Cindy Shellito, a 1988 graduate of San Benito High School, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to study and teach about Andean climate and weather. The former Hollister resident, whose father — Tim – taught science at SBHS before becoming principal there, will be heading to the South American country on Feb. 1.
Shellito is a professor of meteorology at the University of Northern Colorado. She has a bachelor of science and master of science in atmospheric science from the University of California, Davis and a Ph.D in earth sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“I’ve wanted to try for a Fulbright for along time,” Shellito said, via email a few days before her departure, adding that it has been on her to-do list since she started the job at UNC 10 years ago. “I chose to do it now only because of logistical reasons.”
She explained that at her university, faculty members are allowed a sabbatical every sixth year, but when she reached her sixth year the department was dealing with a lot of changes so that it wasn’t in the best interest of the department for her to take a leave at that time.
“About three years ago, however, I began earnestly investigating my options for applying for a Fulbright,” she said, noting that she applied in summer 2013 and received notice that she was a grant recipient in Feb. 2014. “So, obviously, this has required a lot of long-term planning.”
Leading up to her departure on Feb. 1, Shellito has been sharing her preparation experiences on a blog. She wrote about the struggle to get a visa before her trip to trying to decide what shoes to take with her on the trip to her reasons for opting to head to Ecuador of the 27 Fulbright scholar programs available in the Western hemisphere.
Shellito said one of the attractions for her of heading to Ecuador is that the coastal country is home to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin first conceived of the theory of evolution. She also said she was interested in traveling to a Spanish-speaking country and Ecuador required an intermediate understanding of the language, not the fluent level required in other countries. Her father Tim noted that she was enrolled in a bilingual class when she entered elementary school in Hollister.
“It does help me to speak it without too much of an accent – and I can pick it up quickly,” Shellito said in her blog. Her father noted that she was studying scientific terms in Spanish.
She was also drawn to the area as she is interested in the El Nino phenomena and the diverse geography in Ecuador that ranges from mountains, jungles, beaches and more.
But before she could really be ready for her trip, she needed to secure a visa. On her first trip to the Ecuadorian consulate, she wrote in her blog that she arrived in Phoenix from Denver after uploading all the paperwork required to an online portal and setting up a meeting through the online site.
“Imagine my horror when I showed up at the Consulate’s office and they told me it was impossible for me to have an appointment – that the online system should not have allowed me to make an appointment because the Consulate General himself was in Atlanta,” she wrote.
Shellito returned to Denver and booked another flight to Phoenix, but ended up too ill to travel at the time of that flight. After she recuperated, she inquired about making an appointment to get her visa in January but was informed the office would be closed for the full month and the only date she could come in would be Dec. 22. She shuffled holiday plans and eventually got her visa.
Tim Shellito said he is extremely proud of his daughter for being selected for the competitive Fulbright Scholar program that allows U.S. universities and college professors to apply to teach or conduct research in countries around the world. More than that, he said the work she is doing is integral to understanding climate change.
“Facts are facts and how we deal with them will influence future generations,” he said, noting that his daughter started at Davis as an English major before switching to atmospheric science. “As a family, we are extremely proud of her…it’s hard to believe she is getting paid to do this.”
Before she started her higher education, Shellito attended Sunnyslope, Fremont and R.O. Hardin elementary schools, Rancho San Justo Middle School and San Benito High School. She took bilingual classes through sixth grade. While in high school more than 25 years ago, journalism was her favorite subject and she spent two years as editor of the school newspaper, ‘The Baler.’ But she also enjoyed math, science and English.
“I wanted to become a science writer – I didn’t really consider becoming a scientist until I got to college,” she said.
Shellito said the hardest part of the Fulbright application process was connecting with a university in Ecuador and requesting an invitation to work with faculty there.
“I had no idea what part of Ecuador I would work in,” she said.
But the Fulbright office staff in Ecuador helped her connect with people with similar research and teaching interests.
During her sixth-month trip she will collaborate with colleagues at the University of Cuenca to develop new weather and climate curriculum connected to research, according to a press release from UNC.
“My work in Ecuador involves two projects,” Shellito said. “For the first project, I’ll be running a series of workshops for teachers, college faculty, and grad students on the science of weather and climate and strategies for teaching about these things.”
In the second project, she will work with colleagues at the University of Cuenca to examine weather data from a new network of weather stations in the mountains around Cuenca. The goal is to try to identify patterns of changes in the circulation of the atmosphere in this region (which is what causes weather) and connect these to patterns of change in the atmosphere on a much larger scale, she said.
“Ultimately, this helps us better understand how the climate of this region can respond to global warming,” Shellito said.
Shellito will be collaborating on a field course on mountain weather with students collecting and analyzing archived local weather data as well as data from satellites and numerical weather models to support understanding of short-term climate variations in the Andes.
The Fulbright program, hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is a government-funded international exchange program.
“Her endeavors in Ecuador will open new pathways for future international research and educational endeavors, as well as building the reputation of the university internationally,” said Ellen Meyer Gregg, acting dean of UNC’s College of Natural and Health Sciences, in the university’s press release.