Graduate Student of the Month

Sebastian Ortega Arango - January, 2017


The following is an exerpt from the College of Sciences story by A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D. Click here to read the entire story.

Sebastián Ortega graduated with Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He came to Georgia Tech with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Universidad Nacional de Colombia. He is off to Colombia to work for the weather-prediction company CFAN, and then he will apply for a postdoctoral position in Colorado.
Advice to new graduate students: Do not be afraid to approach problems from unusual perspectives.
What attracted you to study in Georgia Tech? How did Georgia Tech meet your expectations?
What attracted me most was the possibility to study weather and climate. During my senior year studying for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I was particularly interested in studying fluid dynamics. I had done my senior thesis in physical limnology, and I wanted to keep studying along the same lines. Weather and climate were particularly interesting for me; I cannot think of a more interesting area to study fluid dynamics.
I was encouraged to apply to Georgia Tech by Oscar Mesa, a professor in my university, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and Carlos Hoyos, a Georgia Tech alumnus who was working with Peter J. Webster. Peter and Carlos were looking for a new Ph.D. student to join their team.
When I was taking a class with Oscar Mesa, he mentioned the opportunity to study at Tech and connected me with Carlos. After exchanging a few e-mails with Carlos and other students in Peter’s lab, I applied for admission. I was very interested in the research they were doing, so I was very happy to receive an acceptance letter a few months later.
Peter has had around seven Colombian Ph.D. students over the years and has worked with many more. This is important for Colombia, because many of his former students are applying in Colombia the knowledge they gained in meteorology at Georgia Tech.

Yun Hee Park - December, 2016

Yun Hee is a 3rd year graduate student working under the advisement of Dr. Irina Sokolik.  Her line of research includes remote sensing and numerical modeling related to biomass burning, with recent research looking at impacts of smoke on UV fluxes.  Yun Hee earned her B.A in Atmospheric Science from Yonsei University and a M.A in Atmospheric science from Univ. of Alabama in Huntsville. Working with Dr. Sokolik, Yun Hee published a paper last summer, which title is “Toward Developing a Climatology of Fire Emissions in Central Asia”.

In Yun Hee’s spare time, she enjoys cooking and spending time with his family and is expecting their second baby in December.

Giovanni Liguori - November, 2016

Giovanni Liguori is a 4th year graduate student in EAS. He received his B.S. in Environmental Sciences, summa cum laude, from University of Naples “Parthenope” in Italy. While at Georgia Tech, he has been awarded the Domenica Rea D'Onofrio Fellowship and written 8 peer-reviewed publications that can be viewed on his webpage at

His scientific interest is oceanography and climate dynamics from interannual to decadal timescales. His current project focuses on the mechanisms responsible for the observed Pacific decadal variability, which impact long-term transitions in marine ecosystems and influence the statistics of weather including ocean and atmosphere extremes such as strong droughts, hurricanes and marine heatwaves.  Specifically, combining observations and model outputs, he is studying how tropical and extra-tropical Pacific climate modes interact to produce decadal variability.

In addition to his principal research topic, the Pacific decadal climate variability, Giovanni recently broadened his research horizon by involving himself in a project aimed to study the impact of climate change on Peruvian glaciers. He gained firsthand experience by attending a workshop in Lima, Peru, and visited the Andean glacier of Artesonraju, hiking up to an altitude of about 18,000 feet. The project was broadcasted by a Peruvian news channel.

In his spare time, Giovanni enjoys cooking and hosting events for his friends, playing soccer, racquetball, traveling, and hiking.

Shannon Valley - October, 2016

Shannon Valley is a 3rd year PhD student in EAS. Her line of research is paleoclimate/paleoceanography which involves reconstructing past ocean circulation using geochemical proxies in order to understand the ocean’s role in abrupt climate change. Recently she presented the poster "Timing of Deglacial AMOC Variability from a High-resolution Seawater Cadmium Reconstruction" at the International Conference on Paleoceanography.

Shannon received a BA in Political Science and International Studies (2007) from Northwestern University and an MS in EAS awarded Summer 2016 under the advisement of Dr. Jean Lynch-Stieglitz. She has worked for five years in NASA’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs in Washington, DC and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2014 for communicating NASA science (including Earth science) on Capitol Hill. During her time in DC, she also spent six months working in the West Wing, for the Domestic Policy Council in the Executive Office of the President. In 2015 Shannon was awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She is currently the 2016-2017 University Relations Chair for Georgia Tech’s Black Graduate Student Association.

Her interests lie at the intersections of science and society. She spends a lot of time thinking about how scientific understanding of Earth systems can support those who are least equipped to handle changes to our climate and how our political and economic systems may help or hinder those efforts. In her spare time, Shannon enjoys traveling, yoga, hiking, and plane spotting.

Zachary Meeks - September, 2016

Zachary Meeks is a 2nd year Ph.D. student researching Space Plasma Physics, under the direction of Dr. Sven Simon. His undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Physics (Astrophysics) from Georgia Tech. While in undergrad he published “Is J Enough? Comparison of Gravitational Waves Emitted Along the Total Angular Momentum Direction with Other Preferred Orientations” (2012) and “Efficient Asymptotic Frame Selection for Binary Black Hole Spacetimes using Asymptotic Radiation” (2011). As a graduate student he has published “A Comprehensive Analysis of Ion Cyclotron Waves in the Equatorial Magnetosphere of Saturn” (2016).

Zach is the Planetary Science Rep for GEAS (the graduate student organization for the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) and in his spare time he enjoys playing baseball, dealing blackjack, scuba diving with sharks, and woodworking.

Sebastian Ortega - April, 2016

Sebastian Ortega started his graduate degree in Fall 2011. His line of research is focuses on Tropical Meteorology with Dr. Peter Webster. Specifically, he studies the South Asia Monsoon, and is interested both in its intra-seasonal and intra-annual variability. Within the research group, they study closely what happens in the upper troposphere as well as in the lower troposphere, and try to understand how both might interact. They have recently submitted a paper to the Journal of Climate, where they show that quasi-biweekly oscillation over the monsoon regions occur simultaneously with quasi-biweekly oscillations of the monsoon anticyclone.

Sebastian is a Civil Engineer from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellin. He says that his Colombian university also has a very good Geophysics School, focusing mostly in Hydrology, this is where he became interested in Earth Sciences. In his senior year of undergrad, he worked in Physical Limnology and studied how rivers can affect the thermal stratification of reservoirs. He is also very interested in Physics and Dynamical systems. Sebastian did his Ph.D. minor in Physics and always tries to incorporate what he’s learned here into research. In his spare time, Sebastian enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, and reading.

Jia He - March, 2016

Jia He is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate who received her B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences from Nanjing University in Nanjing, China. She is currently being advised by Dr. Robert Black with whom she co-published an article with entitled "Characterizing Arctic Spring Onset" which can be found in the Journal of Climate (2015). She has been working on identifying and characterizing rapid spring onset events and associated atmospheric dynamical processes in the Arctic. In her spare time, Jia enjoys working out at the gym and reading fiction novels.

Emily Christ - February, 2016

Emily Christ is a 5th year graduate student whose line of research entails applyingweather forecast data to problems in agriculture. She earned herBachelor and Master of Science in Engineering, both from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Emily worked as an environmental engineering consultant prior to relocating to Atlanta with her husband, Joey. Currently she is a licensed Professional Engineer in both Alabama and Georgia.

Emily has one publication in the Journal of Cotton Science which was released in November 2015 titled ‘Using Precipitation Forecasts to Irrigate Cotton’.  It explores the possibility of using weather forecasts as irrigation planning aids. Her research has been supported by Cotton, Inc. and she’s had the privilege to work with faculty and staff at the University of Georgia, UGA’s Stripling Irrigation Research Park, North Carolina State University, Auburn University, the University of Arkansas, and Mississippi State University while pursuing her degree.

She recently submitted a second paper to the Agronomy Journal that uses cotton canopy temperature forecasts to predict heat stress in cotton. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering at the Peachtree City Treasures retail store for Wellspring Living.  Wellspring Living helps domestic sex trafficking victims and the ‘at risk’ develop the courage to move forward and the confidence to succeed.  Profits from the retail stores help support the ministry. Emily also enjoys serving at Peachtree City First Baptist Church, working out at Pure Barre and gardening.

James Hite - January, 2016

James Hite is a 5th year graduate student whose line of research includes aerosols, clouds, and climate. His thesis will focus on thermodynamics of secondary organic aerosol. James received a B.S. in EAS in 2011 and an M.S. in EAS in 2012,both under the direction of Dr. Thanos Nenes. Some of his accomplishments include Air & Waste Management Association’s Southern Section Scholarship (August 2015), NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (May 2015), National Instruments Certified LabVIEW Associate Developer (June 2013), Glen Cass Award (April 2013), and Student Poster Competition Winner at the American Association for Aerosol Research 31st Annual Conference (October 2012).

His future projects include field deployment this spring to Korea with aerosol research group from NASA Langley: KORUS-AQ. He is currently working on publications based on previous field deployment with NASA group, collaborative smog chamber experiments at Caltech, and ongoing development of a measurement & modeling technique for estimating organic aerosol volatility.

James says that other interests of his include arguing pointlessly about things like current events, politics, and philosophy. Anything that tends to evoke a visceral response in folks, for instance, cats are better than dogs. He is both the graduate student senator for the EAS department and the Secretary of Graduate SGA. James enjoys listening to podcasts or music during work. His current music playlist includes both Fleshgod Apocalypse and The J. Gelis Band. During his spare time, he chooses video games as his entertainment of choice.

Lucas Luizzo - December, 2015

Lucas Liuzzo is a 2nd year PhD student studying space physics, more specifically moon-magnetosphere interactions, under the advisement of Dr. Sven Simon. He graduated with a Bachelor's of Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2014. While there, he studied thermosphere-ionosphere coupling in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Currently, he models the interaction between Callisto (a Galilean moon of Jupiter) and the Jovian magnetosphere.

Lucas has a peer-reviewed article in JGR - Space Physics that he published as an undergraduate student at Michigan. Additionally, a paper in JGR - Space Physics was just accepted to be published and should be available shortly. This most recent manuscript is a culmination of the work he’s done so far while in EAS since he arrived last year. It focuses on quantifying the effect that Callisto's atmosphere has on the plasma signatures around the moon, something that has never been done before! For this research, he received 1st prize for best presentation at the International School/Symposium for Space Simulations, held this past summer in Prague, Czech Republic.

Lucas is also the chairman of the GEAS (Graduates in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) committee. GEAS focuses on enhancing graduate student life and fosters professional and social development for graduate students in EAS. In his spare time, he loves to cook, bake various breads, and he enjoys running.