NASA DEVELOP’s Lauren Childs-Gleason and Jamie Favors

Jamie and Lauren at the DEVELOP Table at AGU

The NASA Applied Sciences’ DEVELOP National Program fosters an interdisciplinary research environment where applied science research projects are conducted under the guidance of NASA and partner science advisors. DEVELOP projects focus on utilizing NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues. The program is run from the National Program Office at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. Lauren Childs-Gleason and Jamie Favors serve as DEVELOP’s National Lead and Deputy National Lead, respectively, and today they discuss their unique perspectives as a leadership team at NASA. 

What led you to your current roles in DEVELOP’s National Program Office?

Lauren Childs-Gleason (LCG): I was introduced to DEVELOP while in graduate school at the University of New Orleans (UNO). The DEVELOP team from Stennis Space Center presented at the UNO Geography Club’s first post-Hurricane Katrina meeting which I was presiding over as a new officer. I saw their presentation and it clicked – applied science, specifically applied geography, and I applied immediately.

Jamie Favors (JF): The first time I heard about DEVELOP was during my junior year of undergrad when I passed by a pamphlet attached to a corkboard in the physics building. I certainly was not expecting to find out that NASA had an internship opportunity in Mobile, Alabama, that day, but the meatball logo caught my eye. The next thing I knew I had applied, been accepted, and was sitting in an office in the local health department pretending to know what I was doing.

LCG: Jamie and I started at DEVELOP in the same term: Fall 2006. By the spring we had both been asked to step into the Center Lead role at our respective locations. I don’t think either us knew what to expect or what exactly we were doing. It was intense, but once we both realized we were in similar situations, it instilled a lot of trust and open communication between us and cemented our friendship. That trust and communication continue to serve us well in our current post over six years later. In 2009 I transitioned from Stennis to Langley Research Center to serve in dual roles as the National Lead and Langley Center Lead.

JF: Lauren was already working in the program office as the National Lead for DEVELOP when we were catching up one day during a phone call. I was telling her about my ideas for what I might do next as I transitioned out of grad school in California, and we began discussing how DEVELOP had grown tremendously in the previous year. There was a great need for help with managing the projects, interns, multiple nodes, and requests from Headquarters, and so I came to Langley in the summer of 2010 to serve as the Langley Center Lead. That was a hectic summer but prepared me for when I returned in 2011 to serve as the Deputy National Lead. A year and a half later I’m still happy to be working as her deputy.

What interests you most about Earth science?

JF: My interest in Earth science and all things spatial is a product of my grandparents. My grandfather was an avid Weather Channel-watcher which meant anyone staying in his home also watched the Weather Channel. Growing up in southern Mississippi meant that there was always weather worth watching. So, I’ve basically been a user of Earth observations since I was about five years old. We would take a break from watching the weather for about two weeks every summer to go on a road trip that eventually took my grandparents and me across every inch of America. Driving through the cornfields of the Great Plains left a lot of time for me to study the only interesting thing in the car: the road atlas. These childhood experiences instilled in me a love of maps and a fascination in viewing the Earth from the unique vantage point of space. These two passions have guided me well in life.

LCG: I grew up in southern California and went to an elementary school on the University of California Irvine’s campus that focused on the sciences. It was a very unique education that encouraged innovation and being a pioneer and instilled in me an interest in the Earth and learning about new places. I carried these concepts through my academic career and found a perfect fit in Geography. Now that I work with NASA’s Earth Science Division I am inspired daily by how amazing the Earth is and at times how little we know about it. But that’s the exciting part of applied sciences – using the incredible perspective of Earth observing satellites to address the planet’s problems and mysteries.

Jamie at Lauren by the NASA MeatballHow do the two of you approach program management as a team?

LCG: It all really starts with what I was discussing earlier: trust and open communication. To be an effective leadership team you have to be able to have honest conversations about hard decisions. There is a lot of responsibility that lies in our roles, and we must be sure that we are making the most effective choices. Fortunately while we share a lot of personality traits, we also constantly think in very different terms and sometimes opposite directions. That means we are consistently exploring all potential paths forward.

JF: Debate is a big part of what happens between Lauren and me. We are constantly evaluating potential paths forward for the program, and that evaluation depends on analyzing each situation from all possible angles. It doesn’t always matter what opinion each one of us has on the topic. We go back and forth picking apart each decision for its unique strengthens and weaknesses, and the side that wins, not the person, is the one that appears to be best for the program.

LCG: Exactly. If we can make a convincing argument to each other then we can be confident the decision is the culmination of the right thinking. Our office is full of lots of back and forth debate that gets pointed at times because we believe so strongly in the ultimate good of this program.

JF: Because we have the shared background of starting at the beginning level of DEVELOP as interns, I know that we measure what is good for the program in the same way. That is what pushes us to give our best and make tough decisions.

Are there challenges to being part of a male-female leadership team?

JF: Maybe it’s something “unique” about our management team that we didn’t appreciate before participating in this blog. I’m sure we could go into deep psychoanalysis about the intricacies of our team dynamic due to it being male and female, but the truth is that it isn’t something that crosses our mind much. DEVELOP fosters an interdisciplinary, multi-aged, gender-equal environment where I am proud to say we judge people solely on their work ethic and capabilities.

LCG: We are fortunate to have many great examples of female-male leadership teams here at Langley, for example our Center Director Lesa Roe and Deputy Center Director Steve Jurczyk, and for many years former Science Directorate Director Dr. Lelia Vann served alongside current Deputy Director Gary Gibson. I have heard stories about how women I have looked up to in academia and the professional realm were treated poorly or unfairly in the workplace, but I have been fortunate not to experience that myself.

JF: Being an effective team means building off each other’s strengths and filling in for each other’s weaknesses. We have similar Myers-Briggs personality types (Jamie – INTJ, Lauren – ENTJ), and I see that as one of the biggest factors to how we communicate and assess the program.

LCG: There are six individuals that make up the NPO, three women and three men, and I think that helps ensure that everything we do, all of our decisions, and how we approach issues, comes from a balanced perspective – be that because of gender or personalities.

What one piece of advice would like to pass on to those who read your story?

LCG: If you’re passionate about something, others can be positively impacted. Fortunately, passion is contagious. So find what you love to do and dive in. If you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re probably in the right place to achieve something great.

JF: Shyness is a foe to success. If you hesitate to talk to someone important because you feel that you will waste their time, then you are holding yourself back from achieving your big ideas. Walk up to people, shake hands, exchange cards, and always follow-up. If you can do that, then you are on track to achieve.

Lauren and Jamie at DEVELOP's Annual Applications Showcase at NASA Headquarters

Women Celebrating Earth Science

For the past few years, we have been celebrating Female Geoscientists Day and Earth Science Week by bringing you a few stories on some of the women who contribute to learning about our wonderful home-Mother Earth.  Today, we would like to introduce to you a wonderful physical scientist, Yolanda Roberts.  We hope you learn a bit from Dr. Roberts and feel the same inspiration we did when we interviewed her! To learn more about the celebration, click here or here in Spanish.

Yolanda Roberts

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

My family moved to Virginia from New England when I was 10, and every summer, I was afraid of the thunderstorms that would roll through. Concerned that the thunderstorms would spawn tornadoes, I kept The Weather Channel on all day. Eventually I became interested in the weather happening all over the country, how meteorologists on TV talked about it, and the meaning of all the cool weather maps. My curiosity was piqued! I wanted to know more about how meteorologists did their job, which led to my exploring other areas of atmospheric science.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I get excited when I talk to colleagues about what I do because it helps me to hear about the relevance of my work. I am encouraged by positive (and constructive critical) feedback from interested scientists, especially mid- to late-career scientists who have a solid big picture of the important questions within my field.

What inspired you to work in this field?

The summer after my junior year of college, I had an internship at Lockheed Martin Corporation. My first assignment was to work with the algorithm that determined ocean currents from satellite measurements. Although I had learned about Earth remote sensing in class, this was my first taste of working with and understanding the details of how a physical variable was determined from satellite measurements. I was fascinated that scientists had discovered a way to map ocean currents from space! This fascination encouraged me to learn about what other physical variables in Earth’s climate system we can learn about using satellite measurements. Even though I understand the details of some of these algorithms now, I still find it amazing that we can learn so much about our physical world from satellite measurements.

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

I am a physical research scientist in the Science Directorate at the NASA Langley Research Center. I was nervous and excited on my first day of work! Before I started working at Langley, I had the opportunity to work with and get to know some of my new colleagues since we were working on the same project together. Because of this, I already knew many of my new colleagues on my first day, and it was great to be welcomed into my new working environment by people I already knew and respected.

This year’s theme for Earth Science Week is Mapping Our World, how would you describe the role of mapping technologies (images, maps and visualizations) in your work?

One of my main research interests focuses on what we can learn from Earth-reflected sunlight about how and why Earth’s climate is changing. Different regions of the Earth have been changing in a variety of ways. I have been interested in overlaying my results on maps of the Earth so that I can learn about how regional changes of physical variables in different regions (e.g. clouds over the ocean or over land, vegetation in the Amazon, sea ice extent in the Arctic, etc.) have been changing over time and are manifested in measurements of reflected sunlight.

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

Find what you love and stick to it! Even what you love to do isn’t always fun or easy at every single moment, so if that foundation is there, even during the more difficult moments you can remind yourself why you’re enduring the temporary struggle. 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I think I would say completing my PhD! I had to motivate myself with reminders that this degree was something I wanted, that I genuinely cared about the work I was doing, and that my work was a valuable new addition to my field. I hope to continue to use what I added to the my field’s knowledge base in the process of finishing my PhD by continuing to expand on how we use satellite measurements of reflected sunlight to study climate change.

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

I don’t know if I can think of a single difficult moment in my career, but I’m typically very hard on myself, particularly when preparing for times when I know I’ll be evaluated. This includes submitting reports or proposals, holding status update meetings, and preparing presentations. During these times, I have found it most helpful to get feedback from external sources such as my colleagues and mentors. The feedback they give me is much more realistic and objective than the particularly harsh criticism I often give myself. Relying more on this external feedback has helped me to evaluate myself a bit more realistically when I’m especially stressed.

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

I have had the honor of crossing paths with many wonderful people from whom I’ve learned several invaluable lessons, but one of the first and most significant influences on my life was my maternal grandfather. He taught me how to read and how to do basic arithmetic at a very young age. He also taught me how to ride a bike, which led to my learning another life lesson from him: “No pain, no gain!” I think I can attribute my tenacity in solving problems to him. He wouldn’t let me give up on tasks and encouraged me to set my mind to them.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?

Even though I always knew that I wanted to do something related to the atmosphere, for a long time, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. Finally, after having some experience doing research in graduate school, I realized that research would be fun and a good fit for me, so I started looking for positions in that vein. I didn’t just expect, however, that I would end up here at NASA Langley! It was a pleasant surprise that there was a good place for me to fit in here.

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

I don’t think I’ve encountered any serious gender barriers. Women are certainly a minority in atmospheric science, and I often realize that I’m either the only woman or one of a mere handful of women in the room. I do appreciate the strong, successful women that I have encountered in my field thus far and the support that I have gotten from them. Whether you encounter gender barriers or not, I would recommend seeking out the community, friendship, and mentorship of the strong women around you so you have the support you need when difficult situations arise.

What does your future hold?

At this point, I haven’t been a NASA a year yet, but I think there are great opportunities here for me to grow as a scientist and leader in my field, and that there are ways that I can contribute to our knowledge base in atmospheric and climate science. Since those are some of my life-long career goals, I hope my future includes continuing to work for NASA for a large chunk of my career (at least!).

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

Learn how to take criticism well! It can be hard to hear critical comments about yourself and your work, but find mentors and colleagues who can deliver direct, constructive criticism without breaking your spirit. Then learn how to use that information to further improve your skills. This has served me well thus far, and I intend to continue to hone this skill of receiving criticism well and using it for my benefit (and ultimately the benefit of others).

Any other advice you would like to leave us with?

Always work hard and try your best regardless of what you do, but remember not to isolate yourself! Yes, it is important to commit yourself to your passions at work, but find other activities outside of work that you enjoy as well. Your brain will thank you for the break and change of pace, and it will likely serve you well in the workplace too!