April 2019 President’s Message

Pay it Forward with an NWA Award Nomination

Paul Schlatter, NWA President

Happy Spring! With the arrival of spring (my favorite time of the year) comes another important aspect of this year’s theme, “Pay It Forward.” While the Oscars and Golden Globes have recently been handed out, did you know that it's almost time to submit nominations for the National Weather Association awards we hand out every year? The nomination process is quite simple, and award winners are announced during the lunch banquet on Wednesday during the Annual Meeting. There are few better ways to pay it forward than to nominate someone or a group deserving of one of NWA’s prestigious awards. “But Paul,” you may ask, “what’s the big deal about awards?” I have some strong feelings about awards, and let me expand on that next to inspire you to submit a nomination for someone deserving of an award.

My thoughts on awards are partially shaped from being a parent. I have two kids, ages 10 and 12. Throughout the past few years I have coached or helped coach their various sports teams including baseball, basketball, soccer, and flag football. At the end of the season, regardless of whether my kids’ teams won two or three games or went undefeated, everyone in the league received a participation medal. I know the trend of giving out participation medals began with the generation that followed mine (I am a Gen Xer): the Millennials. Back in the 1980s no medals were given out unless you won the championship. Don’t get me wrong, as with participation medals, there are a litany of complex issues surrounding the practice of giving awards only to the winners, including putting too much emphasis on winning. This is certainly not a rant against Millennials because they are our future and, in my opinion, they sometimes get a bad rap. Plus, it wasn’t like they asked to receive participation medals, they were kids at the time and fortuitously became the first generation to start getting them.

The issue I have with participation medals is that it rewards people for just showing up, thereby lessening the overall importance of winning and, to put it bluntly, striving for excellence. I do not agree we should strive to win at all costs. But there has to be a middle ground between showing up and doing everything possible to win. I am not trying to sound like a grumpy old person (I am 42 so am roughly more than half done with my life), but “back in my day” the only medals I ever got was when our team won the league. I was fortunate to be on teams in middle and high school that won a lot, so we received many trophies. It was a special feeling because we worked hard all year, played our best when it counted, and ended up playing better than the other teams. The reward was that we received something none of the other teams received. Today, I am aware that high school kids still receive trophies and other special medals, which is great. What about the rest of the iGeneration — my kids — as they just show up and receive medals whether they win or lose? This fact continues to annoy me because I believe awards and medals should be reserved for those that constantly pursue excellence. Thankfully, the NWA awards subscribe to this notion as well.

I have another short story that helps explain how I feel about awards. One of my most memorable awards came when I was in college. In the late 1990s I played collegiate rugby (Division II) for tiny Westmont College that had around 1,300 enrolled students. Our rugby team played against teams like the University of Southern California and the University of California-San Diego, both with enrollments of over 10,000 students. After my senior year we ended up being ranked in the top 20 of Division II schools across the country. I played fullback, which in rugby means I was the last line of defense and had to run A LOT, especially if the other team kicked the ball foward. I played my hardest, had individual success scoring and helping my teammates score, and as a team we had lot of success that season. At the end-of-the-season party, I was shocked when my teammates awarded me the most valuable back (half of the team are backs, half are forwards). It was special because my teammates voted for ME. My teammates are the guys I was with all season, sweating through grueling practices, suffering broken limbs (fingers mostly) and concussions, and enduring cauliflower ear (google it, trust me it’s gross). We were in it together, for each other. I would have done anything for them. Yet my peers thought I was a leader and pursued excellence enough to be rewarded as an MVP. It was moving, extremely humbling, and made me feel very special.

To me, that’s the NWA awards in a nutshell. Peers nominate truly deserving colleagues that pursue greatness and achieve success. It’s just as rewarding to nominate someone for an award as it is to win an award. I would know. Last year I was compelled to nominate the NWS Operational Proving Ground (OPG), led by Kim Runk, for the operational achievement group award. They’ve had a consistent track record of generating excellent training, testing cutting edge technologies, and ALWAYS striving to improve operational meteorology. In 2016-17 they held a GOES-R train-the-trainer course that I attended, and I was blown away by how effective it was. Seeing the appreciation on the OPG team members’ faces after winning the award was extremely satisfying to me because I could tell it meant the world to them. If that’s not paying it forward, I don’t know what is!

With all of this in mind, you have a homework assignment. Take time to think about a person or group that continues to excel at operational meteorology. Maybe they’ve had a career full of excellence. Maybe they made a specific prediction last year that deserves recognition. I bet every one of you can think of someone deserving. Go to the NWA Awards website and look for an award that matches how special they are, and then nominate them. Pay it forward!

But wait, I’m not done yet. I want to close this message by explaining that there ARE participation medals in the NWA! As NWA members, we all get participation medals. Those medals come in the form of Webinar Wednesdays. Or attending the NWA Annual Meeting and building a network of like-minded professionals. You get medals for learning all the great things from the posters and presentations. And this newsletter. Admit it, you love it. By being a member, you get participation medals galore—it’s what makes our association so great.

Read the full April Newsletter. 

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