DAES Senior Shares Her Story of Resiliency Following Hurricane Maria
Kayleen Torres Maldonado displays the Puerto Rican flag in front of her research at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Boston, January 2020.
ALBANY, N.Y. (May 12, 2020) – Nearly 2,000 miles away from campus, Kayleen Torres Maldonado virtually shared two semester’s worth of findings on Hurricane Igor from her bedroom earlier this month.
Presenting her thesis via video conference call in the midst of a global pandemic was not what she envisioned, but the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (DAES) senior is used to unexpected challenges.
Torres Maldonado grew up and still resides in Isabela, a coastal city in the northwest region of Puerto Rico. Three years ago she was studying theoretical physics at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) when Hurricane Maria struck and upended every aspect of her life.
“Even before Hurricane Maria, I was struggling with my academics. I was passionate about meteorology. But, the major was not offered at UPRM, ” Torres Maldonado said. “Then Hurricane Maria happened and everything went completely downhill. I was struggling both physically and emotionally and considered quitting my academics altogether.”
A New Opportunity
Luckily, Torres Maldonado chose to continue her studies. But, knew she needed to take a different path.
Through a summer internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Torres Maldonado was offered an opportunity to attend the 2018 American Meteorological Society (AMS) annual meeting in Austin, Texas. That’s where she met Everette Joseph, director at the time of UAlbany’s Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC).
Torres Maldonado virtually presents her senior thesis from home in Puerto Rico.
Joseph told her about UAlbany’s nationally-renowned academics in atmospheric and environmental sciences and a new initiative from Gov. Cuomo to offer in-state tuition to students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who were impacted by Hurricane Maria.
“I shared my story and what I was going through,” Torres Maldonado said. “Soon after I found myself going through the process to transfer. And, by August 2018, I was an atmospheric science student at UAlbany.”
Along with in-state tuition, she also earned scholarship support through the NOAA Cooperative Science Center in Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology (NCAS-M) fellowship program.
Graduating with Honors
At UAlbany, Torres Maldonado has quickly become a leader in her class, serving as vice president of UAlbany’s student AMS chapter. Outside of the classroom, she has mentored other undergraduates and local high school students through UAlbany’s Science & Technology Entry Program (STEP) and was selected last summer to study abroad in Taipei, Taiwan through the U.S.-Taiwan National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE) program.
Her senior honors research focused on factors that influenced the development of Hurricane Igor, a complex storm in 2010 that eventually became the most destructive tropical cyclone on record to strike the Canadian island of Newfoundland.
“Kayleen has been a steadfastly excellent student, scholar, and leader,” said DAES Associate Professor Brian Tang, her research advisor. “In the backdrop of a devastating hurricane that caused incredible upheaval, her resiliency and accomplishments are all the more impressive and an inspiring story, especially during this current challenging time.”
Torres Maldonado was recently accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she will continue her graduate studies next fall. She plans to pursue a research career in tropical meteorology in hopes of helping Puerto Rico and other vulnerable populations become more resilient to the increasing threat of extreme weather.
“I am so thankful to UAlbany and New York State for giving me this opportunity when I needed it the most,” Torres Maldonado said. “Everyone has been so supportive along the way. I am forever grateful.”
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