5 Questions with NOAA’s Senior Media Relations Specialist, Christopher Vaccaro

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As Hurricane Florence bares down on the Carolina’s, it is hard not to think of those directly effected.  It doesn’t matter where you live, you have likely experienced a major weather related event.  So, it’s understandable that those not in the wake of Florence’s path are still moved by it. Life’s banal activities quickly become seemingly inconsequential when one considers natural disasters. Major environmental events remind us what is most essential in life.  NOAA’s Christopher Vaccaro is one of the people our country entrusts to get essential weather related information to us in a way that makes sense.  Chris’s work, and the work done by his colleagues, are saving lives right now. Here’s “5 Questions with Christopher Vaccaro”.

JMK: Where did your passion for weather come from?

CV: Weather is so influential on our lives and I’ve always been inspired by its power and intrigued by the challenges with predicting its behavior. Weather has daily impacts from what we will wear, to whether we need an umbrella, to how our commute will be affected. Then there are less frequent – yet major – events such as hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, blizzards, droughts and floods that demonstrate the true power and force of nature and how vulnerable we can be. This raises the importance of timely and accurate forecasts as to best prepare for such events in advance to save lives and minimize impacts to property.

Most people in the field of meteorology cite a weather event that gave them the “weather bug.” For me, growing up on Long Island in New York, it was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 which brought high winds, heavy rain and the eerie calm eye of the storm as it passed over my childhood home. Snow, especially blizzards, also influenced my fascination. Living near the Atlantic Ocean, some storms brought tremendous snowfall and the wonder of whether school would be closed. However, there were other storms that disappointed snow lovers as the warmer ocean air changed the snow to a wintry slop of sleet and even plain liquid rain.

JMK: As someone who is so focused on science, what do you find satisfying about your role in PR at NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?

CV: My job is to make the meteorological information from NOAA and its National Weather Service as understandable and accessible as possible. Such important weather information is conveyed all day, every day across the United States and I find it exceptionally rewarding to know that my efforts help to get that information to those in harm’s way. Often this is done through the media who then convey the information to their audiences. This is also achieved through the agency’s website and social media platforms that reach the public directly.

JMK: Natural disasters are a horrific thing.  What have you learned that uplifted you when you were on the ground?

CV: The worst weather can bring out the best in humanity. Living through a natural disaster can be exceptionally heartbreaking – whether experiencing it directly, seeing it on the news, or through the process of forecasting and warning for it. In 2011, I visited Joplin, Missouri after it was devastated by a tornado rated an EF-5 (the highest on the intensity scale) with winds greater than 200 mph. After a disaster, communities come together to support each other and can more quickly get back on their feet that way. While in Joplin, I visited the Joplin High School which took a direct hit from the tornado. In the school parking lot, a local group was grilling food for anyone who needed a meal – a very warm, yet surreal, sight. As I was standing near the food tent one of the cooks noticed the NOAA logo on my jacket. He walked up to me and said “I know who you are. Thank you.” Even though lives were tragically lost in that historic tornado, he knew that NOAA was the agency that issued the Tornado Warning that saved countless lives.

JMK: You are a frequent traveler.  What area of this country has made the biggest impact on you?

CV: From a career standpoint, that would be the East Coast considering the region’s wide range of weather. But that diversity truly applies to the nation as a whole. Considering the geographical diversity of the U.S. as it spans from one ocean to another, has mountain ranges on both sides and has both a northern climate and elements of a tropical climate, this unique blending of climate zone creates some of the most extreme weather in the world. Nowhere on Earth are there more tornadoes than in the U.S., and our hurricane season commands the attention of a global audience. This nation is the place to be for studying and practicing in meteorology.

JMK:  Natural disasters are inevitable.  As someone located in a major urban hub, I often feel helpless.  What do you recommend for people to do to help?

CV: No matter where you live, it’s critically important to be prepared for the weather. Know your risks (eg: tornadoes in the Midwest; flooding near a river or ocean, etc.) and make a plan on what you would do when life-threatening weather is expected. Have a to-go kit ready in the event you choose to leave your area or are directed to evacuate. Just as you’re prepared for a home fire with smoke alarms, water sprinklers and a fire extinguisher, you also need to have the right tools and information that will have you weather ready. For preparedness tips, I recommend visiting FEMA’s website www.ready.gov

Chris Vaccaro is the Senior Media Relations Specialists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based in Washington, D.C., where he leads the development of strategic media-focused communication activities for the agency and serves as a spokesperson. In this role, he supports the mission of protecting lives and property by working with and through the news media to get important information to the public. Previously, Vaccaro held other NOAA communication positions, working on issues regarding climate change, satellites, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and topics related to the ocean and atmosphere. He was also assistant weather editor at USA Today, where he developed exclusive weather and environment-related news content for the print, online and broadcast units. A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Nassau Community College with an associate’s in physical science, received a bachelor’s with concentrations in meteorology and social science from Lyndon State College, and earned a master’s in communications from the University of Oklahoma.

5 Questions with Interdisciplinary Artist, Ty DeFoe


Ty DeFoe is a gentle soul with a lot to say.  He is a teacher and activist. Currently on Broadway, acting in Straight White Men, Ty embodies the word “Shapeshifter” in every way. Fun, funny and deeper than most bodies of water, Ty doesn’t lead with the awards or credits of which he has many.  Ty leads with, “How are you”? He speaks in a way that is well, Ty. We met working with Heather Henson on Crane: on earth, in sky, and have continued to introduce ourselves to each other since.  That seems to be Ty’s way.  He’s complex, simple, warm and searching… 

Here’s 5 questions with vanguard, Ty DeFoe.

What does the phrase “I see you” mean to you. 

To know someone or something’s being. A phrase I’m also trying to use in particular moments to vanguard against ableism.

As the understanding of the word “identity” continues to take shape, how do you define two spirit and how do you embody that definition in the modern world?

Embodying two-spirit is a role, as much as it is a responsibility. Traditionally it was a cultural role in the community and still is today. Today, two spirit means to transcend gender. To express. To activate.  To radically embodied you I am inside and all the ways I need to shape-shift through life.

How do you think traditional ecological knowledge could be folded into the mainstream in this country?

Traditional ecological knowledge is simple. Recycle. Give back to the Mother Earth. Treat her like a goddess.

What does your role as educator mean to you? 

My role as educator means to just be truthful to bend and shape when needed. To take care of community regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, gender, religion. It is to also be curious about things I do not know.

Your “job title” is ever changing.  What do you see your next role in life to be?

Desires to be a country music star.

MOST RECENT FAVORITE SONG:  ALL THE STARS by Kendrick Lamar, SZA.  The beats, the voices, the strings as a backdrop, the message.

Ty Defoe (Giizhig) (He | Him | They | We | Us), Oneida and Ojibwe Nations hyphenated-interdisciplinary artist. He is a shape-shifter, a Grammy Award, and a Jonathan Larson Award winner. Book and lyrics, Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon w/ composer Tidtaya Sinutoke (Yale Institute for Musical Theatre, ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop); Hart Island Requiem (The Civilians R&D Group, GoodSpeed Musicals); Red Pine (Native Voices at the Autry; IAIA of Santa Fe); The Way They Lived (by Micharne Cloughley w/ The Civilians at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Netflix guest star, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Public Studio’s, MJ Kaufman’s Masculinity Max. Recently seen on Broadway in Young Jean Lee’s, Straight White Men. Did a Robert Rauschenberg Artist in Residence. Resides in NYC and loves the color clear. CalArts, NYU’s Tisch.  tydefoe.com

5 Questions with filmmaker, Lisa Russell

Lisa Russell

She’s danced with P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes and Usher, won an Emmy and taken a very long ride with a group of storytellers on Willie Nelson’s tour bus.  Sure, Lisa Russell has some fantastic names to drop on her CV. But, that’s not the story that this passionate, talented and concerned filmmaker wants to tell.  Lisa Russell is focused on #Create2030, and has her eyes set on becoming a UN Arts Envoy.

Here’s 5 questions tailored toward teaching all of us a different vision for being “an advocate for change” and shifting the story.  

What drove you to start #Create2030?

#Create2030 is a new film and creative campaign to engage artists, storytellers and other creatives in helping to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -17 Global Goals set by the United Nations as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.  My drive to start #Create2030 is my 15 year career straddling the arts, social justice and global development work with UN/NGO agencies.  Although I have been producing films and curating artistic performances at high level UN events for my entire career, my main focus now is on building institutional credibility for artists at the United Nations and other global institutions.  Why is this important?  When I was attending the Town Hall meetings for the drafting of the SDG Outcome Document, there was only myself and another creative professional – a radio personality from the Caribbean – who were advocating for arts and artists to get incorporated into the document that would then help shape national policies around the world.  With more artists in the room, we could have had a louder voice.  But, accessing the United Nations is complex and sometimes intimidating.  My goal is eventually to become the UN’s Arts Envoy – advocating for artist’s needs and rights at the United Nations and also inspire, educate and train creative communities around the world to learn about the SDGs, promote them to those who may not have access to the information, and advocate for change.

Who is the biggest influence on your work? 

My work is shaped by a variety of people, because I wear many different hats, and straddle the artistic and humanitarian worlds.  With that said, my mentor – Jonathan Mann, who was the head of the first UNAIDS program who tragicly died in a plane crash in 1998 – helped me develop my voice as a global activist.  His principles around health as a human right and his no-nonsense way of dealing with bureacratic limitations inspired me to stay true to my roots, speak truth to power and be able to manuever equally comfortably between the highest levels of the United Nations to the poorest communities around the world.  In terms of artistic inspiration, most find it unusual that I don’t credit filmmakers for inspiring my film career. My film career has been mostly influenced by young spoken word poets I have worked with since 2003.  Their emotional, powerful means to confront social and racial injustices created the lens in which I viewed my global health and development work.  In other words, I see the problems of women unnecessarily dying in childbirth in African countries and young black men dying at the hands of police officers in the United States as coming from the same root problems. I only could learn this by being equally involved with the UN/NGO community and the poetry scene.

If you could learn anything, what would it be? 

If there’s something I want to learn – or in my case have to learn – in order to elevate my work, I’m usually do it.  Things I don’t do now that I would like to do?  DJ, paint and code.

Why is your favorite Hip Hop song important to you? 

Hard question to answer, but I would say one of the most impactful songs was “Nuthin But a G Thang” by Snoop Dogg because that song came out when I was dancing in a hip hop troupe in Southern California, and at the same time, running a girls group home. It was played during warm ups and also by the girls in the group home, as we drove down the 101 to pick up girls in Compton.

You’re someone who gets activated when they are fired up. What’s got you fired up?

In May of this year, I jumped on an old Willie Nelson tour bus with a bunch of other storytellers – filmmakers, a musician, a painter and artists with Pixar – to travel around the “rust belt” exploring innovative and unconventional ways that educators, maker spaces and others were redefining education. During the tour, I met an educator who is disrupting education in poorer, black neighborhoods.  He told me the story of his home town and a growing civil rights case taking shape that no one was really talking about.  He insisted on driving me to his home town for the day and I was so enraged by the blatant racism displayed by the city towards its residents, I decided to do the film.  In July, I returned to film for a week, and today, I’m on my way back for another week to collect some basic footage to start putting together a pitch reel.  I made it to the second round of the IFP/HBO True Stories development fund and crossing my fingers I can get the resources and support to bring light to this case and contribute my part into breaking down the systemic barriers that still exist for so many people in this country.


@lisarussellfilm, @create2030, #create2030, Lisarussellfilms.com

Check out her TEDx presentation here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEsVhuD9a_M

So Many Questions. So Many Thoughts…


My name is Jean Marie Keevins and I am infinitely curious person.  I genuinely like people and find a great deal of pleasure listening to them and hearing about what makes them tick.  Going back as far as childhood, I have always spent a good deal of my time attending live interviews, reading short and long-form biographies and conducting private interviews myself.  Recently, I found myself with a deep desire to make my intrinsic interest in people more active.  After listening to Brian Grazer talk about his many years of “curiosity conversations”, I thought that’s me!  I need to be doing this, but in my own way.

This blog is intended to create one of may platforms that I will use going forward to simply talk to people.  Innovators, artists, cultural icons, leaders in their respective fields and more.  People that I find interesting.  I can’t wait.

Thanks for joining me!

~Jean Marie

It doesn’t take money to turn off the television and cultivate real bonding time. ~Marianne Williamson

“There’s a rainbow in the sky all the time.  Don’t be blind”. ~Ziggy Marley