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Meet the Geographer: Christopher Williams

Christopher Williams
Pronouns: he/him
University of Florida

Adviser: Dr. Kevin Ash
Focus Area: Geospatial Analysis & Techniques

Research Statement: I am broadly interested in atmospheric science, disaster risk reduction, risk communication, and emergency management. My graduate research is focused on concurrent risks from tornadoes and the COVID-19 pandemic and residents’ emergency sheltering perceptions and behavior likelihood. We conduct statistical and spatial analyses on recently collected multi-state survey data to advance knowledge of this rapidly developing risk intersection associated with potentially conflicting responses.

Who is he?
Christopher Williams is a second year Master’s student in the Geography Department. He moved to Florida to pursue his Master’s with Dr. Kevin Ash.

How did he get here?
Christopher was born in Karlsruhe, Germany to a German mother and an American father. When he was 3 years old, his family moved to his Dad’s hometown of Baxley, Georgia. “For many years, I could use one hand to count the number of traffic lights.” says Christopher. Nestled among tall pine trees and thick Southern accents, Christopher grew up on the Williams family farm, surrounded by hogs, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, corn, peas, okra, melons, cucumbers, and squash.

A farmer’s eye view of the world.

Growing up, Christopher and his 4 siblings spent a lot of time outside working on the farm. He noticed that whenever there were big weather events like hurricanes, the adults would get excited and the schools would close – most critically it also meant a reprieve from outdoor chores. This got Christopher’s attention.

In 8th grade, Christopher and his mom drove to Savannah, where he spent the day job shadowing meteorologist Mary Wicks. It was clear from then on that meteorology was one of his main interests.

Christopher’s interest in science was further fueled when his 8th grade science teacher told the class that any student who made it to the State Science Fair would earn an automatic A and would be excused from certain assignments. Armed with petri dishes full of agar and an assortment of hand soaps, Christopher then enjoyed a sabbatical of sorts for the rest of the school term.

science fair

When he graduated from high school, Christopher started out in the Servant Leadership Program at Columbus State University, but transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Earth & Atmospheric Sciences. While at Georgia Tech, Christopher had the opportunity to work as an undergraduate researcher, studying Atlantic hurricanes that struck Mexico since 1980 with Dr. Judith Curry and as a meteorology intern at the National Weather Service working with data from the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). When his parents and he visited Georgia Tech, Dr. Curry told them that if Christopher was going to make it in research, he’d need to earn a graduate degree. Ever since then, Christopher’s dad regularly asks him ‘how’s that graduate degree coming along?’

During the summer at Georgia Tech, Christopher joined the internship program at the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program – an undergraduate-to-graduate bridge program designed to broaden participation of historically underrepresented communities in the atmospheric and related sciences – based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. The following summer, he had a second SOARS internship, this time in Miami at the Hurricane Research Division.

Christopher’s nephews visiting him at NCAR

Upon completing his degree, Christopher returned to NCAR, this time as an Associate Scientist, primarily working on various Research Applications Laboratory projects for the betterment of society. While there, he contributed to journal articles and conference papers, helped publish datasets, developed his coding and modeling skills, and served as a SOARS coach and mentor.

While at NCAR, the director of Education and Outreach (a former director of the SOARS program) introduced Christopher to a postdoctoral researcher – Dr. Kevin Ash. Christopher moved to Gainesville for the Fall 2019 semester, as Dr. Ash’s first graduate student.

What’s he been doing at UF?
Christopher is grateful to join the Department of Geography as a Research Assistant. Since becoming a GeoGator, he has been working with Dr. Ash on the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) project. Christopher has been working with a data set that considers perspectives, perceptions, experiences, and the protective behavior around tornadoes and risk – with a focus on people in the southeast who live in manufactured homes. With the advent of the global coronavirus pandemic, Christopher is working with Dr. Ash and colleagues to assess how folks include coronavirus and physical distancing into their sheltering decisions as part of the Tornado Sheltering COVID-19 Survey project.

In his first semester at UF, Christopher took GEO6938 Communicating Science with Stephen Mullens where he applied practical strategies for engaging and effective communication and developed narrative skills for explaining scientific findings.

This summer, Christopher worked on his latest paper (non-refereed), Examining Survey Responses on Tornado Sheltering during the Novel Coronavirus Disease Pandemic, which is expected to be available shortly via the NCAR|UCAR OpenSky respository. The paper investigates how tornado sheltering needs and the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic intersect in relation to human risk perception and intended behavior for tornado threats and is based on Christopher’s work with his SOARS mentors.

How has he been holding up during the pandemic?
Living in graduate housing on campus, Christopher has been going on lots of nice long walks around campus. His walks generally stay on campus (where there seem to be fewer mosquitoes), but they occasionally extend as far as Tienda Latinoamerica on SE 13th St. While walking around, Christopher has been engaging in his favorite pastime – photography.

Christopher also has the opportunity to occasionally play (socially distant) basketball and tennis.

While navigating and accepting the challenging sloped space between isolation and a do-nothing-different approach during quarantine, Christopher is committed to pursue actualization of Maya Angelou’s saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”