By Ashton Adams
The gathered crowd at the annual American Meteorological Society meeting in Atlanta rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd stepped down from the stage, and his presidency.
A standing ovation is something AMS staffers say they have never seen given to a former president.
“That moment was so surreal for me because as I came off this huge stage surrounded by thousands of my colleagues, a standing ovation is not what I was expecting,” said Shepherd. “In that moment, it became clear to me that in the time I was president I must have made an impact in some way.”
Dr. Shepherd, who is also director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences program, completed his year-long term as president of the American Meteorology Society in February. The society serves as the nation’s mouthpiece on atmospheric sciences.
As president, Shepherd was frequently sought as an expert on weather and climate change, appearing on the Today Show, CNN, Larry King Live, Face the Nation, the Weather Channel and a number of other broadcast outlets.
In his most controversial role as President, Shepherd found himself putting out fires between two well-known power houses.
When Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called last month’s snow and ice storm a “leftist, global warming conspiracy” and made claims that the popularized term “polar vortex” was created by liberals that week, White House advisers fired back in a YouTube video claiming that the extreme weather was indeed a sign of global warming.
That’s when Shepherd intervened.
In his blog, Shepherd corrected Limbaugh stating that the term “polar vortex” had been used in meteorological reports since 1940 but called the White House “heavy handed” on the issue in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
One audience Shepherd won’t soon satisfy are the far-right critics who deny climate change and who Shepherd calls “zombies.”
Shepherd explained in his Tedx Atlanta talk last year that “zombies” were critics of his whose Conservative ideas on global warming could not be killed no matter how viable the scientific evidence.
“I quickly learned as President that to be an effective leader, you can’t waste valuable time trying to appease the extremists. As they say, ‘it is what it is,’” said Shepherd.
Shepherd’s AMS presidency was just one of many salient roles he held. Considered a catalyst in the African-American community, Shepherd says breaking barriers in his field is long over-due.
The first, and only, African-American to graduate with a PhD in meteorology from Florida State University and only the second Black president of the American Meteorological Society, Shepherd was even spotlighted on The Weather Channel for a piece on noteworthy meteorologists in honor of Black History Month.
“It’s an incredible honor to be labeled as a ‘first’ at something but it is also disturbing at the same time,” said Shepherd. “Here it is 2014 and it is somewhat sad that I am the first to accomplish some of the things I have done.”
Holding professional titles at NASA, the University of Georgia, the American Meteorological Society and a number of other esteemed panels and organizations is what Shepherd calls “normal,” and he has made no plans to slow down.
“Ultimately my success can’t be measured by my presidency, my job at NASA, or anything else I’ve done thus far. Success should be measured by how well you balance all qualities of life,” said Shepherd. “I am active professionally and I am active with my family and that will never overwhelm me.”
The former president will join the advisory board at Climate Central this month, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching climate change and its impact on the American public.
As far as his role at UGA goes, Shepherd plans on using his expertise and notoriety to further build the university’s relatively new atmospheric sciences program.
To hear more from Dr. Shepherd, visit his blog “The Mind of J. Marsh”: https://www.blogger.com/profile/06173530773221005727