Mike Poellot retires after 45 years

Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences led the department as a founding professor in 1986, then as chair for 21 years

Poellot was happy to be among his colleagues, students, faculty and staff alike, as the Department of Atmospheric Sciences celebrated his retirement following 45 years at UND. Poellot has been with the department every step of the way since its creation in 1986. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

On Thursday last week and for the first time since 1976, the pressure was off for Mike Poellot as he stepped on campus.

All that was left to do, following decades of leadership, teaching and research, was celebrate.

Mike Poellot

The end of summer marked the end of an illustrious career for Poellot, a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and longtime chair of the department he helped create some 35 years ago.

And to celebrate such a distinguished career, he did it the only way he’d prefer: with the people he so cherished throughout his career.

“This is 100 percent better than a Zoom party,” said Poellot with a laugh, amid a crowd of students, faculty and staff gathered in Odegard Hall to congratulate him on his retirement.

“With all of the precautions we’ve had to take, it’s maybe not the way I thought I’d finish things up here,” Poellot continued. “But I’ve been glad to see people and look back on what’s happened over the years, and to see people up-and-coming. I’ve always enjoyed working with the students, so it’s fun to follow them and see what they’re doing, or where they’re off to.”

Dean Bob Kraus and Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke were among those present to celebrate Poellot’s career at a Thursday reception in Odegard Hall. Kraus said that Poellot has left the Department of Atmospheric Sciences primed for future success. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Legacy of dedication

As Poellot walked around the room, chatting with old colleagues, students and longtime staffers, some of his peers reflected on his legacy.

Recruited to UND by John D. Odegard and among the first three professors that started the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, alongside Tony Grainger and the late Leon Osborne, Poellot has been influential in a way few other faculty have, said Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke.

Through his years of airborne research, spent between piloting the Citation research jet and operating its data-collecting instruments, Poellot bridged the gaps between the academic departments of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

“He’s a pilot, he’s a meteorologist and he’s spent a lot of time teaching our aviation students about atmospheric sciences,” Bjerke said. “He’s been able to refine his research expertise through both aircraft research and meteorology research – it’s phenomenal. He was as interdisciplinary and all-involved as any faculty member I’ve worked with.”

This 1980 photo, featuring Poellot in the cockpit, shows John Odegard testing a repeater system installed in Bismarck that would enable phone calls while airborne. The test was successful. Image courtesy of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Poellot’s exploits in the field of weather modification, in particular, have drawn tens of millions of dollars in external research funding over the years, working with the likes of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, Poellot’s contributions to the field are recognized internationally, said Research Professor David Delene.

“That’s a legacy we hope to continue far into the future,” said Delene, who often worked with Poellot on airborne weather projects. “Everything we’ve been able to do in that form of weather research, involving graduate students so extensively, is all due to Mike’s work. And that’s just one part of what he’s done in this department.”

Looking around the reception, Delene said that Poellot – who held the position of department chair for 21 years, until 2020 – was instrumental to the hiring of everyone currently working in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Because of that, he remarked, the department is likely on a good trajectory.

Peollot was instrumental in the development of the Citation research jet, which is equipped with multiple atmosphere-measuring instruments. Though no longer in the possession of UND, the aircraft still plays an important role in weather research conducted by the University. UND archival image.

To Dean Bob Kraus, continuing Poellot’s vision for the department will take Atmospheric Sciences at UND to the next level. Under Poellot, the department developed graduate and doctoral degree programs and now brings in students from across the country.

“You look at the program as a whole and all that it’s accomplished over the years, and so much of that could be attributed to Mike either in a leadership role as chair or in a support role working with Leon Osborne to help build everything we have today,” Kraus said. “It’s great to see the support for Mike from all levels of our College, because this program, as it exists today, is a result of his dedication and support of the College and department.”

It was all smiles for Poellot last Thursday, despite being well-hidden by a Fighting Hawks face mask. People from across the College came to congratulate the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor on a successful career. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Poised to succeed

Thinking about his retirement, Poellot said he’s going to miss the daily interactions he had with colleagues. He’s been able to make some good friends throughout his career, he said, and he’s going to miss the small conversations.

“Some of it was business, some wasn’t,” remarked Poellot, smiling underneath his Fighting Hawks face mask. “I’ll miss those touchpoints, but I can always come back up and visit once in a while.”

But his first thought of what he’d miss was the impact of working with students.

“They come through and learn and grow, and then they move on to the work force and have their own careers,” Poellot mused. “It’s always been an interest of mine to follow that.

“We have good people, and that’s really what’s important. If we have faculty who are interested in students and interested in research, I see a lot of success from here on forward.”