2022 Tillman Scholar

Elisa McGhee

Air Force
Colorado State University
Ph.D. Geoscience

“Small-scale interactions have an outsized effect on larger Earth systems. Similarly, even the smallest acts of support for each other can profoundly affect the health of our greater community.”

The lively sea and shifting winds of the Florida Keys shaped the perspective Elisa had on the world as a child. A strong desire to be connected to these forces drove her to learn to fly as a teenager, granting her the freedom to observe the Earth from above. The research meteorology degree she completed allowed her to commission and become an Air Force C-130 pilot. Her service was highlighted by flying low-level airdrop missions in the mountains of Afghanistan and later, leading formations over the jungles of western Africa and the endless glaciers of Alaska. Elisa then became a civilian instructor of geoscience and meteorology at the U.S. Air Force Academy, taking breaks to deploy as a Reserve pilot.

There, she focused on strengthening cadet research skills and influencing women to become military pilots. Off-duty, she invested her time in civilian aviation to instruct underprivileged high school students in several non-profit organizations over the next decade. She now listens to Antarctic ice tremors as a doctoral student, analyzing ambient seismic noise to evaluate the mechanisms which fracture the Ross Ice Shelf as it faces detachment from land. Elisa aims to distill her research into relatable material for the public to engage with, empowering people to share the science of our rapidly changing planet. She also seeks to amplify the voices of people who are directly affected by our current natural resource challenges.