Madeleine "Mac" Gagne' '21 - National Weather Service Internship (Summer 2020))

Madeleine "Mac" Gagne' '21 - National Weather Service Internship (Summer 2020))

This summer, I had an amazing opportunity to work as an intern for the National Weather Service through NOAA. During my 10-week internship, I conducted my own research project under the guidance of the amazing Dr. Peter Roohr and Wendy Marie Thomas. This research worked to evaluate the role of satellite imagery in the forecasting and operational decisions of wildfires, and the project was conducted as a case study into the 2019 Kincade blaze. As an individual studying decision science and applied mathematics through Duke’s Program II curriculum, working with NOAA was a dream come true! Through the internship, I was able to apply my mathematical skills to a qualitative analysis of satellite imagery as well as enhance my decision science skill set by conducting operational research about the emergency responses to the Kincade Fire. My favorite parts of the research included learning about the many different forms of satellite data available to NOAA, NWS, NASA and the US Department of Commerce as well as studying how to cater evacuation policy towards the many diverse populations of America. 

Upon completing my project, I had the incredible opportunity to present my research both to NASA officials and the wider NOAA/NWS community. It was fantastic to learn of the strong overlap between the weather and space communities as well as demonstrate my proficiency in mathematical modeling to the NOAA officials including Dr. Uccellini himself! While more than a little nervous to present my work on the final days of my internship, I was excited to learn many of the core partners from all over the administration and Cal Fire had come out to hear my final talk. At the end of the day, it felt more like presenting to family than dauntingly intelligent professionals! Excitingly, I will be presenting my research at the American Meteorological Society’s Annual Conference and have been asked to give my talk to the fire weather section of NOAA that works out on the west coast. I’m also seeking publication of my final research paper during the Fall of 2020.

Looking back on my career at Duke, I got interested in government service due to a deep desire to save lives and improve the country I grew up in. My internship with NOAA taught me that my skills in applied mathematics and operations research, while previously catered towards defense, could find an even stronger home in emergency management and crisis relief efforts. I adore the idea of mathematics and decision science being used not only to improve the way our nation recovers from natural disasters but also save the lives of the American public. I’m so honored to have worked on such an influential project. The idea that my work and research could contribute to saving the lives of wildfire victims on the west coast is something I am so humbled to have experienced. I cannot thank SPIRE enough for making this opportunity a possibility for me!