Lifelong Sun Devil turns longtime interest in weather into degree

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

When Anna Wanless was growing up, her Sun Devil parents brought her to campus and football games. At the same time, she became interested in meteorology.

“I loved storms and at that time wanted to be a ‘weather girl’ on the news,” said Wanless, thinking back to her first career ambitions at the age of 10 years old. “As I got older I realized that broadcast meteorology wasn't for me, but still had a passion for weather, especially severe weather.”

That passion and those Sun Devil roots brought Wanless to Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. In May, she will earn her bachelor’s degree in geography, with a concentration on meteorology and climatology, as well as a certificate in atmospheric science.

Wanless, who is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College, took full advantage of the opportunities presented to her during her time at ASU, including earning the prestigious National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hollings Scholarship. Not only did it provide tuition support to help her pursue her studies, it also provided the opportunity for a 10-week paid summer internship at a NOAA facility.  

“Anna is a creative and hardworking student who sees the connections that most others miss,” said Ronald Dorn, a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who serves as associate director of undergraduate programs for the school. “In my landforms class, she carried out a research project exploring the connection between surface formation on Earth and extreme wind storm events.”

With graduation in sight, we asked Wanless a few questions about her time at ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: The biggest thing I probably learned here at ASU is to be flexible to change. Life isn't going to follow the plan that you have for it. So, go with the flow, because when something doesn't work out the way you planned for, there's most likely a reason and you will end up right where you are supposed to be. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I grew up a Sun Devil. Both my parents graduated from ASU and have had season tickets to football games since 1976, so I have been coming to campus my entire life. In high school, I was sure I was going out of state, but when it came time to make that decision I knew that ASU would be home for me.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Wow, that's really tough because all of the professors in the department are amazing. I would probably say Dr. Randy Cerveny. I've had him for a lot of classes and he served as my honors thesis adviser. I've learned a lot from him in my time here. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: If you're not involved on campus, get involved. It's a great way to make friends and to do something outside of schoolwork that you'd otherwise have no opportunity to do. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Old Main.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Next fall I will be pursuing a master's degree at the University of Oklahoma with a research assistantship. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle education. I think it is extremely important to pay attention to our schools and teachers so kids can have the best opportunities for success. I am only where I am in life because of the great teachers I have been blessed to have along the way. $40 million wouldn't solve the issues the education system faces, but it would be a start.