National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Tanja Fransen
 
Tanja Fransen

Location: Glasgow, MT
Office: 
Glasgow Weather Forecast Office (WFO)
Job Title: Meteorologist-in-Charge (MIC)
Tanja Fransen


Background:

What is your name, and where did you grow up?

I am Tanja Fransen, and as an “Air Force brat” I was born in Germany, but moved around a lot.  Colorado is where I went to middle school through college, but Montana has been home now for 16 years.

Where did you go to college?

I attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, CO, a smaller school with a fantastic program. It had incredible resources nearby. There were at least 3 NWS offices within a 3 hour drive, 4 colleges with undergrad/graduate degree programs within a 2 hour drive, three American Meteorological Society Chapters, TV meteorologists in Denver and Cheyenne, WY, a private sector company and NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research). It was a great place to meet people doing many things in weather.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in STEM?

I’ve always been interested in science, from early on. The quick changing weather in Colorado may have been one of the influences for my future career as well. I had some great teachers in high school in science (Miss Weiben/Mr Thorpe/Mr Parks), math (Mr Dodds) and social sciences (Mr Marr) who made learning fun.

How did anyone or anything you saw in the media influence your desire to go into the STEM field?

So, in my day, media was newspapers, magazines and TV. The Limon, CO EF-3 tornado was the summer before my senior year in high school, and the TV footage of the damage is something I will always remember. You can see more from that event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnZw4KUxd5w

Looking back to your childhood, to what extent do you believe your interest in STEM was accepted and praised?

My parents absolutely supported me in anything I wanted to do. My dad set up a visit to the Colorado Springs Airport Air Traffic Control tower with a female controller for my 8th grade career day, and my mom took me on the ice and taught me to drive. They let me ride motorcycles, and supported me participating on the local volunteer fire department and ambulance crew from high school through college. I was always encouraged to do anything I wanted.

When you were in school, what were some barriers or opportunities to express an interest in the natural and physical sciences?

In high school and college, I knew no barriers. The world was in my hands! The barriers started becoming more obvious when I entered the NWS. I had one supervisor who liked to bring up that all his friends who called the office thought I was the secretary. Another office had an older man who often commented, “When you get married, have kids and leave the agency…..” Well guys, here I am 23 years later, married, two kids, the supervisor at our office, and loving my job despite your comments. :)

Current Work:

How long have you been working at NWS?

23 years

What is your current position at NWS?

I have been the Meteorologist in Charge of the NWS Glasgow, MT office for two years now. I supervise up to 21 people, and support them in their career goals, handle the administration of the office, coordinate with other offices and our regional and national headquarters, and even continue to work forecast shifts on occasion.

Did you start in this position? If not, what was your first position?

I started as a student trainee the summer before my last year in college.  I worked through the fall semester of my senior year and earned a paycheck, as well as received college credit.  That allowed me to graduate in 4 years.  If you get a chance to do an internship in any area you have an interest, DO IT!

What would you say is the best thing about working at NWS?

The people.  The staff we have love the mission of our agency, and our partners outside of the office are amazing to work with.  It doesn’t hurt that we have cool tools and incredible computer systems that we get to use daily!

Women in STEM Now and in the Future:

Why do you think there are so few women in STEM careers?

There’s a tendency to model what we know and see.  We spend 13 years in school, and until we are older, most of our teachers are women.  We spend time in clinics as kids, again with many nurses being female.  If we could immerse young girls  in more STEM fields early on, the numbers would hopefully increase.

Why do you believe there should be more women in STEM fields?

Diversity of thought!  Men and women learn, think and do things in different ways. Every team needs a diversity of talents to continually improve upon what they are doing.  Trying to provide services to the benefit of the public requires diverse ways of communicating, collaborating and presenting.

Do you believe there is a need for more women at NWS? Why or why not?

Absolutely yes!  The latest data I have seen is that while we are graduating about 33% women in meteorology in Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programs, we are only seeing about 15% women in the NWS.  That is less than half of what we are graduating.  And, less than 7% of the women in the NWS are minorities, who would add even more diversity to our agency.  As you go higher up the pay scale, there are also fewer women.  For example, of 122 NWS forecast offices, only 11 have female supervisors (9%).

Do you have any advice for women and girls interested in STEM careers?

  1. Find someone in the career field you admire, and shadow them for a day or two. Ask a lot of questions!
  2. Join online communities of women who can answer your questions, and provide insight into university programs, career options, pros and cons etc.   One that I suggest is the Earth Science Women’s Network (on Facebook).
  3. Volunteer in the fields you are interested in.  Even if it’s one day a month, it shows you have enthusiasm and initiative.   These people may one day help you get a job.   

In what ways have you encouraged young women to explore an interest in STEM?

Tanja Fransen

In 2007, a few great things happened for me, that hopefully is helping many others!   I started the NWS Women in Science support group, and I attended my first American Meteorological Society meeting.  The first allowed me to connect with women in the NWS and provide a way for us all to have an ear to listen, share articles on leadership, and discuss issues that impact us (working shifts with kids, health issues etc).  These women now have annual get togethers, work on long distance projects together, and are one another’s biggest cheerleaders when someone does well.   The second allowed me to connect with students, several hundreds of them that year, and hundreds more since then.  I’ve been able to be a mentor to many students, some of whom are now in the NWS.  I stay in touch with many of them as they continue their educational careers and enter the workforce.

Additional Questions for Bloggers:

How do you spend your time outside of work?

As a mom, I have spent many thousands of hours at sporting events with my sons.  My favorite are baseball and football.   We have a boat and jet ski that we use in the summer which is always relaxing and fun!  Traveling is something I would love to do more of, but I’ve been lucky to see much of the US, a good chunk of Europe, and the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  I have a super group of mom friends who support each other through the ups and downs of life, and we try and keep it fun throughout the year.  Reading is my most frequent hobby, usually mysteries, and I like biographies as well.