Here at NCEI, we aren’t just data—we are people. In our Humans of NCEI series, meet the awesome minds that manage one of the largest archives of atmospheric, coastal, geophysical, and oceanic research in the world. Get to know Nancy Ritchey, Archive Branch Chief, who is responsible for leading a team to make our data usable for generations to come.
What is your specific area of expertise at NCEI?
I’m an atmospheric scientist who is focused on data preservation. My goal is to make data independently understandable to enable scientific discoveries today and in the future.
What was your first job? How did you move from it to your current position?
My first professional job was at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where I worked with scientists from multiple disciplines to gather their environmental data and transform it for use in climate models. The data I gathered was planned to be collected from future satellite missions. I moved to NASA Langley Research Center where I developed algorithms to determine the amount of the sun’s energy that reached Earth’s surface from satellite data. This position allowed me to grow my data processing and IT system management skills.
I then moved to the NASA Langley Atmospheric Science Data Center where I focused my attention on data management. I quickly moved into leadership roles including supervising and managing Customer Service and Data Operations. In 2008, I saw the opportunity to join the National Climatic Data Center (now NCEI) as the Archive Branch Chief and have been in Asheville since October 2008.
What kind of work do you do/facilitate on a daily basis?
My superpowers are calm presence, listening, and courage. I provide honest, thoughtful input to inform senior level decisions; I lead, coach, and mentor my team; and I work across NCEI, NOAA, and national and international communities to build relationships and transform our current data management practices.
What are some of the challenges of your role?
Time!!! There are so many projects and activities that need attention, so I prioritize and focus on the ones at the top of the list.
What would you like the public to know most about what your branch does for NOAA?
We care deeply about ensuring the environmental data we preserve today are easily understandable and usable by future generations.
How does what you do make a difference in the world?
Data and its related information are extremely important national assets. The data we preserve today may be the key to solving critical problems in the future. If we do our jobs right, the data will be used and re-used in ways we haven’t yet imagined.
What is your favorite aspect of the job?
Leading my AMAZING team. I am truly proud of each one of them for who they are and what they contribute. I think I have the best team.
Tell us a little-known fact about the work you do?
By the time I was seven years old, I wanted to study weather, and I didn’t stop until I achieved that goal. There are several key people throughout my life who helped me reach my goal, and I ignored those who deterred me. Ironically, today I ask my smart devices for the weather report.
Who are you outside of your career?
I live near Asheville, North Carolina, with my husband and our two dogs. I have two adult daughters, one living in Virginia raising our grandson and another making a new life in the UK. We are blessed that we are allowed to have our grandson visit us for most summers since he was three. I love spending time with my family and friends, gardening, cooking, traveling, and spending time outdoors.
Last book you read?
Most recently I’ve been reading period fiction novels based on real people and events. I’m currently reading Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. It’s about Mary Bouton "Mamah" Borthwick, an American translator primarily noted for her relationship with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, <spoiler alert> which ended when she was murdered at his home.