Recent Millersville University graduate Erin Jones was recognized April 4 by the Board of Governors of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education as the 2019 winner of the Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence.
Jones, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in meteorology in December, received a $1,000 cash prize for winning the award. She had a perfect 4.0 GPA as a student at Millersville, where she also minored in mathematics and environmental hazards and emergency management. She participated in multiple research projects as an undergraduate, through both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
She has been interning at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., since January, and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric science.
The Ali-Zaidi award is presented annually to a graduating senior at one of the 14 State System universities. It recognizes outstanding academic achievement and participation in extra- and co-curricular activities. This is the 19th year for the award, which was established in 2001 by Syed R. Ali-Zaidi, a founding member of the State System’s Board of Governors.
Each of the 14 university presidents recommends a candidate for the award at the conclusion of a campus application and selection process. Selection criteria comprise academic scholarship, including prizes, honors and membership in honorary societies; participation in extra/co-curricular activities; and a two-page essay by the nominee addressing how the university has prepared him or her for the next career step.
“The Ali-Zaidi award gives us the opportunity each year to recognize the very best of our students, those who have succeeded both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira. “All of this year’s finalists have demonstrated they not only are outstanding students, but also are outstanding citizens, contributing to their communities in very meaningful ways. It is an honor to be able to present this year’s award to Erin in recognition of her long list of impressive accomplishments; which, no doubt, represent only the beginning of a successful career.”
Jones came to Millersville after graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, with 40 Advanced Placement credits already in hand. She enrolled in the university’s Honors College, where she continued her stellar academic performance, not only excelling in the regular classroom, but also participating in five distinct research experiences, including three off-campus, summer programs.
During the summer of 2016, Jones worked with a researcher from Hobart and William Smith College on a project funded by the National Science Foundation and designed to better understand and quantify “lake-effect” snow in the Great Lakes region, including lakes Erie, Michigan and Ontario.
The next summer she participated in another NSF-funded project with researchers from Texas A&M University focused on understanding the dynamics of severe storms and the processes that lead to tornadoes to help improve weather forecasting. The lead researcher on the project called Jones “by far the best undergraduate student researcher I have encountered in my career” and “the first undergraduate student who has been productive enough to warrant co-authorship on one of my group’s papers.”
Jones spent last summer at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory/Hurricane Research Division, where she participated in flight missions on the NOAA WP-3D “Hurricane Hunter.” She assisted with the design of flight patterns for science missions and the setup of the project’s ground-based field site, using the results of the research in which she participated to fulfill the requirements for her Honors thesis.
Jones said her interest in meteorology began when she was perhaps only 4 or 5 years old, when, she said, “I could sit and watch The Weather Channel for hours at a time.” She continued to pursue that interest at Millersville, where she participated in the Campus Weather Service, serving as the lead forecaster for two years, and was a member of the student chapter of the American Meteorological Society.
Beyond her interest in meteorology, Jones also is a dancer and singer. She was a member of the Expressions dance group at Millersville for three years, taking from three to six dance classes each week and performing in a dance recital every semester. She also took dance classes at the Emerald Isle Academy of Irish Dance, competing in a number of Irish dance competitions, during university breaks. She was a member of the Women’s Choir at Millersville, and was a math tutor and an Honors College mentor.
Jones received more than a dozen scholarships while a student at Millersville, including an Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship and several other national awards.
The other finalists for this year’s Ali-Zaidi Award were: Megan Wissert of Lansdale, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania; Madison Thrasher of Greenville, California University of Pennsylvania; Starr Butler-Tate of Philadelphia, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania; Katharine Gannon of Saxonburg, Clarion University of Pennsylvania; Samantha Ward of Swarthmore, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania; Miranda Groft of Venus, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania; Denali Davis of Indiana, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Maria Sunick of Clarks Summit, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania; Chelsie Miller of Blanchard, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania; Adrianna Vaskas of Stevensville, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania; Nicholas Paul Bingham of Shippensburg, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania; John Yannotty of Butler, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania; and Erica Knorr of Warminster, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Each of the finalists received a certificate in recognition of his or her accomplishment.