As with the seasons he has monitored and recorded for so long, veteran Mississippi State professor Charles L. Wax quietly is changing to the next phase in his life: retirement.
At the end of December, the Leflore County, Miss. native will conclude a 35-year career at the university, as well as nearly 30 concurrent years of service as state climatologist. In that latter role, he officially has monitored Magnolia State climatic events and impacts, while leading innumerable public programs on those and related topics.
MSU is home to a nationally recognized broadcast meteorology program and it was Wax who created and taught the first course way back in 1979. Since then--without interruption--he has taught the course every year.
"About 60 percent to 70 percent of all television weathercasters in the U.S. are from our department," he notes, with obvious pride. "Almost anywhere I go in this country, I can turn on the television and see a former student giving the local weather."
Wax, a Mississippi Delta Community College and Delta State University graduate, went on to complete master's and doctoral degrees in physical geography from Louisiana State University.
"Charlie," as he's known to most, joined what now is the MSU Geosciences Department as an assistant professor in 1978 and served as department head 1989-2001. Along the way, he has been honored by campus peers with an outstanding faculty award from the University Honors Council and a research award from the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
"I noticed a glaring need for TV weather people to be better informed about weather," Wax says. This led to his creating a class "to get broadcast journalists to take the introductory course."
With typical modesty, Wax says "I certainly didn’t create the program by myself — many others contributed to its development and growth; I’d never would want anyone to think I take all the credit."
Now enrolling nearly 250 undergraduate majors and 75 at the graduate level, MSU's broadcast meteorology program is offered both on campus and via distance learning systems.
In addition to broadcast meteorology, the leadership of Wax and his colleagues enabled MSU to add a nationally respected operational meteorology program, which today regularly places graduates with the National Weather Service, private consulting firms, military branches, educational programs and other venues.
"Our broadcast and operational meteorology students routinely win or place highly in the National Collegiate Weather Forecasting Contest," Wax says, adding that from 2008-2010 "we won three national championships in a row!"
Beyond the classroom, he has been active in a number of state, regional and national professional organizations, including the Mississippi Geographic Alliance and Association of American Geographers. Additionally, he has led the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Region Research Committee for Climatology in Agricultural Production and the American Association of State Climatologists.
Wax says he has enjoyed the teaching, research and service roles he has filled for three decades at the land-grant institution.
As with weather cycles, he says, "Every semester or year brought the chance to start anew in one or all of those areas. The chance to work with so many high-quality faculty, staff and students has made coming to work every day a joy, never a burden."
As another point of pride, he says he leaves knowing his departmental colleague Mike Brown succeeding him as state climatologist. A University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill doctoral graduate, Brown is an associate professor whose teaching and research are focused on land-surface and atmosphere interactions.