A self-described “guide” in the personal journey of each of his students, Walker Ashley made a promise to himself—to support students in achieving success beyond the earned course grade. The Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences (GAS) professor nurtures his students by creating opportunities where students can flourish in critical thought and creativity.
“Each student should be afforded exceptional opportunities,” says Ashley. “I work to unite teaching, research and service through engaged and experiential learning. This philosophy promotes a first-person, or we, approach to learning rather than a third-person, or they, approach. We embark on learning with a purpose of discovery, not seeking solely to recreate, but to push the bounds.”
Ashley pushed the limits when he created NIU’s Webcam System, capturing live skyscapes from many Davis Hall perspectives. The automatically compiled static images are transformed into time-lapse movies used to demonstrate a range of atmospheric phenomena in classroom settings and in speaking engagements around the country. In recognition of these efforts, Ashley was presented the David Raymond Technology in Teaching Award.
Ashley is also a recipient of the NIU Presidential Teaching Professorship for his student centered, extraordinary and innovative teaching activities.
Engaging both graduate and undergraduate students in research, Ashley has completed 32 peer-reviewed journal articles co-authored with NIU graduate and undergraduate students. He acquired financial support for students to carry out research under his guidance through the NIU Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship and Student Engagement Fund programs.
Former student, Stephen Strader, says “I have always been impressed with Walker’s success in generating small-scale research projects that excite students and his ability to recruit research students. He is especially attuned to students he sees as having potential but who do not necessarily have an understanding, or appreciation, for what a research experience means.”
Ashley’s attention to guiding students goes beyond completing the research, he spends much of his time working with students on communicating the research results. As a result, he was recognized for mentoring students with the inaugural NIU Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award.
Ashley’s research has established himself as an international leader in weather hazards and their impact on humans. His research focuses on understanding how societal vulnerability contributes to weather-related disasters and revealing how thunderstorms and their hazards are changing in a warming world.
Also a leader in his department in course development, Ashley pioneered the creation of two 100% online courses and is preparing material for a third course on campus utilizing a blended learning approach. Professor Andrew Krmenec—who served as department chair for much of Ashley’s career—remarks, “Developing a successful online pedagogy for a highly visual subject with a significant science basis in physics is not easy. Ashley is the first meteorology instructor to adapt one of their courses for online accessible learning.”
Ashley graduated magna cum laude with a B.S in Geography from the University of Georgia. He received his M.S. in Geosciences from the University of Nebraska and concluded his education back at the University of Georgia where he received a Ph.D. in Geography. Ashley is an American Meteorological Society Certified Consulting Meteorologist and started his career as a professor at NIU in 2005.