Serving the Next Generation: AMS Initiatives to Foster Scientific Literacy and Engage Today’s Youth

By James A. Brey1 and Elizabeth W. Mills2

The mission of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) is to advance atmospheric and related sciences, technologies, applications and services for the benefit of society. Founded in 1919, AMS has a membership of more than 14 000 scientific professionals; students at the pre-college, college and graduate levels; and weather enthusiasts. AMS publishes 11 atmospheric and related climatic, oceanic and hydrologic journals, sponsors more than 12 conferences annually, and offers numerous programs and services.

AMS engages the next generation of youth through two general types of programs: (1) those that serve current or future Society members; and (2) those that aim to increase the scientific literacy of youth on behalf of AMS membership. AMS guides pre-college students interested in future science careers; college students majoring in the atmospheric, oceanic, hydrologic or related sciences; and graduates seeking internships or full professional employment. The Education Program increases the scientific literacy and engagement of students nationwide through substantive teacher professional development programs and by bringing weather, ocean and climate courses into undergraduate institutions that do not traditionally have extensive coursework in AMS disciplines. All AMS youth educational initiatives have a component directed towards increasing the participation of underrepresented minority students.

Bringing the youngest members into the society

Student resources page – The AMS Student Resources webpage has a wealth of information for youth from kindergarten through to graduate college levels. Resources are grouped by grade levels (i.e. K-6, 7-12, undergraduate students and graduate students). The K-6 webpage links to online pictures, games, science fair project ideas and other resources in order to engage the youngest students with a keen interest in weather, water and climate. The 7-12 webpage informs those considering their future career, with links to summer opportunities, colleges and universities offering degree programs, and career guides and information on local AMS chapters, including those serving the pre-college audience. The undergraduate and graduate student pages support those within a degree program and contain information on scholarships, internships, fellowships and the AMS Career Center. The pages for the three oldest student groups link to the AMS Bookstore. AMS has many publications appropriate for college-level courses and a comprehensive, general-interest weather book, The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather.

Student membership – AMS membership has several categories. Those serving youth include pre-college student membership and college student membership, with an early career transitional period. Youth membership is offered at reduced rates, and the pre-college category includes a subscription to Weatherwise or the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). Weatherwise, written for a general audience, offers a colorful and non-technical look at the latest discoveries in meteorology and climatology. BAMS, the Society’s membership magazine, informs members of activities, services, and benefits. Membership also includes discounts on the Society’s journals, AMS publications, meetings and access to other resources. AMS student members are increasingly using its social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter.

Student Conference – AMS junior, senior and graduate level student members may attend the Student Conference and Career Fair at the AMS Annual Meeting. Now in its 13th year, the Student Conference focuses on interdisciplinary topics and wide-ranging opportunities in the atmospheric and related sciences. It features presentations and group discussions by noted professionals and fellow students, a student poster session, and a career fair and networking evening for students to personally interact with professionals who represent potential employers and graduate institutions.

AMS pre-college local chapters – Local AMS chapters help to increase the awareness of atmospheric science among the general public and provide a mechanism for local gatherings of professionals and weather enthusiasts. AMS has approximately 125 active local chapters, including over 40 student chapters. Of these, several are organized by high schools to engage students interested in science at the grass roots level. Local chapters convene regular meetings with a local speaker.

Scholarships and fellowships – AMS administers an array of graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships with the support of its members and of corporations and government agencies nationwide. AMS fellowships and scholarships help further the education of outstanding graduate and undergraduate students pursuing a career in the atmospheric and related oceanic or hydrologic sciences. Minority scholarships are directed towards increasing opportunities for underrepresented youth.

AMS career center and job board – This website gives students a broad overview of exciting careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. It provides links to the US Department of Labor outlook for jobs in meteorology and features a job board used by both job seekers and employers/recruiters. Students can securely post their resumes to be viewed by potential employers.

A DataStreme course leader conducts a weather experiment with a group of youth at WeatherFest.
A DataStreme course leader conducts a weather
experiment with a group of youth at WeatherFest.

WeatherFest – Held at the AMS Annual Meeting, WeatherFest is an interactive, four-hour science and weather fair designed to instill a love for math and science in children of all ages. It is formatted to spark their interest so that they will consider a career in these and other sciences. This event provides a unique opportunity for many different types of organizations to reach a targeted audience of weather enthusiasts and to support education and outreach for the atmospheric and related sciences.

Serving educators and youth

The AMS Education Program promotes the teaching of weather, water and climate topics through the professional development of teachers and the elaboration of instructional resource material at the kindergarten through introductory college levels.

Highly trained teachers are the cornerstone for increasing the scientific literacy of youth and building a competitive and diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. With support from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Education Program has offered various professional development courses such as DataStreme Atmosphere (1996-present), Water in the Earth System (2001-2008), Ocean (2003-present), and Earth’s Climate System (2009-present). The courses are held during the fall and spring semesters for in-service, pre-college teachers.

AMS designed the DataStreme Program to create a large community of master educators who enhance classroom teaching with current environmental data and peer-train their colleagues to do the same.

The AMS Education Program works with a network of Local Implementation Teams (LITs) to administer the DataStreme courses. LIT leaders receive training at AMS summer workshops, including Project Atmosphere at NOAA’s NWS Training Center, and the Maury Project on the physical foundations of oceanography held at the U.S. Naval Academy. DataStreme courses and summer workshops are free to teachers, who receive three tuition-waived graduate credits per course completed. Teachers then enhance STEM education and engage youth within their schools and communities. As a whole, DataStreme has directly impacted 18 500 teachers, who have peer-trained more than 100 000 additional teachers nd impacted millions of K-12 students.

AMS undergraduate courses

The established and self-supporting AMS Undergraduate College Courses for Weather, Ocean and Climate feature science content and pedagogical underpinnings that are derivatives of the DataStreme courses. Since 1998, 780 master licenses for AMS courses have been signed by US colleges and universities, including 325 from minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

AMS focuses on getting the courses into undergraduate institutions that lack a full degree program in the atmospheric and related sciences, including smaller liberal arts schools, community colleges and MSIs.

Nearly 100 000 students, including 24 000 MSI students, have taken the courses. AMS writes and administers the courses, which are offered locally in settings ranging from face-to-face lectures and laboratories to online classes. Student use a textbook, an investigations manual, and a course website similar to those designed for DataStreme. The Education Program supports course instructors by providing a faculty CD and website with answer keys, test banks and files compatible with course management systems.

It is noteworthy that these courses have likely impacted thousands of pre-service teachers in the general education environment. In addition, some colleges use the courses exclusively in teacher training programs, broadening AMS initiatives to increase scientific literacy and youth engagement.

Special initiatives to enhance participation of underrepresented students

For its teacher professional development programs, AMS proactively recruits teachers who are members of groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences or teach in schools with high minority-student enrollment. With National Science Foundation support, AMS Diversity Projects have trained MSI faculty in weather, ocean, and climate through five-day course-implementation workshops and follow-up workshops at the AMS Annual Meeting4. Participating MSIs commit to offering a given course for at least one semester, and many have offered one or more courses for several years. As a result of this program, some colleges have developed Earth science course concentrations and there is anecdotal evidence of MSI students pursuing career paths in the geosciences, the ultimate goal of the Diversity Project.

AMS Policy Program

The Policy Program’s mission is to strengthen the connection between public policy and the Earth system science and services by building policy research and by creating opportunities for policymakers and scientists to engage and exchange perspectives to foster betterinformed decisions. The annual AMS Summer Policy Colloquium, which has received the National Science Foundation, NOAA and NASA support, contributes to youth engagement by bringing a select group of graduate students – and occasionally top undergraduate students – and professionals to Washington, D.C. for an intense, ten-day immersion in atmospheric policy.

The Colloquium surveys current atmospheric policy issues, provides opportunities for participants to meet with the federal officials and Congressional staffers, and helps participants build skills, experience, and contacts. Through the Colloquium and many other efforts, the Policy Program objectively analyzes issues and educates others, including the next generation of scientists, without engaging in direct advocacy.

Future directions

AMS programs support the very youngest students interested in sciences, those pursuing degrees in the atmospheric and related sciences, and graduates preparing to enter the scientific workforce, thereby providing a clear pathway from initial scientific interest through to involvement as an AMS professional member. Through its educational initiatives, AMS serves on behalf of its membership by expanding scientific literacy via substantive development programs for teachers, and supporting faculty offering its undergraduate courses in weather, ocean and climate. All aforementioned programs have experienced marked growth in recent years, and AMS will continue to find ways to foster a more scientifically literate and engaged populace and broaden its membership.


AMS has received significant support from National Science Foundation, NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Navy to conduct its youth education programs, as well as contributions from industry and AMS members.

For more information on AMS programs

For more information on AMS Student Resources

1 Director, Education Program, American Meteorological Society
2 Associate Director, Education Program, American Meteorological Society

Share this page