Eric G. Hoffman: Award-Winning Campus Leader and Student Mentor

“Meteorology is a science, and the science of natural systems is messy and inherently unpredictable,” says Professor Eric G. Hoffman. “Even though people want even better forecasts, the advances we’ve made in my lifetime have been amazing.”

Hoffman often hears the teasing comment, “Oh, you’re the guy that teaches them to be wrong all the time,” but he knows better after decades as a professional meteorologist. “Thirty years ago you would have never closed school the night or a whole day before,” he recalls. “Now when you say there’s going to be a snowstorm a day from now, there is one.”

“Plymouth State is big enough to have a lot of choices for study and lots of things to do outside of class. You’re not just a number. Come here, you’re going to get to know the faculty and the faculty will get to know you, and you’ll have a quality educational experience because of it.”

Professor Eric G. Hoffman

Hoffman’s areas of expertise include both synoptic and mesoscale meteorology (large-scale events, such as high- and low-pressure systems, versus smaller ones like thunderstorms and fronts). He previously worked as an aviation meteorologist for the federal Aviation Weather Center and as a part-time broadcast meteorologist.

The Colonel Craig Souza ’87 Endowed Professorship in Meteorology was established this year to recognize excellence in teaching, advising, and mentoring, scholarly activity and creativity, and outstanding contributions to the field, the University, and the state. Hoffman was recently chosen as the inaugural Souza professor and plans use the platform to emphasize functional meteorology.

“The National Weather Service has been focused on ‘Decision Support Services’ (DSS) for the last few years,” Hoffman notes. “It’s about not only producing forecasts but making them functional—useful—for the end-user, by working more closely with the people who are using them to make informed decisions.”

DSS examples include informing lake stewards and tourism managers with early summer water temperatures to prevent hypothermia, advanced sharing of flooding data and forecasts with communities, and research with utilities on weather that could knock out power.

Additional student research opportunities may arise through a Souza-inspired Integrated Capstone (INCAP) course. “The idea is to identify an organization, possibly with state government, that needs weather-related information to support decision making and to work with a group of students to provide the data in a form that’s useful,” Hoffman says. “Students would contribute their talents from whatever majors they’re in.” A new course might be available by Spring 2023.

Now in his twenty-second year, Hoffman’s PSU perspective is informed by prior service as chair of the former Atmospheric Science and Chemistry Department and of the faculty Academic Affairs Committee. He also headed the University Reinvention and Strategic Allocation (URSA) Program Review Committee, which produced a comprehensive evaluation of disciplines in 2015, when he received the Excellence in Faculty Service Award.

Hoffman currently serves as faculty speaker. “People look to you as a leader, but if you look at the by-laws the job is a little bit contained,” he says modestly. “A big part is just making sure that the organization is moving forward. I don’t bring any specific agenda but try to facilitate new things that are bubbling up. My job is as a facilitator, not a new idea generator.”

Assisting colleagues is only half of the story. Hoffman advised the student chapter of the American Meteorological Society for more than a dozen years, and takes great pleasure in the University’s NSF-sponsored summer Northeast Partnership for Atmospheric and Related Sciences Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). The competitive program, a collaboration with Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), attracts hundreds of applicants. While many REUs are geared toward juniors, the PSU-HWS program provides first- and second-year students with rich learning opportunities that help prepare them for STEM careers.

“Students come here from all over the country and it’s a big deal,” says Hoffman. “I really enjoy helping them do research work and have shifted from more of my own personal research work to trying to involve students.”

Over the years Hoffman has worked with both undergraduate and graduate students on a variety of projects, including cold-air damming in northern New England, impactful weather associated with stationary fronts in the eastern US, climatological studies of high wind events, and weather-related power outages. He is proud of Plymouth State’s student-centric focus, particularly at the undergraduate level. “It’s not just in meteorology—it’s what distinguishes us overall. Faculty have chosen to be here because they’re dedicated to undergraduate education, while at a large research university some are more dedicated to their research.

“The relationships students can build with faculty here are critically different than at larger universities,” Hoffman continues. “Plymouth State is big enough to have a lot of choices for study and lots of things to do outside of class. You’re not just a number. Come here, you’re going to get to know the faculty and the faculty will get to know you, and you’ll have a quality educational experience because of it.”