Executive-in-Residence Laura K. Furgione, B.S. Atmospheric Science ’93 and Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau, encourages CAFNR students to step outside their comfort zone

Serving as a forecaster in both tropical Hawaii and arctic Alaska, Furgione learned how to serve communities through science.

Executive-in-Residence Laura Furgione spoke with the Women in Meteorology Club during her time on campus.
Executive-in-Residence Laura Furgione spoke with the Women in Meteorology Club during her time on campus.

Laura K. Furgione was born on a five-generation farm in Bourbon, Missouri, and was always sure where she was headed after high school graduation.

“I was always going to go to Mizzou,” said Furgione. “I’m from Missouri, my sister went here; I just always knew it was Mizzou for me. I was going to be a math teacher, but my senior year counselor said I would never make it. That’s all I needed: someone to tell me I would never make it. He said I was too social, too involved in extracurricular activities, and that I would never make it at Mizzou. So if anyone ever tries to push you down, use that as buoyancy to bring yourself even higher.”

She didn’t become a math teacher, but Furgione did bring herself even higher, currently serving as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. Census Bureau after an illustrious career as a meteorologist across the nation. When her older sister went to visit some of her old coworkers in the CAFNR Dean’s Office, Furgione, a freshman, tagged along and immediately felt at home in CAFNR.

“Dana Brown and Joanne Jones at the Dean’s Office brought me to meteorology,” said Furgione. “Dana said ‘you like math and science? Well, we have meteorology, why don’t you try that?’ and I just kind of fell into it and after the first class I was in love. CAFNR was just so welcoming. It was family here and it made me feel very comfortable coming to such a big place, like I’d be okay.”

While the atmospheric science curriculum was difficult, it taught Furgione persistence and resilience in addition to the course content.

“I got a 9 on my first physics test,” she said. “There was a curve, but 9 was not at the top of the curve, that’s for sure. I learned that I had to study physics every day and do calculus every day and stick with it. Professors have open office hours for a reason, so if you’re a student get in there and see what you’re doing wrong and how you can improve.”

Between her junior and senior years at Mizzou, Furgione interned as forecaster for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Honolulu. When she graduated in 1993, she packed up and moved to Kodiak, Alaska, to work as an NWS forecaster serving Bering Sea crab fishermen and pilots flying between Alaskan islands. After Kodiak, she moved the Weather Forecast Office in Fairbanks forecasting for northern Alaska. There, she saw temperatures of 58 below zero.

“It gets so cold there that your tires get flat on one side and it’s difficult to push the clutch if you’re driving an automatic transmission,” said Furgione.

Furgione also forecasted in the Alaskan “Ring of Fire,” a group of volcanoes in northern Alaska that regularly release ash, making forecasts crucial for pilots in the area. She then headed back to tropical weather and served an outreach meteorologist in Morehead City, North Carolina, working with emergency management coordinators in the Outer Banks. While there, she helped facilitate emergency management evacuations and forecasting for three major hurricanes and the flood of the century in 1999.

“Devastation always looks good on a meteorologist’s resume,” Furgione said. “And soon after that I was promoted to Meteorologist in Charge at the Juneau Weather Forecast Office where I received my Master’s of Public Administration at the University of Alaska-Southeast. Not long after I became Deputy Director of the National Weather Service, Alaska Region, in Anchorage.”

During her time with the NWS, Furgione saw them move from just releasing forecasts transactionally to focusing on serving the customers for whom forecasts were life and death. In order to serve these customers, she went on a 26-hour ride along with an Alaskan long-haul trucker, flew in the cockpit of Alaskan planes with pilots, and rode on glacier cruise ships with captains to learn about their needs.

In 2008, she then moved to Washington, D.C., to become the Deputy Director of the National Weather Service at large. In this role, she regularly traveled to the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We did a lot of data sharing across boundaries, because weather knows no boundaries,” she said.

Furgione’s illustrious career led her to the highest level of government employee: Senior Executive Service (SES). After serving as an SES employee for 20 years, she can reflect back on how her CAFNR experience prepared her for the rigorous process of reaching the SES title, her current role with the Census Bureau, and serving others through science. She believes networking beginning in college is crucial to career success. As the EIR, Furgione got to share her career story and wisdom with CAFNR students in atmospheric science classes, leadership classes and with the Women in Meteorology club.

“Too often we become lax in being professional, writing thank you notes, and keeping those networks alive — and having diversified networks,” said Furgione. “If you only interact with people with degrees in atmospheric science, then you don’t know the customers you’re going to be serving: emergency managers, or the manager at the airport, or the Bering Sea crab fishermen who knows more about the weather than the forecasters because they’re actually living it and it affects their livelihood. We have to understand how our forecast has an impact on their lives. That’s where you really learn why you’re doing what you’re doing. Networking, listening, and learning from others is key.”

About the Executive-in-Residence Program:

Envisioned and endowed by the generosity of the Robert O. Reich family, this one-on-one interaction offers a rare life experience for students and the Executive-in-Residence. Through class lectures, roundtable discussions, one-on-one meetings and other informal interactions, students learn first-hand about career paths and choices they may not have dreamed possible.

The program, inaugurated in February 1997 by faculty and staff as a collaborative learning experience for students, takes place in an informal environment that allows participation to be spontaneous and infectious.

Anyone can nominate an industry leader to be part of the Executive-in-Residence program; the program’s board extends invitations to two executives each year – one in the fall and one each spring.