For more information about the UA's 152nd Commencement ceremony, visit the UA's information page.
When Travis Baldwin looks out his office window, he sees the downtown skyline of Little Rock, Arkansas, and the occasional barges working their way up and down the Arkansas River. He sees airplanes parked at their respective terminals. To the northwest, he can see one of the airport’s runways and the rhythmic comings and goings of planes.
Baldwin is an aviation weather observer stationed at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. There, his job is to observe, record and disseminate local meteorological measurements that can affect air travel.
Weather always interested him.
"We have such interesting weather here. It's something people are always talking about. It's dangerous. We get a lot of tornadoes here, and we get a lot of ice," said Baldwin, who is obtaining his Bachelor of Applied Science in Meteorology degree online from the University of Arizona. He is among the graduates who will be honored during the UA's 152nd Commencement ceremony on May 13.
Baldwin also is among the first graduates of UA Online, the UA's fully online university experience offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs and also graduate certificates.
"It is gratifying to see our online learners accomplish their goal of obtaining their degree and becoming Wildcats for life," said Vincent Del Casino, the UA's vice provost for digital learning and student engagement.
"These students demonstrate the impact of our goal of increasing access to the world-class education offered at the UA for both undergraduate and graduate students, using innovative technologies and effective pedagogical approaches in order to design, develop and implement exemplary online programs," said Del Casino, also associate vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
Other May graduates include:
- Andrea McDougall of Florida, who has earned her degree in literacy, learning and leadership from the College of Education.
- Adam Horne of Michigan and Sobeyda Schilling of Ohio, who have earned general studies degrees with an emphasis in global and intercultural understanding.
- Illiana Quinones of Texas, who earned a general studies degree with an emphasis in social behavior and human understanding.
Another May graduate, Anto de Murelle Boubeka-Mbondzi, will receive a Bachelor of Science in Care, Health and Society from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The program trains graduates in communications, ethics and organizational dynamics for work in the helping professions.
Boubeka-Mbondzi took interest in the UA Online program after moving from Tucson to Phoenix, having stepped away from pursuing a UA degree in special education on the main campus. After working for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, Boubeka-Mbondzi said she was looking for a shift in focus. She has already taken a position with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
"I have a passion for helping others and making a difference in the lives of different individuals," Boubeka-Mbondzi said. "I enjoyed helping families and children, but I was interested in trying something else, but also where I could continue working with families and in work related to health care."
Baldwin, born and raised in Arkansas, was still on active duty when he began looking into various meteorological programs that offered a bachelor's degree. He wanted to stay in Arkansas and, after learning about the UA program from colleagues, enrolled during the fall of 2013.
The biggest challenge he faced while in the program came during his last semester, when he was enrolled in two demanding classes: dynamic meteorology and computational methods, the latter taught by Brittany Ciancarelli, the program manager for online education in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
"She was incredible," Baldwin said. "If it weren't for her support, I don't think I would have gotten through that last semester."
Now Baldwin is working eight-hour shifts sending out at least one observation an hour — or many more if the weather calls for it.
"If there are rapidly changing conditions — say, the clouds are moving up and down, and visibility is changing — that's when it gets busy," he said.
His office is equipped with the Automated Surface Observing Systems, or ASOS, a suite of weather sensors that gathers information on such factors as temperature, wind speed, visibility, dew point and pressure. Baldwin also serves one weekend a month as a weather forecaster for the Arkansas National Guard. He and his colleagues conduct practice observations, forecasting and seminars. Those forecasts inform Army helicopters’ takeoffs and landings and infantry movement.
Civilians also have been interested in the Bachelor of Applied Science forecasting program, said Jill Hewins, the student academic success specialist in UA's College of Science. Students entering the program serve as operational forecasters for the Air Force by providing weather forecasts for takeoff and landing for operational weather squadrons.
For civilians, the degree can be used to compile forecasts for shipping companies, energy companies, movie sets and sports stadiums, to name just a few entities that depend on forecasts to safeguard their business interests and employees.
As for Baldwin, he says he enjoys being in the office, sending out reports and taking in the view. He often makes his way to the observation deck atop the terminal building to get a better look at the skies, especially when the weather gets active.
"The ASOS records a lot of information for us," Baldwin said, "but it just doesn't do too well with the stuff a person really has to see — the sky. It reads temperature and winds and pressure really well, but for everything else you need a human's eyes."
La Monica Everett-Haynes contributed to this article.