Alumni News

Alumni Highlight

Zachary Boyett

Oftentimes, the destinations in our life are the most exciting.  Achievements are easily celebrated by ourselves and others. However, in the moment, the journey or the process is often overlooked.  Many of our young alumni are at this point in their lives and do not realize how exciting it is. Surprised by the request to be highlighted, Carlyn Wisherop ‘17 joined us to share her story.  

Just a couple years removed from Salesian, Carlyn thought she had little to share as an alumnus, not realizing how relevant her story is to our community.  Carlyn is one of many for us to cheer on as she journeys her way through life. She had high expectations from others and for herself when she left Salesian as the class valedictorian.  Carlyn has seen amazing success in just these two years, but hardly pauses to celebrate because she has much more to prove. Carlyn is not only an exceptional student, but squeezes every second out of her day to continually create positive moments for herself and others. 

In the Bay Area for the summer, Carlyn stopped by Salesian on her way home from her class in Berkeley.  With no worries about graduating on time, she is not taking a course for credit, but she is getting ahead in another way.  Carlyn is taking a study guide class for the MCAT, which she plans to take in September.  Again, she just finished her sophomore year, and told us she is behind.  Carlyn has been constantly anxious about being behind since the day she started at UCLA.  However, her insecurity has been her greatest motivation.

Entering UCLA as a Life Sciences major, or more specifically Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, Carlyn felt behind her peers.  She was uncertain if her lack of lab experience or AP credit would harm her and was even worried that she would lose out on opportunities to her advanced peers.  Carlyn did not look for excuses but looked to take every advantage. Carlyn found herself in groups to excel academically but also socially. Most notably, she joined the CPR & First Aid club.  Entering her third year, she will be the Instructor Development Chair.  She found herself in a like minded group, with positive influences and most importantly the opportunity to teach.  

Teaching is one of Carlyn’s greatest passions.  When she isn’t teaching low cost CPR classes, she is tutoring high school students, assisting her physics professor, or instructing spin at UCLA Recreation.  Although Carlyn has been involved with athletics most of her life, she discovered a passion for fitness in college. Carlyn even admitted she hated running for volleyball training in high school.  For her, fitness began as stress relief. Now, she is training for a marathon and hopes to be a spin instructor for multiple gyms, including LA Fitness and SoulCycle. Carlyn fell in love with spin immediately.  Spin is a unique experience for her to synchronize with music and get lost in her own world. At her first opportunity, Carlyn signed up to teach, even before she was a certified instructor. 

One of Carlyn’s best experiences so far at UCLA was joining the Li Lab.  Carlyn is the only undergraduate student that works under Dr. Melody Li studying the innate immune response, focusing specifically on the synergistic activity between two antiviral proteins, ZAP and TRIM25.  Yeah, woah. Carlyn spends about 20 hours a week in the lab or with the team. I still haven’t figured out how she finds time for herself. 

Carlyn has seen exceptional growth in herself in her last two years and contributes much of who she is today to her experiences in Los Angeles.  Just like many 18 year-olds, Carlyn was unsure of her future when she left Salesian and moved to LA. Although she entered UCLA as a Life Sciences major, Carlyn was undecided if she wanted to be a doctor.  Now on her path, she continues to deliberate on the specific field she wishes to enter someday. But she does know that she wants to help people. Empathy is easily recognizable in Carlyn’s personality. Her decision to take a difficult path continues to reward each step of the way.  

Possibly Carlyn’s biggest growth has been her increased introspection.  Transplanting herself into a different culture, albeit not drastic, revealed particularities of herself unique to her paradigm.  She has not reached a realization, but has begun her exploration. It was through her favorite course thus far at UCLA, “Ways of Reading Race,” that Carlyn began to think competently about her situation.  Although it was a general education English course, Carlyn became fascinated with Sociology and Anthropology.  Carlyn enjoys exploring new or non traditional views of race and culture, especially regarding her own questions and circumstances.  

Incredibly, Carlyn even finds time for typical 20 year-old activities.  She enjoys exploring Los Angeles and even the Bay Area when she is home, especially for a tasty bite to eat.  Carlyn takes advantage of the amazing Los Angeles nightlife and is concert regular. You can find her at popular Hip-Hop/Rap artist’s shows, like J. Cole but most often she enjoys underground or up-and-coming artists.  You may even catch her on a long morning run with the November Project on Wednesdays.  I don’t know about you, but I only have 24 hours in my day. 

If you think you have an interesting alumni story to feature in the Salesian eNewsletter, please contact Mr. Zach Boyett,

Zachary Boyett


Last week, Salesian was honored to welcome back alumnus Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon from the Class of 1980.   John has lived quite an interesting life following his years at Salesian. Dr. Nielsen-Gammon’s unique career has taken him to many places across the United States and around the world. Through his work, he has been given the opportunity to meet and work with some important people and even has connections in the White House.  He may soon be a well-known authority figure on Climate Change. John has come a long way from the ten year old boy with a home weather station to become the current Texas State Climatologist. 

Many people may be unaware that most states, including California, have a state Climatologist.  And yes, that is different than a meteorologist.  Like most Climatologists, John researches weather patterns and improvements to how weather is measured.  However, as the Texas State Climatologist he is looked to by state agencies for official statements such as the best time to plant crops, or for suggestions on the durability of infrastructure.  Everyday weather predictions on the news are made possible and most importantly reliable because of people like Dr. Nielsen-Gammon.  However, his research is much more interesting than that.

Today, he has a few research projects sitting on his desk.  He is actually quite lucky to be so busy. Most, about 80%, of research proposals are turned down.  Creating, presenting and executing a research proposal is a laborious task. For John in geosciences, the process can take about four years or longer.  John is about halfway through one of his current projects to improve how El Nino and La Nina are measured. Climate Change has made traditional measurement techniques less reliable.  John is researching the relationship between a traditional variable and a new comparison variable to avoid the confounding variable - Climate Change. This may help us better predict the intensity and duration of future wet and dry seasons in the North American Southwest and other regions.  

But John didn’t get into Climatology to talk to farmers and engineers.   He originally just wanted to study the curiosities and extremes of weather.  He had the chance of a lifetime when Hurricane Harvey came up the Gulf in mid-2017.  Harvey was a storm unlike any other in recorded history. Dr. Nielsen-Gammon was on the team of researchers who discovered the new boundaries of hurricane weather.  Hurricane Harvey produced about six inches of rain per hour for a week which is slightly less than what Phoenix receives in a year! The evidence from Harvey helped people rethink how we build cities, among other things.  John had waited 45 years, from his childhood neighborhood, the locally-labeled, “hurricane hill” of Tara Hills, for Hurricane Harvey.  

Like most of us who live on the east side of the San Pablo Bay, John was curious about the peculiarities of summer gusts from the Bay.  As a 10 year old boy, John asked his parents for a home weather station. He quickly became bored of things, and to this day he admits he struggles to focus.  So, he decided that if the weather station was still interesting in one year, Climatology was the field to pursue.  

John carried his passion for science and weather from  his elementary years at St. Joseph’s School in Pinole, through to Salesian.  Looking forward to college, as an exceptional student, John had options. UC Berkeley and Stanford would have been unsuitable because they did not offer anything and Climatology courses.  He decided on MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It was obviously a great choice, where he would stay for 10 years, earning his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees there. He nearly accepted a teaching and research position there after a short stint in Albany, NY in post-doc work.   John decided against accepting the position because he would have replaced his own doctoral advisor, which made him skeptical of his tenure track. So, in 1991, he joined the Texas A&M University faculty in the College of Geosciences. 

Today, you can find Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon a few miles outside of College Station with his wife of 26 years and their adorable Bichon Frise.  He still does not consider himself a Texan, but “got there as fast as he could.” He sees himself as the Texas State Climatologist for a few more years, but does not see an end to his Climatology career in the near future.  He hopes to soon write a couple of books, one of which will be a Climatology textbook. John also wishes to write a pop-science book to better explain Climate Change to the general population. John believes authors are often politically motivated or do not fairly or completely explain scientific phenomena.  Dr. Nielsen-Gammon hopes to stay as neutral as possible in this endeavor. You will not find Democrat or Republican views on Climate Change from Dr. Nielsen-Gammon but you may hear what the Lilliputians and the Blefuscudians think.

We are very grateful to Dr. Nielsen-Gammon for stopping by Salesian  on his busy trip through California. He shared a great deal of information, both about himself and Climatology.  His visit felt somewhere between a college Meteorological lecture and a chat over coffee. It is not everyday you have the chance to learn from one of the best in the business.  Dr. Nielsen-Gammon is obviously a great professor and is most likely too modest to admit it. If you would like to learn more about Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon and his research check out his Texas A&M University profile here. We hope to see John at Salesian again soon!

If you think you have an interesting alumni story to feature in the Salesian eNewsletter, please contact Mr. Zach Boyett,