June Bacon-Bercey is a pioneer for women in meteorology.
She is best known for being the first on-air African American female meteorologist. Bacon-Bercey was also instrumental in making the atmospheric sciences more accessible to minorities and women.
Dail St. Claire, daughter of June Bacon-Bercey, sat down with FOX Weather to talk about her mother’s legacy.
"My mom was a force and there were no barriers that she visualized, so she always visualized where she was. And that helped her overcome barriers. Shoot for the stars is my motto and my children's motto, and I share that with everyone else," said St. Claire.
Bacon-Bercey was raised in Wichita, Kansas. Her lifelong passion for science led her to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
When she arrived at UCLA and told her advisor that she was going to declare meteorology as her major, the advisor stated that maybe she should think about home economics.
"Yes, he did, and said that [meteorology] was not a career for women to pursue and that she should concentrate on a more realistic career in spite of the fact that she was a tenured and seasoned math whiz and demonstrated all kinds of high grades and qualifications," said Dail St. Claire, daughter of June Bacon-Bercey.
In 1954, she became UCLA’s first African American woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology.
That same year she accepted a position as a weather forecaster and analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS).
In 1959, Bacon-Bercey left NOAA to work as a senior advisor at the Atomic Energy Commission. By the early 1960s, she returned to the NWS as a radar meteorologist in New York before joining a Buffalo, New York NBC affiliate news channel as a science reporter.
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During her tenure at NBC, an on-air meteorologist was arrested for robbing a bank, and Bacon-Bercey filled the vacancy making her the first on-air African American female meteorologist.
"She went in as a science reporter and then the chief meteorologist couldn't make the 5:00 PM. She walked into the general manager's office, prepared to do the 5:00 p.m. She had always been prepared to go on the air as chief meteorologist," said St. Claire.
Her broadcasts caught the attention of the American Meteorologist Society. In 1972, Bacon-Bercey received the Seal of Approval for excellence in on-air meteorology and became the first woman and the first African American to receive the award.
After leaving on-air meteorology in 1976, Bacon-Bercey worked as a chief of broadcasting for NOAA, as an administrator and training officer for the NWS, and as an aviation specialist in Northern California.
Bacon-Bercey was passionate about building careers for women and minority researchers in atmospheric sciences. She’d join committees and take on responsibilities on the AMS Board on Women and Minorities.
In the late 1970s, she went on a quiz show and used a portion of the prize money she won to launch the June Bacon-Bercey scholarship for women.
"When she got the invitation for the quiz show, she said immediately, ‘This is the foundation to launch the June Bacon-Bercey scholarship for women.’ She had not had that amount to do it, but she always visualized that she was going to start a scholarship to help other women move into careers in meteorology and science, and was driven to win the quiz show because she knew that was going to fund the scholarship," said St. Claire.
ANNUAL 'DRESS FOR STEM' EVENT SUPPORTS WOMEN IN SCIENCE AROUND THE WORLD
Bacon-Bercey also co-founded the American Meteorological Society’s Board on Women and Minorities. Through the board, she started a science fair program in 1976 to encourage students of color in elementary and high school to pursue careers in science.
During the later stages of her career, she dedicated her time to teaching elementary and high school math and science classes.
She earned multiple awards and accreditations throughout her career, encouraging women to pursue their dreams in weather.