CIS Student Seeks Thrill of the Chase

Rob RiskinLike many of those enrolled in Boston University’s Distance Education programs, Rob Riskin fits his studies into his free time. He loads his lectures on to his iPad, digs into his reading, and begins to tackle his homework. It’s a typical studying scene.

Although the setting is anything but.

This past May, Riskin packed up his tablet and took BU Online with him to “Tornado Alley” in Oklahoma, going right into the teeth of America’s most lively location for twister activity — and doing so with excitement. A computer information systems student by day, Riskin is a storm chaser by night, and so while he was waiting for the funnels to form he’d fill the time by working toward his master’s degree.

“When chasing storms there is a lot of downtime,” he said, “especially when waiting for storms to initiate and begin.”

In Riskin’s case, that didn’t take long. On the first day he and his multi-national team set out in search of a storm, they saw four tornadoes and came within about 100 feet of multiple vortices. One vortex actually hit the second of the group’s two chase vehicles, blowing out all the windows and ripping the “rockbox” – a storage compartment – right off the roof.

“It was very scary and incredible,” Riskin wrote on his blog in the chase’s immediate aftermath. “(It) was insane.”

The experience was captured from a few different angles, and the video footage was so dramatic that Riskin was interviewed on-air by the Oklahoma City CBS affiliate as well as CNN.

All the while, however, schoolwork still remained a focus. He had carefully timed his trip for the first week of his CS 695 class, because he knew he’d then be easing back into the routine of the Summer 1 semester—and that was hardly the only thing thought out in advance of the journey.

Riskin may have the perfect surname for someone undertaking such a dangerous pursuit, and a storm chaser is perceived to be a bit wild by nature, but he claims the key to balancing dual (and very different) responsibilities is as simple as plotting a plan and staying the course. When he began the BU Online program in September 2009 he was initially uncertain about what to expect, but within a few weeks he’d developed a routine, and that enabled him to hold a full-time job and still complete his schoolwork.

When he set out in search of storms, he knew there would be challenges because of the situation. But, again, he made it happen by planning ahead. He anticipated that Internet access might be scarce in Tornado Alley, so he decided to save lectures locally, and was thereby able to do the necessary reading without being dependent upon the presence of an online connection.

“Getting into the habit of reading the lectures and material in advance, and getting a head start on discussion postings is essential,” he said. “Focus on staying ahead, plan schoolwork a day ahead, and stick with it! I psych myself into thinking assignments are due a day prior, and that gives me the extra push to get the work done.”

If asked to share advice with new students, Riskin would tell them just that. “You will succeed” by keeping ahead and planning properly, he said.

Even if the other part of your atypical life involves following a fearsome phenomenon down a path as uncertain as any in nature.

“Of course you can’t plan for everything as schedules can be unpredictable, much like storms,” Riskin said. “You just have to keep pushing and eventually you will achieve your goals.”

Tornado Vehicle with windows blown out


(WARNING: Videos may contain adult language.)

Above: Inside one of the vehicles traveling with Riskin.

Above: Footage from another chaser showing Riskin’s team ahead.

Above: More footage of the same Wakita, Okla., system.

(All videos posted to YouTube, courtesy of

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