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 encouraging women to become pilots. Off-duty, she provided flight instruction to underprivileged high school students in several non-profit organizations.

She now analyzes seismic data as a doctoral student to determine the oceanic and atmospheric controlling mechanisms which fracture the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Additionally, she deploys a fiber optic cable instrument to sense non-earthquake signals of both earth system change, and seismic sources of interest to national defense. 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.