Pearl River Welcomes Meteorologist Dr. Marshall Shepherd for Climate Change Dialogue

October 19. 2023

Pearl River Community College recently welcomed Dr. J Marshall Shepherd to campus as part of the Lyceum Lecture Series. His main presentation was titled “Cloudy with a Chance of Science: Shaping a Discussion at the Intersection of Wicked Problems and Society.” Before the main presentation, Dr. Shepherd spent time with Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute students for a Q&A session. 

Group of College students and instructors inside wood paneled library.

The Honors Institute Lyceum Lecture Series seeks to host speakers who engage, challenge, provoke, and change lives. A generous sponsorship from the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation makes hosting high-caliber speakers possible. 
“Dr. Shepherd’s collegial attitude sprinkled with extensive experience in the fields of climate and atmospheric studies engulfed students in conversation and inquiry,” said Dr Jennifer Seal, Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research/Dean of Honors Institute (Poplarville.) “He inspired them to think deeply and to approach with an investigative inclination, thus encouraging ongoing learning.” 

Dr. Shepherd began his time with the honors students by presenting a brief overview of his history, including his initial interest in weather in sixth grade. While interested in weather, he did not want to become a meteorologist on broadcast television sharing forecasts. Rather, he sought to learn the hows and whys of weather.  

After his introduction, he opened the floor to students to ask any questions they had, whether about his career or other aspects of his life. 

“I loved the Q&A,” said Forrest County Campus freshman, Brycelynn Baker. “I found it very fascinating with all the questions asked being topical. His explanations were well put. He’s eloquent and very well-spoken.” 

Questions covered a range of topics including climate change tips, his favorite weather pattern, and what he orders when he visits Waffle House. 

“I found the things Dr. Shepherd said really interesting,” said Poplarville Campus freshman, Landon DeWitt of Pass Christian. “We are learning about climate change in my English class and how a lot of people are not knowledgeable about it.  

“I was surprised that the heat was the weather phenomenon where there are the most deaths or injuries, especially since we are encouraged by coaches to go out and practice in the heat. I wish more people would listen to him for the necessary information.” 

Shepherd was also asked about what words of wisdom he had from many years of experience. He shared advice that could help a college student forge their educational path leading to a career and beyond. 

“I’m passionate about what I do and always have been,” said Shepherd. “If you are passionate about something, go with it.” 

“Also, you have to be increasingly comfortable being uncomfortable.”  

Dr. Shepherd’s talk began with an explanation of a ‘wicked problem’ with no clear-cut solution and requires many people to change their mindsets and behavior. He gave the example of the COVID-19 pandemic, which many can relate to, before introducing climate change as another. 

Most of the talk focused on the different biases and perceptions people have followed by suggestions for reframing them for the future. He discussed how we can consider how being boxed in with a particular ‘marinade’ of information surrounding us can shape our perceptions. Expanding out from that box, you can examine belief systems and biases we possess including confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, motivated reasoning, and the trio of biases (normalcy, optimism, and recency.) 

Literacy and mental models are important considerations, especially when communicating information from scientists to the public. As an example of literacy, Shepherd quizzed the audience to determine how many truly knew what a 20% forecast of rain means. Few knew that it means that there is a 20% chance of rain within the time frame for a set geographic area. 

Most important for attendees is the need to critically evaluate information sources used to form opinions.  

Shepherd concluded with a call for attendees to take an inventory of their biases and marinades, challenge themselves, ask why they exist, and develop an action plan to at least help them expand their radius.  

“Think about how you perceive science and how you can evolve in terms of how you perceive science,” said Shepherd. “Essentially every aspect of our daily lives is touched by it.”  

Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd is a leading figure in atmospheric sciences, recognized for his roles as a scientist, author, and host. Currently serving as the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor and Director of the University of Georgia’s Atmospheric Sciences Program, he brings a wealth of experience, including a past role as a NASA Scientist and recognition with a 2004 PEASE award at the White House. Dr. Shepherd is the host of The Weather Channel’s Weather Geeks. He appears routinely on CBS, NBC, CNN, The Weather Channel and is a Senior Contributor to Forbes Magazine.  

Known for his widely viewed Ted Talks on climate change, Dr. Shepherd has received notable awards from AAAS, AMS, and AGU. In 2021, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2022, he was named the SEC Professor of the Year, and in 2023, he received the Environmental Achievement Award from the Environmental Law Institute. 

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Article by Laura O’Neill. Photography by River Roderick.

Each community college president is asked to bring two (2) wrapped door prizes, minimum value of $50 each. We will have a station set up at the conference for you to drop off the door prizes.

Each community college is asked to provide name tags for their Board members, administration, and staff attending the conference.