take my experience of hospitality here out into the world and share it with others. What makes not just the School of Meteorology but also the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences so valuable is that beautiful blend of academic and personal support which is not found at every academic institution. So… thank you to everyone who has worked with me during my undergraduate journey to apply the brakes on this roller coaster and once again realize my goals in life. This department will always mean something special because of the people who work here and their unconditional compassion. Congratulations to everybody receiving an award tonight, and I hope you all truly understand why we are all so lucky to be here. The learning experience offered in the School of Meteorology and College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences is far beyond just grades… it’s learning your future aspirations, it’s learning both your academic and professional potentials, and it’s learning how to make the best hand out of the cards that are dealt to you in life. 

Thank you.

We want to congratulate Nicholas as he moves on to his next adventure – we know he’ll be a great addition to North Carolina State University!