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Waverly Person

Worked Hard To Achieve Success

Having overcome considerable obstacles in the drive to become a geophysicist, Person sees himself as an important role model for minority students. He devotes much of his free time to visiting schools throughout the state of Colorado and encouraging black youngsters to consider careers in the earth sciences. "I try to show them that this is the kind of thing they can do if they want to do it," he commented in his CBB interview. "I tell them that the barriers are not there now the way they were, and that if they prepare themselves, they can make it." Person is editor of "Seismological Notes," a regular feature in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, and he writes for the USGS's Earthquake Information Bulletin, "Earthquakes." Person also contributes significantly to professional journals, and his articles and picture appear in countless science textbooks.

Waverly Person was born in 1927 in Blackridge, Virginia. After completing high school, he enrolled at St. Paul's College in his hometown of Lawrenceville. Hoping to become a high school math and science teacher, he concentrated his academic work in the areas of general science and industrial education. He received his bachelor of science degree from St. Paul's in 1949, then spent the next several years serving in Korea with the U.S. Army.

Unsure of which career path to follow—funds were not available for further education—he moved to Washington, DC, to help a relative run a construction company. A series of odd jobs followed. Then, in the summer of 1962, he was offered a job as a technician with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which then operated the NEIC. "I was changing the record in the drums for recording earthquakes [and] became very nosey about why we were getting these wiggly lines on these recordings," he recalled in Emerge. "So I decided that I wanted to know more about this field."

During his college years, Person told CBB, the idea of a career in earthquake studies had never occurred to him. "There were no African Americans in the field—no one for you to look up to," he said. But once he had had a taste of geophysics, there was no turning back. As a technician, his career prospects were limited, so he decided to return to school to study the subject on an advanced level.

Person spent the next 11 years working as a technician in the department of earthquake services during the day and studying geology, geophysics, and differential equations at American and George Washington universities at night. Over the years, his supervisors assigned him a variety of projects, and he always "came up with flying colors," he told CBB. By 1973 Person had qualified as a geophysicist and was transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey's NEIC in Colorado. Four years later he was named director of the center.

At a Glance...

Born Waverly J. Person on May 1, 1927, in Blackridge, VA; son of Santee (a farmer) and Bessie (Butts) Person; married Sarah Walker, 1956. Education: St. Paul's College, Lawrenceville, VA, BS, 1949; completed graduate work in geophysics at American University and George Washington University, ?-1973. Military Service: U.S. Army, served in Korea, 1949-52.

Career: Earthquake Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, technician, 1962-73; National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), U.S. Geological Survey, Golden, CO, geophysicist, 1973-77; National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), director, 1977–.

Memberships: American Geophysical Union; Seismological Society of America; Colorado School of Mines (honorary member, 1991); Boulder County Crimestoppers; Flatirons Kiwanis Club.

Awards: Honorary doctorate in science, St. Paul's College, 1988; Outstanding Government Communicator Award, National Association of Government Communicators, 1988; Meritorious Service Award, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1989; Annual Minority Award, Community Services Department, Boulder, CO, 1990; Outstanding Performance Rating, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994.

Addresses: Home—5489 Seneca Place, Boulder, CO 80303. Office—National Earthquake Information Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Box 25046, DFC, MS-967, Denver, CO 80225.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalWaverly Person Biography - Worked Hard To Achieve Success, Achieved Respect As Center Director, Frequently Sought For Expert Commentary