Student Spotlight

Margie KieperMargie Kieper

Margie Kieper could have stayed in Minnesota with her good job and settled life, but a professor at FIU upset that serenity with one question: "Would you like to be a student of mine?" Her answer led to a $90,000 FIU Presidential Fellowship, and since 2012 she has been pursuing her passion to research hurricanes at the highest levels possible.

Keiper graduated from MIT in 1979, and more than three decades later she is pursuing her Ph.D. in Geosciences. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she increased her research and writing about tropical cyclones, and she discovered a new method for forecasting how they grow. Her continued research may allow for better predictions of the behavior of monster storms.

Q&A Interview

  • Home state: Minnesota
  • Current Pursuit: Ph.D. in Geosciences

How has the transition from Minnesota to Miami been?
When I came to FIU to pursue studies in tropical meteorology, it was a huge career change for me. I'm older than the average grad student by quite a few years, so to me, I'm just happy to be doing the research. Before this, I had a 40-hour a week job that was frequently 60 hours a week, and I was doing my research in addition to that. So, for me to just be able to do the research and focus on that is a luxury.

Tell us about your research.
I became interested in the study of tropical cyclones in the summer of 2005. After Hurricane Katrina, I wrote a series for Weather Underground on the surge, which encompassed hundreds of miles of the northern Gulf Coast. In 2008, I discovered a method for forecasting rapid intensification of tropical cyclones, which is an increase in the intensity of the tropical cyclone of 30 knots or more over a period of 24 hours. The method I discovered is based on observational microwave imagery. Currently, the existing guidance for forecasting rapid intensification relies primarily on environmental factors. I combined that with the level of organization of the tropical cyclone focusing on the internal structure of the core. My thesis work will be on detailing the life cycle of the tropical cyclone based on patterns of precipitation and deep convection as depicted with the microwave imagery.

What were you doing before FIU?
I gave up a job and got rid of 75 percent of my belongings just to come down here. I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to be here. Before this, I was paying my way to go to conferences. In 2010 I was presenting at a hurricane conference, and Hugh Willoughby walked up to me and said, "Would you like to be a student of mine?", and I said, "Of course. Of course." To work with Dr. Willoughby, anyone would want to. At the time I thought, well, I have a wonderful job. But I realized I had to leave it and take the plunge and go to FIU.

What about FIU attracted you most?
There are a number of research facilities at FIU. There's also a big community of meteorologists here, and not very many in Minnesota. I came to FIU to work with professors Hugh Willoughby and Haiyan Jiang, and because the National Hurricane Center is located here on FIU's campus

We have funding for a test bed project to automate my rapid intensification method at the Hurricane Center. This year I also published a paper with Dr. Jiang on the method titled "Predicting Tropical Cyclone Rapid Intensification using the 37 GHz Ring pattern identified from passive microwave measurements."

What does the presidential Fellowship mean to you?
I'm the first Presidential fellow in the Earth and Environment Department, so I want to do really well, set the bar really high, and make it easier in the future to achieve further fellowships.

When I came here, I knew what I wanted to do. Dr. Jiang and I were already working on it before and this allowed us to continue to work together, so it was great. I also hope to have several papers in the next year. I'm really happy I have the opportunity to do a lot of research at FIU.

What are your plans moving forward?
I want to get the Ph.D. and I want to keep working on research. If a post doc comes up, I'll take it. If a research opportunity comes up here locally, I'll do it. That's what I want to be doing. Remember, it's never really too late to discover your passion.


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