National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Cindy Polk Woods
Cindy Polk Woods

Location: Silver Spring, MD
Office of Chief Operating Officer (COO)
Job Title: Chief of the Operations Division and Director of the NWS Operations Center
Cindy Polk Woods


My name is Cindy Polk Woods and I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, in the small town of Greenville, Mississippi.  I attended public schools and graduated with honors from Greenville High School.  I graduated from Jackson State University with a B.S. in Meteorology. I also completed graduate level courses at George Mason and James Madison Universities in Virginia.

As a child I always enjoyed reading and had a love for math and science, so I knew at an early age that a career in STEM was for me.  My interest in STEM was piqued by a number of outstanding ladies in my family church and some of my teachers.  Many of the women in my church were educators, but only one taught science and physics.  This teacher and Sunday School Superintendent worked in a different school district, but her students were always visiting our church to tell of the difference she made in their lives because of her commitment and passion to sharing the world of science to them.  Those testimonies resonated with me because I had teachers that were doing great things in my life as well.  My Advance Placement (AP) English teacher, my chemistry/physics teacher and my trig/calculus teacher were all dedicated, hardworking educators that wanted their students to succeed.

Although I did not consider myself a “nerd” or “geek,” I was definitely interested in all things science.  When I was in high school, one of the yearly highlights was the science fair.  Some of my projects included work with temperature and the motion of molecules, environmental effects on different man made materials, and environment and teen pregnancy rates.  Each year I placed in the top three for my category at the school level, and I placed at the district level.  I never got better than an honorable mention at the state, but my teachers were very supportive and encouraging at each level of competition.  My interest in STEM was both accepted and praised not only by my teachers, but my parents as well.   My parents really believed in me.  They always said, “You can do it, if you put your mind to it.”  They also bought me new outfits for each event, providing added incentive. My two best friends from high school also excelled in math and science, and we made competitions out of everything from getting the highest quiz scores, to completing homework first, to placing at the science fair.

NWS work history and current position

I started my career with NWS in 1990 as a Meteorologist Intern at the NWS Forecast Office in Jackson, Mississippi.  I have had a very rewarding career.  I rose from intern to journey forecaster and spent time as an agricultural forecaster before being promoted to senior forecaster.  I was a senior forecaster at offices in Jackson, MS, Corpus Christi, TX and the Baltimore-Washington office. I moved to NWS Headquarters in 2005 where I worked as a physical scientist, program analyst and supervisory meteorologist.  I am currently the Chief of the Operations Division and Director of the NWS Operations Center.  I supervise a cohesive and inclusive team of meteorologists, physical scientists, social scientists, programmers and program analysts. 
The advancements, promotions, and relocations did not come without their share of challenges.  Obstacles came in the form of a few insensitive co-workers, indifferent supervisors and racist and sexist partners and customers.  In dealing with these individuals, I chose not to focus on the negativity and perceptions, but on the purpose for and quality of my work and the positive contributions I was making on a daily basis.

Best thing about working for NWS

The best thing about working at the NWS is being able to work with a group of people with the same dedication and passion for meeting the mission.  It doesn’t matter which office, what position or career longevity, I know NWS has some of the hardest working employees in the country.

Women in STEM (now and in the future)

I believe there are so few women with STEM careers today because we are not capturing the interests of young girls soon enough.  Girls should be introduced to math and science at an early age and encouraged to pursue any interests along those lines.  Many researchers have provided stats that show early introduction/exposure to math and science is important to help shape career aspirations.  If kids are left behind a whole world is closed to them, and they never reach their full potential.  With that said, there is a need for more women in STEM fields and in NWS.  The workforce should be representative of the people we serve.  More diversity and inclusion efforts are needed. A diverse workforce composed of the best and the brightest will drive productivity, collaboration, and economic growth.

Using my love of math and science, I have worked as an organizer, tutor and mentor for local middle and high school students.  I have organized and facilitated weather camps for minority students in Mississippi and the D.C. Metro. I served as technical monitor for NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences led by Howard University, and I am a mentor/sponsor for the NOAA Diversity and Professional Advancement Working Group.  I encourage girls and women to follow their dreams of becoming a scientist, engineer or mathematician.  There are a number of positive role models in the workforce today and I encourage young girls and women to connect with those role models for help and guidance as they pursue interests and careers in STEM fields.

I am married to Donell Woods, a fellow NOAA meteorologist, and we are the proud parents of Caleb Donell Woods.  I am an avid reader, shopper and cleaner.  I enjoy puzzles, mysteries and westerns.  I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, Blacks in Government, Loudoun Bible Church and two local book clubs.