Observing the Observers

2013-07-23 17:11:05.000 – Donald Kollisch,  Summit Volunteer

Tower on the summit.

Being a first-time volunteer on the summit is like being a guest in someone else’s house. Our ostensible job is to cook and clean and enjoy the activities. The secret and hidden job is to figure out how to fit into a complex, efficient, and friendly system that is designed and has evolved to get certain results. We volunteers are an important part of that system, but it is important for us to figure out how to best fit in. So, here is a novice’s guide to that system, with some hints for being most useful.

The “real” staff consists of three Observers. All of them have some background and certification in meteorology, but one of them is the “real” meteorologist, who writes the forecasts and is a resource to the entire team. The second staffer is a specialist in education and outreach, and is responsible for media and programs. The third is a techie, who does IT and maintenance of all of the hardware and software. All three of them share recording and reporting duties; two of them are on the day shift, and one of them on the night shift. These three professionals are the foundation of the team. Then there are two interns, either college students or recent grads, who assist with all duties and are on-board for 4 months; they each perform their own research project, under the guidance of the Obs’ research director, Eric. During the summer months, an additional employee is the Museum Attendant, who also manages the Obs retail shop on the summit. Then there are the two volunteers, who try to keep everyone well-fed and happy. The whole team comes up to the summit on Wednesday morning – by van or truck in the summer and by Bombardier in the winter – and goes back to the Valley the next week. Thus, eight days on and six days off. The two shifts alternate, year round. Quite a life!

So…my team: Becca, the Shift Leader, is an Energizer Bunny who packs more energy into her slight frame than biology and physics would seem to permit. She is kind and funny and a great resource. Ryan is the Staff Meteorologist, whose name is familiar to all of us from his great forecasts and blogs. He, too, has a trenchant sense of humor and a deep base of knowledge and experience. The final musketeer is Roger, the IT guy. He’s quiet and effective, and he sees and understands everything. What a GREAT crew. The two interns, Kaitlyn (recent grad of University of Oklahoma, Norman) and Alex (Valparaiso University), are as different as night and day; Kaitlyn has an infectious laugh, and quiet Alex is always on the move. Anthony (AJ), the museum attendant, is – to my surprise – some of the glue of the team; he is gentle and wise beyond his years. Then there is Dennis, my volunteer mentor. A middle school science teacher and formerly a cook in a series of restaurants, his background is perfect for this job. He has spent ten previous weeks on the summit, four as a Science-Teacher extern, and six as a volunteer. If you want something done, or a problem solved, ask Dennis. Then, of course, there is Marty (the summit cat)!

A well-functioning organization is a combination of MISSION, PEOPLE, and SYSTEMS. The Mount Washington Observatory works so well because it has all three, and all three are terrific. If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do so! You’ll learn about weather, you’ll eat great food, you’ll work with wonderful people, and you’ll see how a world-class organization gets things done.

Observer Footnote: If you’re going to be in North Conway Village Wednesday night and are looking for something educational and fun to do, stop by the Weather Discovery Center for our weekly Science in the Mountains lecture series. These talks occur every Wednesday night at 7PM from now until August 21st. Tomorrow’s talk is all about Ospreys and Osprey migration, presented by Squam Lakes Natural Science Center Executive Director Iain MacLeod. There will even be a live Osprey joining us, so we hope to see you there!


Donald Kollisch,  Summit Volunteer

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