Jennifer Francis (Briggs) - Class of 1988

Jennifer Francis and familyI was born and raised in a tiny waterfront town in southeastern Massachusetts by a dad who loved science (particularly the ocean, weather, and celestial curiosities) and by a mom who tolerated my collecting all sorts of wild animals, traipsing out to see astronomical phenomena in the wee hours of the night, or storm waves crashing on the beach during a howling nor'easter. Sailing was a high-priority family activity, and many a-weekend and summer vacation was spent exploring the waters from Rhode Island to Maine. I am certain my love of air, ocean, and travel started with these adventures.

But I also had a streak of practicality, so I headed off to college seeking a lucrative career to fund my desires to see the world. At about the same time, I met my husband-to-be, who also happened to be from this same tiny town and who also loved ocean adventures. After my 3 years of pre-dental college courses at the University of New Hampshire while he worked, we decided to head off into the wild blue, wet, and salty yonder to satisfy our desires to see beyond the horizon. We sold everything we owned, borrowed as much money as we could from various family members, and set off for a life at sea. During these five years, weather became the single most governing factor in our lives. It decided whether we were comfortable or not, how fast we could get where we wanted to go, and how many repairs we had to make once we got there. During this intimate relationship with the atmosphere, I gradually realized that a career in dentistry was not going to cut it, and that meteorology was my destiny. Toward the end of the five years, we sailed to the Arctic Ocean, where I discovered that the accuracy of weather forecasts in that region left a great deal to be desired.  My calling, I thought, was to become a forecaster of Arctic weather and fill this gaping meteorological hole.  

Upon returning to life on dry land, we headed off to the wild west to continue our academic careers: my husband in business school, and I at the Department of Meteorology at SJSU. I didn't know much about the program before I arrived, but I soon realized that dumb luck had struck and I'd landed in a terrific department filled with dedicated instructors and many exciting opportunities beyond the classroom. The most significant of these was at NASA Ames Research Center, where I met one of my life's "hair-pin-turn" people, a handful of people who dramatically changed the course of my life in some way. In this case, it was Dr. Tom Ackerman who opened my eyes to the world of research, and helped me realize that a more effective way to improve Arctic forecasting was not to become a forecaster using data created by others, but rather to become one of those people who created the data, i.e., research. Because of this experience and the excellent preparation I received from the SJSU meteorology program, I was able to continue on to get a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and embark on a rewarding career developing new remote sensing products to help me and others better understand the Arctic climate system. My husband and I now take our two children sailing at every watch out, SJSU -- more Francises may be headed your way!

(Jennifer is currently a Research Professor at the Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences at Rutgers)


San Jose State University Department of Meteorology, Duncan Hall 620
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