Joe Pennington still finds it difficult to believe how far he has come since enrolling at University of the Ozarks in the fall of 2001 as a shy, quiet freshman from the small town of Altus, Ark.
Joe Pennington ’05, a television meteorologist for KFSM-TV, recently spoke to the local Rotary Club about the tornadoes that hit Johnson County in May 2011.
Pennington earned a degree in marketing from Ozarks in 2005 before deciding to return to college at Mississippi State University in 2007 to earn a degree in meteorology. For the past two years he has become a familiar face in the western part of Arkansas as a television meteorologist for KFSM-TV, a CBS affiliate in Fort Smith, Ark.
Pennington returned to the Ozarks campus on Aug. 9 to speak to the local Rotary Club about the outbreak of tornadoes that hit Johnson County in May of 2011. He said it’s difficult to believe that the same person who entered Ozarks just over a decade ago as an unsure, timid freshman is now doing live television several times a day and giving public talks throughout the week. He credits, among others, former Ozarks marketing and business professor Dr. Randy Hilton with helping him evolve as a student and as a person.
"I was rather introverted when I arrived as a freshman at U of O," he said. "I was from a very small town and I wasn’t sure where and how I would fit in. I will always remember and be thankful to Dr. Hilton for showing interest in helping bring me out of my shell when I took one of his entry level business classes. I see that as the turning point in my education and life. That is the added value at Ozarks. There are faculty members who not only care about developing the student, but the whole person as well."
Being involved in student organizations also helped Pennington.
"Participating with the business organization PBL really helped me out with my public speaking as well as time management skills," he said.
After dabbling in politics as a campaign staffer following his graduation from Ozarks, Pennington decided to pursue a profession that had always interested him.
"I’ve always had an interest in meteorology, so it was an easy decision to return to school after leaving the political field in early 2007," he said. "It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m doing the weather for the station I grew up watching as a kid."
Pennington especially enjoys the task of trying to forecast something that can be frustratingly unpredictable.
"There’s a unique challenge in being a meteorologist that I enjoy," he said. "I like the challenge of forecasting for eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. It is a diverse climate area and presents daily challenges, especially with respect to winter weather forecasting. We’re always looking for ways to improve and do a better job predicting the weather, and I like that challenge."
Pennington said he has learned to appreciate the sometimes hectic and sometimes mundane job of a TV meteorologist. He typically works from about 1:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but that can often change when severe weather is in the forecast.
"I’m not sure there is a typical day working in TV weather," he said. "Summers tend to be the closest to normal when the weather is hot, dry and rather boring. Spring and winter bring days that can see us working extended hours covering anything from severe weather to winter storms. During the busier weather months, we often have much earlier and much later hours."
Pennington, who met his wife of one year, Ana Carolina Garcia, at Ozarks, said the best advice he has for current U of O students is to get involved.
"You’ve got to do as much as you possibly can while you’re a student," he said. "Colleges and universities around the country turn out graduates year after year into the job market. Set yourself apart by volunteering extensively and expanding your knowledge field every chance you get. Have a positive attitude and value hard work. Those are must-have skills in this economy."