June Bacon-Bercey, pioneering African-American meteorologist

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She was the first African-American woman to earn a degree in meteorology and the first female meteorologist on television.

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

HOUSTON (KIAH) June Bacon-Bercey is well known for being the first female on-air meteorologist trained in the United States. She is also the first African-American woman with a degree in meteorology from the University of California.

Bacon-Bercey was born on October 23, 1928, and grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where her daughter, Dail St. Claire, remembers her mother’s love for science was also born.

Her passion for becoming a meteorologist came when she saw a picture of the mushroom cloud on the front page of a newspaper in Wichita as a young girl. Already having a passion for science and a clearly inquisitive mind, she was mostly concerned about what these particles were going to do to the atmosphere, knowing clearly that is where they were being released.

Dail Sainte-Claire

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

Bacon-Bercey’s dedication to science brought her to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where St. Claire says her mother faced many obstacles. “When she transferred as a math major with honors from Friend’s University in Wichita, Kansas to UCLA specifically to pursue a four-year meteorology program, her college advisor advised her to pursue a career in home economics and absolutely not in meteorology. He said meteorology wasn’t for her. She went on and took thermodynamics as well as home economics. She earned a D- in Home Economics and an A+ in Thermodynamics.

Despite the constraints, in 1954 Bacon-Bercey became First African-American woman at UCLA to earn a bachelor’s degree in meteorology.

My mom came to a time when if you were black and had professions outside of the traditional black professions of the time, you were first and you went through all the odds.

Dail Sainte-Claire

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

That same year, Bacon-Bercey accepted a position as a weather forecaster and analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS). In 1959, Bacon-Bercey pursued his childhood interest and took a job with the Atomic Energy Commission as a senior adviser. In the 1960s, she returned to the NWS as a radar meteorologist in New York.

It was in the early 1970s, when Bacon-Bercey would have the chance to make history again after taking a job at WGR-TV in Buffalo, New York as a science reporter. She made her mark as a journalist, covering the Attica prison uprising in 1971.

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

However, she got her big break during her time at the station when Frank Benny, the main on-air weatherman, was arrested for robbing a bank, and Bacon-Bercey was asked to step in, making her the First time trained female meteorologist on the air.

St. Claire said her mother’s pivot was strategic, in that there was no one like her doing what she was doing at the time. Whether it was gender or race, she was ready to move forward in this opportunity. It was not given to him.

“Then the opportunity arose for her to move forward following this unexpected news. She was ready to do the 5 p.m. show and believed the audience would talk, and that’s actually what happened. passed after its first preview. The audience spoke and WGR-TV listened,” St. Claire said.

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

Bacon-Bercey caught the attention of the American Meteorologist Society, where she received the seal of approval for excellence in on-air meteorology and became the first woman and first African American to receive the award. . Bacon-Bercey co-founded the American Meteorological Society‘s Council on Women and Minorities. Through the council, she started a science fair program to encourage students of color and others to pursue careers in science.

Bacon-Bercey won $64,000 as a contestant on the game show The $128,000 Question. Then through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), it established a scholarship to support women studying atmospheric science. She also donated funds to Jackson State University for its meteorology department.

She traveled the country, and at that time, Jackson State University was the only historically black university with a four-year meteorology degree. After looking at the program, she noticed that the only thing they didn’t have was a lab, so she funded that lab. To date, the program has graduated a number of meteorologists and others who have gone on to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It was my mother’s vision.

Dail Sainte-Claire

Courtesy: Dail St. Claire

June Bacon-Bercey died on July 3, 2019, at the age of 90. doors for them in their pursuit of meteorology. Here is an overview:

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