About Bill Lapenta
ABOUT DR. WILLIAM M. LAPENTA
Over his impressive career, Dr. William (Bill) Michael Lapenta was a champion for atmospheric sciences and supporting the next generation of leaders in the field. After Bill passed away on September 30, 2019, the NOAA community came together to celebrate our friend and colleague.
Bill was the director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) from 2013-2019. At the end of his tenure as NCEP director, he fulfilled a detail working as the Senior Earth Modeling Officer within the Office of the Under Secretary of Commerce, directly supporting Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Environmental Observation and Prediction at NOAA headquarters. At the time of his passing, Bill was moving into a new position as the director of the Office of Weather and Air Quality (OWAQ) a program within NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) that works to transition world-class weather and air quality research to operations at NWS.
Bill’s storied career took him from his graduate studies at Penn State, to the very top of NOAA, laying the groundwork for the future of community and environmental modeling and the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC). Along the way, he worked for NASA at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, was an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama where he taught Atmospheric Dynamics and Synoptic Meteorology, was the chief scientist at the NASA Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center, and worked at NASA Headquarters in the Earth System Science/Applied Sciences Division. Bill was also the deputy director, and then the acting director of the Environmental Modeling Center at NCEP before becoming NCEP director.
Bill’s legacy includes his passion for mentorship and building the next generation of scientists and meteorologists. In 2017 he began the NCEP student intern program in College Park, Maryland, and by its third year, the program attracted more than 500 applications for just 13 available intern positions. As the program moves into its fourth year and the application process is now underway, the program has been officially renamed The William M. Lapenta NWS Student Internship Program in his honor. In addition, the Lapenta family has established a travel grant fund for students to help cover the costs of traveling to American Meteorological Society (AMS) conferences.
Dr. Lapenta left a lasting impression on many people. He was known for being a phenomenal mentor. Those who had the honor of being mentored by him spoke of how his guidance and leadership lead them to expanding their network and taking risks that catapulted their careers to unforeseen heights. Bill had the keen ability to see the potential in his mentees that they could not see in themselves which pushed them to reach their personal best.
Bill’s passion and dedication within his role as the Director of NCEP was evident from the very beginning, he was the epitome of a leader amongst the atmospheric sciences community, possessing a wealth of knowledge, intellect, and endless work ethic. He was eager to share his life story with students and encourage them to follow their own path with excitement and passion. Bill always encouraged students to take calculated risks. Both the life and career advice that he passed onto them will be cherished.
Bill never shied away from being candid with the interns in the program. He spoke to them about the challenges of balancing work and life, as well as the importance of self-care which students found refreshing and valuable. It’s challenging to encapsulate the impact he had on young professionals. His dedication to encouraging and guiding young people entering the field truly was profound. Bill gave many talks about building your network and navigating through personal career paths. He always ended his talks with "you're all now a part of my network.” If you were ever doubting your abilities or lacking self-confidence Bill would make his mentees understand in order to reach your goals you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Dr. Lapenta was a stellar leader, visionary and mentor. He will be truly missed.