Famiglietti’s Place on Earth


‘I love it here at UC Irvine and I think it’s a great place to do research, great place to teach and a fantastic place to raise a family,’ said James Famiglietti, associate professor of earth system science and civil and environmental engineering.
This statement is part of why Famiglietti is now teaching at UCI. Famiglietti taught courses in geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin from 1994 to 2001. In 2001, Famiglietti came to UCI.
‘There were a lot of people over [at UT Austin] that studied geology, and my interest was more in the climate and global change and the primary thing was finding a set of colleagues with whom I could do some exciting research on a regular basis,’ Famiglietti said. He was also quick to add that, ‘the climate was a big factor too. It was awfully hot.’
Famiglietti did not always want to be a professor. He went into Tufts University as a pre-veterinary major, but he realized that his interest was in geology.
‘It appeals to me because I’ve always been an outdoors-oriented person,’ Famiglietti said. ‘I’ve always done a lot of camping and hiking, backpacking and things growing up.’
Later, he received his Master of Science in hydrology from the University of Arizona and a Masters of Arts and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Princeton University.
Famiglietti is most known to undergraduates for teaching his ESS 1 class, The Physical Environment.
‘The reason I started teaching ESS 1 was so I could have more contact with undergraduates,’ Famiglietti said. ‘It is a lot of work because the class is so big, but I enjoy it. The feedback I’ve gotten from students has been really positive, so I’ve been happy with that.’
He added, ‘The thing I appreciate the most about UCI is the appreciation the students have for the faculty. I think the students are very smart. It’s a real pleasure to teach people who put the effort into learning.’
According to Famiglietti, the toughest aspect about being a professor is balancing all responsibilities of family, teaching, researching and service.
A unique aspect about Famiglietti is that his wife is a professor at UCI, too.
Catherine Famiglietti, a lecturer of mathematics, teaches several undergraduate calculus classes at UCI.
Famiglietti said about working alongside his spouse, ‘It’s great because we get to see each other a lot.’ He also enjoys learning from his wife about how to teach students.
In addition to teaching, Famiglietti does research in hydrology and he is the graduate advisor in ESS, co-chair of the AGU Hydrology Section Remote Sensing committee and editor for Geophysical Research Letters.
Career-wise, Famiglietti has set big goals for himself. ‘I would just like to build up my research program and beef it up a little bit and add one or two more post doctoral researchers. I would also like to write a textbook on the topic [global hydrology] of the class I am teaching right now,’ Famiglietti said.
In his spare time, Famiglietti enjoys spending time with his family, attending his daughter’s soccer games and camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop. He also enjoys playing the guitar and the piano and working out.
Famiglietti best sums up his mindset as an ambitious professor.
‘It’s great to be a professor because you get a lot of control over your schedule but it’s difficult because the research never ends,’ Famiglietti said. ‘You’re always thinking of new things you want to try.’

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