November 2010
Professor Gregory Jenkins: A Torrent of Talent

By Jihan Asher

Gregory Jenkins, Ph.D.
Professor Gregory Jenkins has led research trips to Africa and the Caribbean to learn more about hurricanes. (Justin D. Knight)
For Gregory Jenkins, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and faculty member in the Howard University Program in Atmospheric Sciences (HUPAS), a lifetime of asking questions about the weather has turned into a rich career as a scientist and a leader and trainer of future scientists. Known to most of his students as “Dr. J,” he has taught a variety of courses and led research trips to Africa and the Caribbean to learn more about hurricanes.

The West Philadelphia native admits that his fascination with the weather started during his childhood, when he says there were many questions for which he could not find satisfying answers. As an undergraduate student at Lincoln University, his questions continued in classes similar to the ones he now teaches at Howard.
I learned about drying conditions in West Africa that had begun in the late 1960s and that there were many hypotheses about why it was occurring but no definitive answer,” he says. “That became my passion and the primary reason for going to graduate school.”    
Jenkins continues to study monsoons and other extreme weather conditions. His research has taken him all over the world including, most recently, Senegal, where he led a team as part of a partnership with NASA and the National Science Foundation.
This is physics. We don’t hide—we discover.”


Through the support of these institutions, Jenkins travelled to Cape Verde and later to Barbados where he and his team studied Saharan air layer outbreaks and tracked the African easterly waves responsible for the vast majority of intense hurricanes. He is interested in the physics behind anthropogenic climate change and in using an increased understanding of the science to inform policy and cross-cultural collaboration.

There is lots of work to do and I plan to be on the frontline,” he says. “This is physics. We don’t hide—we discover.”

Johnathan Clark and Yaitza Luna-Cruz were among the students who participated in the research project this summer. They tracked and collected data on the ground and from the air from five Saharan air layer outbreaks and six major storm systems in order to observe their evolution as they moved across the Atlantic from West Africa to the Caribbean. 

The students say Jenkins earlier work on the West African monsoon was one of the primary reasons they chose the graduate and Ph.D. programs at Howard.

Not every university has this type of research,” says Luna-Cruz.

Clark agrees, adding that the availability of funding and scholarships afforded him the opportunity to participate in his first real study abroad experience.

Jenkins is currently Luna-Cruz’s advisor, an experience she speaks very highly of: “It’s great! He keeps the energy up and he is a good scientist.

Jenkin’s research is backed by a solid academic record. After completing his doctorate at the University of Michigan, he served as a post-doctoral fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Later, he taught in the Department of Meteorology at Penn State University.
Yaítza Luna-Cruz
Student Yaítza Luna-Cruz aboard a DC-8 aircraft, preparing to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes.
In addition to receiving a Fulbright grant to study in Senegal, he has been awarded the National Technical Association’s Technical Achiever of the Year Award (science category), a National Science Foundation Career Award and a Diversity Recognition Award during his stay at Penn State University. He was also selected as a distinguished alumni member by the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan in 2007. At Howard, he was director of the atmospheric science program from 2004 to 2007 and chairman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 2007 to 2010.

For someone who can list a Fulbright and numerous peer-reviewed publications among his accomplishments, it is telling that Jenkins holds “seeing his students succeed and graduate” and “making contributions to the field that will help people” in equally high esteem.

A documentary team is compiling footage, and interviews of researchers, students and pilots from a multi-agency hurricane field campaign during August and September is underway; the completion is expected during the spring of 2011.

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