What does it take to become a University Distinguished Professor? Advising about 30 Ph.D. students and more than 100 master’s students, spending years as the department head of Atmospheric Sciences, being a founding member of CIRA, bringing in $300 million for research and student support and being elected to the National Academy of Engineering might just do the trick.
Thomas Vonder Haar has had many accomplishments in his 45 years at Colorado State University. In 1980 Vonder Haar and other faculty started CIRA, the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, where he was the director for 28 years. Over the years, Vonder Haar has worked with faculty to form partnerships with federal agencies like the National Park Service, the National Weather Service and the Department of Defense. These agencies seek to understand air quality, weather patterns around the world and carry out research.
“These big three cooperative agreements that I’ve helped set up over the years supported a lot of graduate students in different fields,” he said. “So that’s what’s really been fun, to put things together and people working together and students being involved.”
In 2003 Vonder Haar was nominated and inducted into the National Academy of Engineering. The prestigious award was started in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln. The organization looks at a nominee’s entire career to determine if a person should be inducted, and only 70 people are installed each year. Vonder Haar had the honor to sign his name in the same book that Lincoln did.
In 1995 Vonder Haar was selected as a University Distinguished Professor. “I think it all goes back to creating opportunities,” he said. “I still do that even without being a director of CIRA. I help mentor young faculty and talk to students even if they aren’t my own. I still teach a class, Observing the Atmosphere from Satellites.”
Vonder Haar’s interest in atmospheric science grew from getting his pilot’s license at 19 years old and accelerated during his time in graduate school. Vonder Haar already knew he loved Colorado after attending a meeting in Boulder in 1965. So in 1970 when an opportunity was present at Colorado State University, the then 27-year-old made the move to Fort Collins.
Vonder Haar hopes to further strengthen the graduate program and create more opportunities for rewards for young faculty members as he continues his career at Colorado State University. In the meantime he’ll be finishing up some research and spending his weekends enjoying all outdoor activities Colorado has to offer.