Alumnus Chris Zarzar on Drones, Meteorology, and Always Looking Up

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Chris Zarzar ’11 and drone class

When he was a child Chris Zarzar ’11 couldn’t stop looking up. He was fascinated with the sky, weather and space. It was this fascination that put him on the path to becoming a meteorologist. Graduating from UNC Asheville in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science, Zarzar went on to Eastern Carolina University to earn his Master of Arts in geography and later his Ph.D. in Earth and atmospheric sciences from Mississippi State University. But, it was at UNC Asheville that he says he found his purpose.

Recalling his favorite memory from his time on the UNC Asheville campus, Zarzar tells of an exciting summer spent chasing storms and visiting research facilities across the Midwest and Great Plains with Professor Chris Godfrey’s Severe Weather Field Experience Course. It was on one of those stops where they saw severe storm researcher Chuck Doswell speak, and his words have stayed with Zarzar since.

 “He posited that if you are happy with a mediocre life, then continue walking through life with your head down and doing the minimum; however, if you prefer to live an exceptional life, then you must ‘take ownership and responsibility for yourself,’” Zarzar said. It seems he has taken that advice to heart.

After he finished his Ph.D., he relocated back to Asheville and is currently an adjunct professor at AB-Tech as well as a lecturer at MSU. Academia wasn’t always Zarzar’s goal, but he said that after getting the opportunity to teach during graduate school coupled with the impact his professors had on him during his schooling, his passion for positively impacting others was ignited. His dream job? To be a professor at UNC Asheville.

His passions collided when he was offered a research assistant opportunity at MSU. The research used drones to map coastal estuaries. During that time Zarzar discovered the misconceptions many people had about drones. “In engaging with these people and listening to their stories, it became clear that their concerns were based on experiences of people using drones irresponsibly and unsafely.” It was this that had him jumping on the opportunity to teach a drone course at AB-Tech, on top of geography and meteorological courses.

In his spare time, he loves to cruise around with his fiancée Caitlyn, whether looking for a new hiking trail or traveling to Chapel Hill to see family.  He was recently awarded with MSU’s 2018 Centers and Institutes Graduate Student Research Award.