Penn State

How a climate science pioneer is making history at Penn State once again

A building at Innovation Park was officially dedicated to climate scientist Warren M. Washington on Friday.
A building at Innovation Park was officially dedicated to climate scientist Warren M. Washington on Friday. Photo provided

Penn State has been home to a variety of researchers and pioneers, and one of those innovators has made history again with a building dedication at Innovation Park.

The 328 Building at Innovation Park was officially renamed the Warren M. Washington Building on Friday. The dedication was not the result of a financial gift — Washington was instead selected by Penn State President Eric Barron for his contributions and innovations to science and improving options for minorities in science-based fields. It’s the first building dedication of its kind at Penn State, according to a press release.

The effort started last year when Barron asked deans to nominate innovators and pioneers. Lee Kump, dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and meteorology professor Gregory Jenkins said they were eager to see Washington recognized.

“We had heard through the grapevine that there may be nominations coming up for the honor, so Gregory and I sat down and wrote a nomination just waiting for the opportunity to be announced,” Kump said.

Washington is best known for his long career in meteorology, and in 1964 graduated from Penn State and became the second African American in the U.S. to earn a doctorate in meteorology. He was also one of the first to develop models in order to predict how the climate would look in the future, and started using computer technology in order to create these maps. His innovation and dedication to the field is impeccable and the tools he created for future meteorologists have made a lasting impact on how meteorology is developed and viewed, Jenkins said.

Washington shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report, and was awarded the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama. This year, he received the Tyler Prize with Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State.

Still, Washington’s impact extends beyond his high-profile awards. Throughout his career, Washington has mentored many other aspiring scientists and has helped shape the careers of many individuals, including Kump and Jenkins.

“Warren Washington is more than a pioneer of science. He is also a pioneer of race and computer science. That amount of doors that he has held open for people of color in this industry is truly amazing,” Kump said.

Rising ocean temperatures have fueled some of the most devastating storms in recent years.

Jenkins became a mentee to Washington in the late 1980s after Washington spoke at Jenkins’ undergraduate school. He was immediately inspired by Washington, and knew that he could learn a lot from the scientist.

Barron, who spoke at the dedication ceremony Friday, said in a press release that the goal is for the buildings at Innovation Park to represent more than numbers.

“I’m very pleased that Warren Washington was the first nominee and will be honored with the first named building,” Barron said. “He is an inspiration, an internationally recognized expert in atmospheric sciences and climate research, and a mentor who has long helped individuals live the life within them.”

Jenkins also sees it as a step in the right direction for Penn State to continue working toward diversity and inclusion. He believes that honors like this one will attract more diverse staff and students alike.

“Sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s about the message. Not just for this moment, but for moments in the future,” Jenkins said.

The Warren M. Washington Building houses the National Weather Service, which uses weather and climate models pioneered by Washington while at Penn State, according to the release.

For hundreds of thousands of years, wild ocean salmon have been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Now, their existence is under threat, along with the communities they support.