The source of weather information for many Union College students and employees isn’t the local news. It’s Michael Amankwaa, our campus weatherman. For three years, the senior from Killeen, Texas, has regularly posted forecasts on uGroups, Union’s internal social network. Weather is a passion he can’t help but share.
Amankwaa’s interest in meteorology started early. “My parents say I always loved going outside to look at clouds and the sky,” he said. “It really took off when I was about nine years old. There was one Sabbath in South Carolina when my brother and I were looking at the clouds. We said they looked like ice cream cones stacked on top of each other. There were storms that evening, including tornados. It scared me, but it also piqued my interest.”
Later his family moved to Texas where, Amankwaa confides, “you get some really good storms.” He started visiting the public library and searching for every weather-related book available.
When it came time for college, his goal of becoming a meteorologist was clear. But the path to get there was muddy. He knew he wanted to attend an Adventist college, none of which offer programs in meteorology. He didn’t know how he could make his goals work together, and as a high school senior, he was more concerned with finding any school that would puzzle through his complicated transcripts. “I went to two different high schools and one year of homeschool, and my homeschool credits weren’t accepted by the high school, so I had to do online classes too,” said Amankwaa. “I was working hard to catch up, and everything was rushed. By the time I was looking for colleges, I just wanted any Adventist school to accept me, and Union was the first.”
“I was always going to do meteorology, no matter what,” Amankwaa said. “My original plan was to get a bachelor’s in physics then a master’s in meteorology.” During his sophomore year, he learned the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers an undergraduate degree in meteorology and climatology, so he talked to his mentor and advisor, Dr. Richard Webb. Webb walked him through the process of how credits would transfer and also explained Union’s Best of Both Worlds program which allows students to participate in Union’s campus life and spiritual environment while earning credits through local universities in fields Union isn’t equipped to offer.
Best of Both Worlds was exactly what Amankwaa had been wishing for. “I went from thinking I’d just take one class to completely switching my major,” said Amankwaa.
He doesn’t regret being a physics major for the first two years, and not just because it led to a friendship with the Webb family. “It turns out that doing physics was a really good choice,” Amankwaa said. “Most of my physics classes were the prerequisites for my meteorology classes. They are closely related fields.”
A major hurdle to starting a career in meteorology is getting the necessary experience. Amankwaa hasn’t let his college schedule, the pandemic or his lack of a TV station stop him. In addition to his proven track record as Union’s campus weatherman, he and a group of friends from UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications started their own show last November. In “Nebraska Nightly,” Amankwaa gets to show off his weatherman skills in front of a chroma key screen.
Amankwaa’s advice to new students is to throw yourself into activities, even if that means starting something yourself. “Get involved in clubs or ministry or something,” he said. “Especially if you come here and don’t know anyone, like I did, get involved socially. College is that big first step into the real world. Find the people you want to surround yourself with: friends you can trust and an adult mentor.”
Though he’s excited to graduate this May as Union’s sole meteorology major, Amankwaa says leaving Union will be bittersweet. “I will miss the close-knit family culture at Union. I enjoy my classes at UNL, and I’ve made friends there. But you don’t find a family on a bigger campus like you do at Union. I will miss the family here.”