Dr. Marshall Shepherd, recipient of the latest Captain Planet Protector of the Earth Award, didn’t start out as an environmental superhero jetting to save the day. His journey began as an inquisitive African American boy who knew what he wanted to do since the 6th grade.
After doing a weather project in middle school, Dr. Shepherd says he was eager to learn the “whys” and “hows” behind weather and hasn’t looked back since. Over the years he has established himself as an international expert in weather and climate, collecting a string of accolades and awards.
Still, he says his initial reaction was shock when he was informed he was the 2014 recipient of the Captain Planet Protector of the Earth Award, bestowed by Laura Turner Seydel’s Captain Planet Foundation.
“It was an honor to be recognized by my peers for my work on trying to improve the understanding and communication on the hazards of climate change,” Shepherd said in a sit down interview with UrbanGeekz. “I was surprised because I don’t do what I do for awards, but because I care about the next generation inheriting a planet that is healthy.”
From working at NASA to becoming the director of the Atmospheric Sciences program at the University of Georgia, and hosting his own show known as Weather Geeks on the Weather Channel, Dr. Shepherd has gained many achievements, but his start into becoming a prominent figure in the field of meteorology wasn’t an easy one.
Growing up in a quiet rural community in Canton, Georgia, Shepherd was raised in a single parent home and was one of the few African Americans in the area.
“Growing up at that time certainly had its challenges as far as race relations, so I had to overcome certain perceptions,” he said. “Even when I was working at NASA, people would just assume I was there because I was black or affirmative action, but that never bothered me and usually in the scientific field that I am, I am the only African American in the room and I’ve noticed that perception.”
Yet, even with the obstacles he had to go through, Shepherd never had doubts about being a meteorologist. “In my career I don’t think I would change anything,” he said. “Even the mistakes you make in life, you learn something from it.”
As the director of the Atmospheric Sciences program at UGA, Shepherd’s main goal is to educate the public about weather and climate. “I want my research to lead to improvements in our ability to understand weather as well as be an inspiration for younger scientists,” he said.
Andrew Grundstein, a coworker of Dr. Shepherd and a professor in the UGA Department of Geography, said he finds Shepherd to be a dynamic person. “He is involved in so many different projects and he is a really strong advocate for his students,” he said. “He’s also shown a lot of leadership in developing the Atmospheric Sciences program.”
“I see how someone can be a really nice person and help other people, as well as do great work,” Grundstein said. “Sometimes people who are highly successful come across as arrogant and he doesn’t come across like that at all.”
Brian Stone, an associate professor at Georgia Tech and a friend of Shepherd, said he has always been impressed his colleague. “Marshall is a very gregarious and kind person and someone I value as a colleague,” he said. “He is productive and effective as a communicator and worthy of a wide range of awards.”
Shepherd’s motivation to keep working in his field is that he doesn’t see his career in meteorology as just a job. “I’m a kid in a candy store,” Shepherd said. “I just enjoy what I do and see it as something I love and happen to get paid for.”
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