Penn State graduate used meteorology and technology for multi-faceted career

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– Penn State alumnus Joe Gofus remembers precisely when he knew he wasn’t going to be a meteorologist.

In the early 1970s, the then undergraduate listened to himself report the weather forecast on campus radio – partly sunny with almost no chance of rain – as he watched the rain fall on campus. from University Park.

“Which I understood very early on,” Gofus said. “I was listening to my voice on the radio saying it would be partly cloudy and it would be nice because it was raining heavily. And I thought maybe I wasn’t really cut out for that.

This, however, did not prevent Gofus from having a successful 36 year career in the field. After graduating from Penn State with a meteorology degree in 1975, he joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He started as an officer for four years, spending two years on a ship, before working for the National Weather Service.

He used an overnight master’s degree from the American University of DC in Computer Systems to help write software that allowed forecasters to access the model and observational data used in the forecasting process. He also trained the first generation of forecasters to switch to computer systems. His career has overseen the transition from TTY and fax machines to supercomputers and satellites.

Getting computers to achieve the desired outcome for a data-driven field like meteorology, he said, is like accurately forecasting the weather. In other words, the pace is fast and it is not an easy task.

“The technology has really changed all along,” Gofus said. “Institutions like Penn State help people keep up to date with the latest techniques. They are trained to understand how to process and evaluate data. And students are entering a field with access to information we couldn’t even dream of when I started my career.

The importance of education is what inspired Gofus and his family to create scholarships for students. The Gofus Family Graduate Scholarship in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences, established in 2018, named after him and his late wife Nancy Burgess Gofus, assists graduate students. He and his wife were both first generation college graduates. Another, the Betty H. Gofus Trustee Educational Equity Scholarship, established in 2014, is named after her mother, who joined the Navy during WWII because she could not afford to pay. his studies. This scholarship helps veterans in similar situations.

Before retiring in 2010, Gofus spent a decade working on another pressing weather problem: precipitation. He developed software that did not predict the amount of precipitation, but rather what the amount of precipitation would mean for a region in terms of flooding and other natural hazards.

In retirement, Gofus still finds time to use his computer skills.

He assists in the deployment of electoral software and is co-supervisor of the Northern County Absentee Satellite Voting for the Fairfax County Election Office (Virginia).

In the 2020 presidential election, he oversaw an unprecedented period in our country’s electoral system. Fairfax County has reported record voter turnout associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia’s election laws allow 45 days of in-person voting, so Gofus had to work to protect voters and election officials during that time.

Being able to defend democracy is what led him to this position. Elections, like the weather, are an integral part of our daily life.

“Everyone cares about the weather. Weather and climate affect everyone, ”said Gofus. “As a society, it is important that we are able to determine what the future impacts of weather and climate will be. And advancements in the field, through better research and forecasting, will be of great benefit to all of us. “

Contributions to the Gofus Family Graduate Scholarship will advance A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence, a targeted campaign that aims to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world. defined by rapid changes and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to meet the three key imperatives of a 21st century public university: keeping the doors of higher education open to hard-working students, whatever their financial well-being; create transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impact the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Great State of Pennsylvania for 21st Century Excellence,” visit Greaterpennstate.psu.edu.


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