National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Michelle Hawkins
Michelle Hawkins

Location: Silver Spring, Md
Severe, Fire, Public, and Winter Weather Services Branch
Job Title: Branch Chief
Michelle Hawkins


On Christmas morning, Michelle woke up with excitement and nerves anticipating what waited for her downstairs under the tree. With everything she asked Santa Claus to bring, there was one thing in particular she felt she needed more than her next breath. Carefully, she ripped off the wrapping paper to one special gift revealing exactly what she wanted, a chemistry set. With Michelle’s love and fascination for science, everything else was forgotten. She got to work and went through the set very quickly. Smiles and laughter filled the Hawkins household, and just like that Michelle’s future took shape.


Dr. Michelle Hawkins grew up in Chicago where she discovered her love of science. Although she had supportive parents and was afforded the opportunity to participate in many extracurricular activities during the school year as well as summer programs that specialized in STEM activities, it wasn’t easy. “I have always been interested in science, even at a really young age,” she said. However, Dr. Hawkins remembers that accessing STEM-related programs was difficult. Many weren't offered or even advertised in her neighborhood, and her parents had to rely heavily on word of mouth.

After graduating from high school, Dr. Hawkins then moved to Washington D.C., where she majored in chemistry at Howard University and participated in an undergraduate program focused on terrestrial and extraterrestrial atmospheres sponsored by NASA. Dr. Hawkins was always mesmerized by the severe storms and winter weather that passed through Chicago. The NASA program solidified her trajectory to meteorology. Later, she entered the doctoral program at her alma mater and obtained her doctorate in atmospheric sciences. Howard University produces the largest number of black STEM Ph.Ds. in the world.

Within her nine years at the National Weather Service, Dr. Hawkins has had many prominent positions; all helping her expand knowledge of other STEM-related fields and the intersection of science and policy. She completed a detail at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration headquarters, where she worked closely with representatives on Capitol Hill. She also detailed as the Acting Executive Officer in the Analyze, Forecast and Support office, allowing her to see how the agency is run from a business perspective.

Today, Dr. Hawkins is Chief of the Severe, Fire, Public, and Winter Weather Services Branch.  She provides programmatic leadership for the nation’s severe, public, and winter weather services, as well as weather-support response services for wildland fires in support of NWS land management partners. Dr. Hawkins also works with health partners such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to advance our understanding of weather-related impacts on human health. “I feel like a kid in a candy store here in the National Weather Service,” Dr. Hawkins explains. “There is always an exciting science problem to solve and as someone who has always loved weather, this is the place you want to be.”

As one of few women who holds a prominent position within the National Weather Service, it hasn’t been easy for Hawkins. She explains her time matriculating through the agency as challenging, “You look around and you don’t see many women, especially in leadership positions,” she added. “It’s difficult to navigate through an organization when you don’t have many other women to learn from, and to look up to. When I came back to work as a nursing mom, advice and lessons-learned from women colleagues helped sustain my career when I felt I was at my weakest.”

Dr. Hawkins is a true advocate for women in STEM. Not only does she provide information to friends who have daughters, but she also speaks to high school students about her experiences at NWS. She’s come a long way from being the little girl opening her chemistry set on Christmas morning.  With her drive and passion, Dr. Hawkins continues to be a beacon for other women working in the National Weather Service and those who want to work there in the future.