Monthly Archives: October 2012

Earth Science Week: Hurricanes and Motivation

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In continuing our celebration of Earth science week, we would like to introduce you to Michelle Gierach, a project scientist for the Physical Oceanography Distributed Data Archive Center (PO.DAAC) and ocean scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  We hope you enjoy her interview and maybe find your own passion along the way! To read more stories and learn more about Earth science week at NASA, visit http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

 

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). I was a slew of emotions on my first day, being thrilled and anxious at the same time. I was honored to have been given a position at JPL since they and NASA are known world-wide for their scientific endeavors; however, at the same time I was worried that my scientific interests and research would not stack up to their level of excellence. This latter sentiment has since faded and has been replaced by a sense to succeed as a representative of NASA and JPL.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I grew up in Florida and witnessed first hand the destruction caused by hurricanes. My grandmother went through Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when it made landfall in Homestead, Florida as a category 5 hurricane. Seeing the destruction caused by the natural phenomenon intrigued me. How it is possible that a natural event can propel 2×4’s through a palm tree? From that point I knew I wanted to be an earth scientist.

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I get to explore the earth system and my own curiosity through satellites. Satellites provide us with a global view of what is happening in our earth system at present and gives us an indication on how the system has changed over time. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is the education and outreach component, wherein I get to communicate science results from satellites to the public. It is our responsibility as scientists to convey what we have learned, how it is relevant to society, and why it is important to continue the satellite record.

 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?

To not doubt your abilities and rise to the challenge when presented with opportunities that offer a chance to learn something new. To be true to yourself and your scientific beliefs.

 

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?

One of the biggest challengers I have faced is public disbelief in science results from the satellite record. Satellites provide a global view of the earth system and we have been fortunate to have long-term monitoring through continuation of the satellite record. Skepticism of satellite results is upsetting, but makes me steadfast in my scientific convictions and further emphasizes the necessity to communicate with the public.

 

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

There is no one person that influenced my life, more so it has been an accumulation of people throughout my life from my family, grade school teachers, college professors, and work colleagues. Along the way each has taught me to be true to my abilities and myself and not cower to new challenges and opportunities.

 

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?

I do not feel I have had to overcome gender barriers as my career has developed. Though that is not to say that they do not exist. The science profession has primarily been a male-dominated field; however, amazing women have been paving the way for female junior scientists like myself. We now have programs that encourage and mentor young women in science to increase retention, such as MPOWIR (Mentoring Physical Oceanography Women to Increase Retention). Progress is being made, but we still have a ways to go.

 

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Never stop asking questions and exploring your own curiosity.

 

Female Geoscientists Day

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Today is female geoscientists day and in celebration, we would you to meet Lola Fatoyinbo from NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.  We hope you enjoy the last of the Earth science week stories we have for you and take away a nugget of inspiration.  Let’s celebrate the beauty of our planet and the scientists who are finding ways to ensure the future can enjoy her beauty as have! To read more stories and learn more about Earth science week at NASA, visit http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and I have been here for almost 3 years. On my first day, I was nervous and hoped that I would be up to the tasks that I would have to do. I remember sitting in a meeting and being impressed by how smart and knowledgeable the people around me were.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I lived in Benin and Ivory Coast in West Africa as a teenager where deforestation and pollution are rampant and mostly uncontrolled.  I always found it heartbreaking to watch such beautiful places being destroyed. I was also very aware that this also directly affected all of us living there, but the largest effect was on the poor population who were drinking polluted water for instance.

 

My parents also fueled my passion for exploration. They were avid travelers and even drove from Nigeria to Germany in a Volkswagen bus! We often did road trips through various West African Countries, and they would tell me how important it was to preserve our environment. Seeing so many different places also made me appreciate them.

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I love travelling to new places, whether in person or by looking at an image taken by a satellite. I can spend hours ‘exploring’ on Google earth! But I think what I enjoy the most about my job is coming up with new research projects for myself or for our student interns. There are so many questions to be answered and projects to develop and that’s what really gets me excited.

 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?

Don’t always choose the easiest path. I always loved science, yet I did much better in languages and social studies in school. But I wanted to become a scientist and worked really hard to make it happen.

 

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?

The most difficult moment for me was when I was doing fieldwork in a very remote tropical forest in Madagascar. Here I was, doing what I had always dreamed on- exploring the rainforest, and it was nowhere near as glamorous as I had always thought of it. We were working long days, hiking 10 km everyday. It was cold, rainy, there were leeches inching up my pants, I kept falling on the trails, I was hungry and exhausted and missed my friends and family. I felt really bad for myself, then I remembered that I had wanted to have this opportunity since I was a little kid! In the end it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I learned that you shouldn’t give up just because what you’re working on isn’t the way you imagined it would be.

 

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

The biggest influence in my childhood and early adulthood was my parents. They always encouraged me to be a lifelong learner and not feel like I should have to fit into a particular box. My dad taught me make a career out of your hobby and my mother was and still is my biggest cheerleader. She is always encouraging and does everything to help me get my work done. She’s even come on work trips with me to babysit my kids!

 

Throughout college and my professional life, my husband has been my greatest influence. He is the hardest working person I know so I have to keep up with him!

 

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?

As an African American woman, one is bound to encounter some sort of barrier or hurdle in a career. I chose not to pay them too much attention and just work as hard as I could and look forward. That being said, I know that the only reason I can do this is because many before me had to fight very hard for equality in the workplace. Nobody ever asked me to bring them coffee just because I was a woman, and I am very grateful to those who fought before me.

 

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Hard work is worth more than talent! Like I said, I was always much better at languages than science. But I wanted to have a career as a scientist so I stuck to it! But you don’t have to settle and in ways can “have it all”.  I am proof as I now I speak 5 languages!

Celebrate Earth Science Week

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This week is Earth Science week!  At NASA, we have a great group of scientists who strive to understand our planet, research ways to make it stay beautiful, and moreover, ensure it remains that way for generations to come.  To celebrate, we have interviewed three people who vary in background.  Their expertises range from performing the science to deveoping ways to share science with the next generation.  We will post each story during the week to learn more about what Earth scientists do and share in their passion and curiosity.  Today, let us introduce to you Sarah Crecelius from NASA Langley Research Center.  We hope you enjoy the interviews and are intrigued by their stories.  One never knows when the spark happens! Read more stories and learn more about the celebration at http://women.nasa.gov/earthexplorers.

 

 

Where do you work, and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?

I am an Outreach Coordinator for the Student Cloud Observations On-Line (S’COOL) and MY NASA DATA (MND) Projects in the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center.  I recall that on my first day I was proud, excited, and nervous.

 

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I grew up camping and taking yearly trips to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. I have always loved being outdoors and learning how nature and weather work, but I really discovered that I was passionate for Earth Science when I saw a tornado on the weather channel.  From that moment, on I wanted to understand how weather and Earth systems worked together to form such a colossal and powerful force.  My passion continued to grow in college as I majored in atmospheric science and minored in natural resource management. I realized that understanding the Earth and her systems can help us/mankind understand best management practices and inspire further research of our planet.   

 

What inspired you to work in this field?

I have had many inspirations that have guided me down the path that I am on today, but the first was in elementary school.  I attended a math and science magnet school that provided a Battel Scientist once a week to help the class with a science experiment.  Dr. Phil Sticksel inspired each one of his students to always look for the next question.  I learned science because I was the one doing it. In high school, I always liked the algorithms and equations of math, but science (physics and chemistry especially) helped me apply real world applications and understand the algorithm or equation. It was in college that I realized being a woman in the science field was a unique position.  It was a great opportunity and experience.  Professors and colleagues fostered an atmosphere of respect and learning that expanded my horizons and understanding of real life science. I was proud to gradate as one of four women in my atmospheric science program.

 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?

Some of the most important lessons I have learned are very cliché, but I can testify that they exists for a reason:

·         Everything isn’t always what you expect.

·         Be prepared for whatever comes your way.

·         Work well with others, stay open minded, and listen.

·         People have as much right to their opinion as you do.

·         Network! Find a champion (someone who also wants to see you do well and succeed).

·        Find a role model (it’s easy to reflect on others’ good acts for examples when you have trouble with your own).

·         Work your hardest, and you can leave knowing you gave all you had.  

These are the usual motivational sparks.  If you can remember them during the day, you’ll have a pretty good guide to success and happiness.

 

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?

While still early in my career, I have had difficult moments.  Learning to work with a team of non-like-minded people and follow processes that have been in place for years was a struggle in the beginning.  I have learned that different views and processes provide experience and wisdom and if it’s worth changing something, my argument/ideas need to be stable and unbiased. Another difficulty I face as a young professional is doubting my ability (compared to those around me).  I have learned that everyone has off days and that if I trust in my abilities and knowledge, I am well suited for the work I do.

 

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?

My parents, my mother, and Dr. Sticksel have made the biggest influence on my life.  Each one in his/her own way has always taught me to try my hardest, never stop asking questions, and by-pass the road blocks. My parents have always motivated me to strive for my best while supporting me. My mother is a perfect example of a successful woman, wife, and mother. Dr. Sticksel sparked the fire that has turned into a love for science.  His passion for the science has shown me that if you love what you are doing, the reward is endless.

 

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Find a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career that works for you.  It doesn’t have to be literally these things, but find your passion and see what’s available.  It can be easy to see science in the world around us (photosynthesis, weather, climate, plants, animals), but to experience science is to understand/want to understand the world around you. 

Women in History Shout Out

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Women will change the corporation more than we expect. – Anita Borg

Anita Borg (1949 – 2003) was an American computer scientist who received her doctorate in 1981 from New York University.  She received her first computer programming job in 1969, though she never intended to work in such a field.  She loved math while a student in school and taught herself to program while working at a small insurance company.  Beyond her career, Dr. Borg believed in creating a greater technical representation for women in technology.  She founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.   Dr. Borg was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999 and passed away on April 6, 2003 as a result.  The Institute for Women and Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Google created a scholarship in her honor.