National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Vankita Brown

Location: Silver Spring, MD
NWS Headquarters, Office of the Chief Operating Officer
Job Title: Social Scientist

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication from Southern Illinois University
  • Master’s Degree in Media Communication from Webster University
  • Doctorate in Mass Communication and Media Studies from Howard University

Describe the career path that led you to your current job with the National Weather Service.

  • I worked in Public Relations for several nonprofit organizations after undergraduate school. A short while after completing my Master's Degree, I returned to graduate school for a Ph.D. While pursuing my Doctorate degree, I was selected to participate in the NOAA Graduate Scientist Fellowship, for which I worked in the Communications Department at NOAA Headquarters. Upon graduation, I assumed a full-time position as Social Scientist for the NWS.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • My job is uniquely different from most folks that work here. I am the NWS’s first and only Social Scientist and I am involved in many efforts. I provide social science expertise and consultation to meteorologists and NWS leadership on ways to help improve our service to the nation. This involves soliciting feedback from our partners on their experiences with our products and services. Additionally, I design and deliver social science training to staff.

What was the most interesting, exciting, or impactful weather/water event you experienced while working for the NWS and why does it stand out?

  • The historic tornadoes of 2011 impacted me greatly. My first assignment as a new employee with the NWS was to participate with the NWS’s national service assessment. As part of a team, my task involved interviewing the residents of communities impacted by the event. An interview with a 16-year old boy, who told us about the loss of his grandparents during a storm, stays with me still.

What made you decide to pursue a career with the NWS?

  • I always tell people the NWS chose me.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • I'm not a meteorologist, hydrologist, engineer, physicist, or chemist, but I am able to use diverse skills and training that I acquired along my life journey in my work for the NWS. It's the oddest place I would think I would be able to do such a thing, yet it has been the most exciting part about working here; I get to do something difference everyday.

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career with the NWS?

  • Find a way to get involved with the NWS and make yourself known to the people who work here.

What training or coursework would you recommend to someone interested in following your career path?

  • As we appreciate more of the "people" side of science, I would say to learn to relate. I think very highly of the scientists that work here but they are sometimes isolated. If you can learn to relate to people, it will help to empathize and see the world more broadly and maybe communicate better. To that end, social psychology is a favorite of mine.