Shania Sanders

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Check out our latest installment of women in science with this interview with Shania Sanders, and learn about her journey from a intern to a computer programmer at NASA Langley Research Center.

Shania Sanders

Shania Sanders

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?
I started learning about Earth Science as a NASA intern. I loved the fact that you could look at data on your computer and then walk outside and see what you were studying for yourself.

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I work at NASA Langley Research Center as a computer programmer. I actually started out in the office I work in now as an intern. I was pretty excited because I had never worked at a research center before.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Having the ability to work on a lot of different projects is awesome.

What inspired you to work in this field?
High school robotics teams and collaborative projects with local universities inspired me to start working in STEM fields.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
Read the instructions or requirements for whatever you’re building or working on. And once you think you understand them, read them again.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
I was an intern working on a research and development project for a particular type of communication network. When it came time to test the network, I couldn’t get the testing setup right (which meant the project couldn’t move forward). Time for my internship was running out, and I really wanted to get the tests done to ensure that I actually understood the concepts I had been studying. One day, I sat down and thought about everything that went wrong. That’s when I realized that I had been so determined on making one method work that I hadn’t considered trying a completely new approach. I thought that giving up on that one approach meant I was quitting. I completely redesigned the testing approach and was able to finish everything. In the end, I learned that admitting something doesn’t work isn’t quitting. Sometimes you just have to take a different approach to get to your goal.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
My mom and my mentors have had the biggest influence on my life. They taught me that whenever you approach a challenge, approach it with integrity, patience, and a positive attitude.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
When I graduated from high school, my goal was to get a dual degree in mechanical engineering and history. I ended up with a Master’s degree in Computer Science, I’m working on my MBA, and I work as a computer programmer. So things definitely didn’t turn out like I thought they would, but I don’t regret it. I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined by becoming a computer scientist.

What does your future hold?
I have no idea! I can say that I’m pretty excited about the different things I’ll learn and the people I’ll get to work with.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
Don’t quit. If you don’t have the skills to follow up with something you’re interested in, go out and learn what is necessary to gain that skill. If you don’t feel like you’re good at what you do, keep practicing. If you don’t have the tools to make something you think would be cool, make the tools yourself. There are no limits in STEM. So whenever you think that you’ve gotten to a point to where your goal is impossible, try a new path or make a new one. But whatever you do, don’t quit.

 

International Women’s Day

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Today is the day to celebrate the diverse accomplishments of women across the globe. It’s International Women’s Day! According to internationalwomensday.com, this day “marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

Let’s take a quick look at some of the history behind this influential day:

Clara Zetkin

Clara Zetkin

The first National Woman’s Day began in the United States in 1909. Just a year later, at the
second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed the concept of an International Women’s Day. The day was first recognized on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland where “more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination” (internationalwomensday.com).

What values propel this day in history?

DEVELOP Participants at girls in STEM Event

Supporting girls in STEM event

International Women’s Day holds unique meanings for many people, yet the message of equal opportunity, ceremony, and appreciation remain the same.  There are ten identified values behind this celebration:

Justice, Dignity, Hope, Equality, Collaboration, Tenacity, Appreciation, Respect, Empathy, Forgiveness

We hope you are inspired by these values as you celebrate International Women’s Day today!

 

Writing Credit: Christine Stevens
Sources: internationalwomensday.com

Christie Funk

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We’re kicking off our women in science spotlight series with an interview with Christie Funk. Learn about Christie’s path to her current position leading NASA Langley’s Regional Economic Development program and some lessons she’s learned along the way!

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How did you discover your passion for STEM?
I grew up in Virginia Beach near military bases. Jets are just COOL!

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I currently work in the Office of Strategic Analysis, Communications and Business Development (OSACB) leading NASA Langley Research Center’s Regional Economic Development (RED) program. Prior to that, I worked as a Research Aerospace Engineer in the Aeroelasticity Branch at NASA Langley Research Center. I remember my first day of work as if it was just yesterday. I was a Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars (LARSS) student and had my first assignment as an engineering intern in the Aeroelasticity Branch/Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT). I remember the butterflies in my stomach as I drove through the NASA gate for the very first time. I remember how proud I felt to wear my NASA badge. I remember feeling excited, determined to never leave, and terrified that I would fail. On my first day, I was introduced to my mentors; two gentlemen (Dr. Walt Silva and Mr. Boyd Perry, III) who, over the years, would become sources of inspiration, my strongest advocates, my teachers, and my friends. On day one, I stood inside the TDT and felt overwhelmed by where I was, the history wrapped up in the testing conducted there, and the fact that I was standing inside a wind tunnel. Boyd spent time gauging where I was with my knowledge base (or lack thereof) and showed me equations that looked like a foreign language to me (I now know those squiggly characters and matrices represented the Aeroelastic equation of motion). I should mention that I was granted the internship opportunity without having an engineering degree at the time (that’s another story). I returned to my desk and made a game plan: Do whatever it takes to stay here. And so the story goes, head in the books until I understand. I didn’t cry until I left work for the day; I was in over my head. I never thought they would let me stay, but the story had a happy ending.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I get to build things, I get to create things. I get to contribute to an Agency that strives to improve Humankind. I get to be a part of paving the way for future generations.

What inspired you to work in this field?
A combination of seeing my first shuttle launch (Endeavor) and JFK’s famous speech.

“…First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish….” – JFK

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

From left to right: Kimberly Brush, Yolanda Shea, Christie Funk, Denisse Aranda

From left to right: Kimberly Brush, Yolanda Shea, Christie Funk, Denisse Aranda

Perseverance pays off. This lesson sits at the top of my list.
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
If I’m prepared, opportunity will knock.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there. Seek growth.
Recognize and appreciate those who help along the way and pay it forward. People matter.

 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My M.S. in Aerospace Engineering is my greatest accomplishment. My background happens to fall off the beaten path. I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field when I pursued my M.S. At the time, I had a B.A. in Business Management and I was finishing up a non-technical Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science. My M.S. is a shared accomplishment. It is shared with my mentors at NASA, my co-workers, my professors at Old Dominion University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, my family, and my friends. It is the accomplishment that led me to being hired at NASA. Graduation day wasn’t just graduation day. It was a day that marked the result of years and years of mistakes, successes and failures, and true grit.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
I have recently changed jobs at NASA Langley. I began my career as a LARSS student in 2008. I worked in the Aeroelasticity Branch throughout my time as an intern and then during my participation in NASA’s Pathways program. Following graduation, I was hired into the Aeroelasticity Branch. In 2015, I was accepted into NASA’s Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success, and Teamwork (FIRST) leadership development program. Throughout my year in FIRST, I had the opportunity to explore other career paths within NASA. As a result, I sought out a temporary detail position in OSACB. I wanted to merge my business and engineering backgrounds while contributing to the Agency and impacting lives. At the end of my detail, and after much deliberation, I decided to leave my engineering position and continue work in OSACB focusing on regional economic development activities. The decision-making process to make this change taught me to think about what I really want out of my career and what type of impact I want to make. It also taught me that my fear of losing support from colleagues in my previous role was make-believe. As it turned out, the people who had surrounded me throughout my career wanted to help me grow.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
Funk_2The list is too long and there is never just one. The most influential lessons I’ve learned haven’t come from books. “All work is admirable”, something my grandfather once told me because I was embarrassed to be serving sandwiches behind the counter in a Schlotzskys Deli. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall”, Nelson Mandela once said. Humility, kindness, strength, fairness and equality, compassion, integrity, acceptance, and tolerance; the foundations of lessons I’ve learned from others.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
As a former restaurant manager, my wildest dreams never realized NASA was in my future, but here I am. I used to imagine that I would have one job. Within NASA, there are so many opportunities to work in different fields, so I no longer think of my career in the scope of one job. I now think of my career as an opportunity to use my skills and abilities to impact the world through various roles.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
I don’t think I’ve been faced with gender barriers in my career. While the female population in STEM fields is much smaller than the male population, I have only encountered support throughout my career.

What does your future hold?
I have no idea! There was a time when I saw my future-self sitting in a glass window office making those big decisions that help shape NASA’s direction and there was a time when I saw myself working on wind-tunnel models and computing gust loads for most of my career. Now, I see my future-self as striving to work in roles where I can be the best contributor that I can be and where I can make a difference. Clayton Turner, one of my mentors during FIRST, taught me that I can lead from any chair. I see leadership in my future but it no longer matters to me where I sit.

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

Purpose_VennDiagram

 

Hello from the Women@NASA Blog!

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Welcome to the Women@NASA blog! We are reviving the blog beginning this month, Women’s History month. Our blog posts will feature interviews with NASA scientists and other women leaders in STEM fields, highlight significant women in science’s history, and various topics of relevance to NASA and women in science today. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Erika Podest

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How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

I grew up in Panama, a country with an exuberant nature. As a child I often spent my weekends enjoying the outdoors and from a young age I was intrigued by the perfection of nature and its purpose. This curiosity, appreciation, and respect for nature has carried in me and driven my desire to become a scientist focused on Earth Science.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

It’s hard to put my finger on just one thing as there are so many aspects that I love about my work. Anywhere from the multidisciplinary nature of my projects and interacting with scientists from many different fields, to understanding new aspects of Earth’s environment, to doing field work, to ultimately knowing that at the end of the day I am helping better understand our planet and hopefully help preserve it.

What inspired you to work in this field?

It all leads to my exposure to the exuberant nature of my country Panama and my desire to help understand the value of such places so that they can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

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

I am a scientist in the Water and Carbon Cycles Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. On my first day of work I kept reminding myself where I was. It was one of the most exciting days of my life.

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

Perseverance, consistency, and patience are key factors for success. Also, your work is much more enjoyable and satisfying when you love what you are doing.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Helping inspire the next generation of scientists.

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

My father has been the biggest influence in my life. He taught me perseverance, and humility and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. He also built the confidence in me to overcome life’s challenges.

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

It is not different than what I had imagined. Since I can remember I have wanted to pursue a career in Earth Science, however, I never imagined I would be pursuing it at NASA.

What does your future hold?

Professional growth, being involved in the next generation of satellite data for Earth Science studies, and addressing gaps in Earth Science that will help advance our understanding of our planet.

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

Whatever you do always give it your best effort. Become agents of change! As Mahatma Ghandi said “be the change that you wish to see in the world”

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Cynthia Schmidt

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How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?
I’ve had a passion for environmental issues since I was young. When I graduated from college I thought I wanted to go the policy route so became an Urban Planner, but then I was lucky enough to attend the International School for Geo_Information Science and Earth Observation in the Netherlands for 2 years and discovered that I really loved looking at Earth from space. When I returned from the Netherlands I got a job at NASA Ames Research Center in the Earth Science Division and decided that’s what I wanted to do.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
So many things. I primarily work in Applied Sciences which means that I help transfer NASA Earth Science data and technology to federal, state, tribal and international organizations to enhance their decision support. I really enjoy teaching organizations and individuals about NASA remote sensing and learning more about what those organizations do. This job is not only about learning and teaching NASA Earth Science data and technology but it’s also about developing relationships with potential users of the technology. I’ve worked in many different areas from mapping vineyard health to monitoring vector borne diseases. I have been able to travel to many interesting places including many different states and countries including Kenya and Italy. I also love mentoring students. I have been lucky enough to be the science mentor for the NASA DEVELOP internship program for 12 years, plus involved with mentoring Native American students as well. Being a science mentor is extremely rewarding especially when those students continue to work in Earth science.

What inspired you to work in this field?
My passion for the environment and managing natural resources were my primary inspiration. Something about being able to observe the Earth from space really resonated with me. Being able to see the “big picture” with satellite imagery was very exciting and inspiring.

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
I work in the Earth Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center. I was really intimidated and nervous on my first day of work since I knew a little about satellite imagery but not as much as everyone at Ames. I learned almost everything I know about processing satellite imagery at Ames and although the learning curve was quite steep, I had wonderful mentors to help me through.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
I’ve learned that you really need to do what interests you. You need to find a job that you find interesting and challenging and you need to find time for interests outside of your job. I’ve also learned that you need to be flexible and open to different opportunities that come your way.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was recently getting my PhD. My career path has not been very traditional, so although I’ve worked at NASA for a very long time, I did not pursue my doctorate until very recently. It was a dream of mine for a very long time but having a family and spending quality time with my daughters became my priority. Once they were old enough, my husband and I decided it would be a good time to pursue a doctorate. So in 2004 I received my doctorate at the age of 52!

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
One of the most difficult moments of my career was when NASA unexpectedly pulled the funding from 2 multi-year projects of mine after one year due to funding cuts. I was left with almost no funding and had to figure out what to do. I considered going back to school to get a Masters degree in Education but a colleague convinced me that I should pursue my dream of getting a PhD in a science field. That decision has changed my life in so many ways. Not only did it enable me to learn about the latest research in the field but it also gave me additional self-confidence. I am lucky enough to currently be working as an Associate Program manager for NASA Headquarters in large part because of this path I chose to take.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
I don’t think there has been any one person who has had the biggest influence on my life. My influences come from many different places in time and space, from my dad and my husband who have the most positive energy and outlook on life, to my co-workers who I can always go to for advice.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
When I started working after college, I thought I would be focusing on environmental policy and planning. I never would have imagined in a million years that I would be a scientist at NASA.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
Yes, especially when I was younger. There were very few women working in this field so I felt it was very difficult to be taken seriously. Several of my female colleagues and I had to deal with sexual harassment issues.

What does your future hold?
I really love working at NASA and hope to continue to do so until I retire. My husband also works at NASA so we are a real NASA family. I am very interested in project and program management so I hope to get the opportunity to work at NASA Headquarters for a year or two.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
This is so cliché, but follow your passion….do what you really want to do. And I truly believe that a successful career is 75% (or more) about developing good relationships with your co-workers, bosses, collaborators, etc…

Lori Perkins

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How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?
I have loved Earth Science since I was a little girl. I was the only little girl in my class that loved changing cloud patterns, thunderstorms, and lightning.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love that my job gives me the opportunity to explain all sorts of interesting science results and phenomenon.

What inspired you to work in this field?
The Star Wars movies and NASA’s Apollo Program!

Where do you work and do you remember what it was like on your first day of work?
Now, I work at NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. I started at NASA working as a student writing fortran code in a data processing facility that aimed to provide error-free telemetry transmissions from spacecraft to the ground. On my first day, I remember all of my coworkers speaking in acronyms. I didn’t know what the acronyms meant.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in your life?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to throw out an idea that might seem crazy.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I worked on a piece that won the National Science Foundation’s Visualization of the Year. It is a wonderful piece that explains the important connection between the sun and our Earth.

What was the most difficult moment of your career? What did you learn?
Early in my career, I had to choose a technology to use as the core of my software system. I made the best choice at the time, but 6 months later, I realized that my choice was causing larger system errors. I thought my supervisors and project leads would be furious that I needed to change the system to simplify the design. I asked to explain my problem and proposed solution, and they supported me. I learned that at the beginning of a project nobody understands all of the issues.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
NASA has so many amazing scientists and engineers developing groundbreaking
research. It is a privilege to play a small part on this team.

How has your career been different than what you’d imagined?
I completed my Master’s Degree in Computer Science/Telecommunication because I wanted to work in the Space Network to ensure all telemetry would be downloaded efficiently and error-free. That work gave me an opportunity to showcase the science data. I never thought that I would have so many opportunities.

Did you have to overcome any gender barriers in your career?
Everybody faces barriers. I worked in one three-story building that only had one woman’s bathroom. If that bathroom was out of service, I would have to go to another building. Things have changed now!

What does your future hold?
I am optimistic! Remote Sensing information comes from many sources like satellites, balloons, aircrafts, and computer simulations. Data visualizers combine different information collected from different sources to highlight the diverse work of NASA’s scientific community. The data is getting exponentially larger so visualizing it is becoming more important.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to the next generation?
Don’t let anybody tell you that your dreams are impossible. Smart people
figure out solutions to problems that seem impossible at first.

Women’s History Month Shout Out: Dr. Ellen Ochoa

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“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common
is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire –
the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” – Ellen Ochoa

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In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic female astronaut. Her first mission was a nine-day mission aboard the Discovery space shuttle. Over the span of her career, Ochoa served on four space missions. Before becoming an astronaut, Ochoa earned three patents as for optical systems through her work as an engineer. She co-invented an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a noise removal method for imagery.

Ochoa was born in Los Angeles, California in 1958, but views La Mesa, California as her hometown. She has a strong academic background in the sciences, having received a bachelor’s of science in physics from San Diego State University, and a master’s of science and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Ochoa worked, first as a doctoral student at Stanford, and then at NASA Ames Research Center, researching optical systems for image processing. She became the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch manager at Ames and was chosen to be an astronaut in 1990. As an astronaut, Ochoa logged nearly 1000 space flight hours.

Ochoa-Astronaut-CorpsThroughout her career, Ochoa has been recognized for her many accomplishments. She has received several awards from NASA including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals. In addition, Ochoa has also received the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award and The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity. Four schools have also been named in her honor.

Since 2012, Ochoa has served as the 11th director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She is JSC’s first Hispanic and second female director. Ochoa is married with two children. She and her family live in Houston.

Writing Credit: Georgina Crepps
Sources: Johnson Space Center,  NASA Astronaut Bio: Ellen Ochoa

Check out the PBS documentary MAKERS: Women in Space to learn more about Dr. Ochoa and other women pioneers in the U.S. space program!

Women Celebrating Earth Science

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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 scientist, Melissa Yang.  We hope you learn a bit from Dr. Yang and feel the same inspiration we did when we interviewed her! To learn more about the celebration, click here or here in Spanish.

Yang

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

When I got into graduate school, I had the option of either joining a research group that worked on materials or one that worked on studying the atmosphere and the air that we breathe. Before this point, I had never imagined that there were people studying the air in such detail, probing different parts of the atmosphere, trying to understand the chemistry and dynamics of it. In 2006, as part of my thesis work, I had the opportunity to participate in my first NASA airborne field campaign – INTEX-B. This is where my passion for the Earth Sciences developed. I was in awe that there were actually planes flying above us measuring the air that we breathe. The complexity of the atmosphere and its chemistry amazed and thrilled me.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Sharing what I do with others, and trying to get them as excited as I am about the work that we do here at NASA.

What inspired you to work in this field?

My research advisor in graduate school was my biggest inspiration. He introduced me to the world of airborne science and to the research that was being done by the various groups.

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

I work in the Chemistry and Dynamics Branch at the NASA Langley Research Center. I was very nervous on my first day and super excited. I remember walking into the building and not believing that I had a job at NASA. It was a great day! Some days, I still have to remind myself that I actually work at NASA and I get all excited all over again!

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?

I am an atmospheric chemist, an experimentalist. A lot of my work involves going into the field and collecting data, and most of the time this is on an airborne platform. The aircraft is usually my laboratory and the skies my test bed. A lot of the work we do involves flying around the world mapping the emissions from different continents and over different bodies of water. We study the chemistry and composition of plumes and try to determine their origin.

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

Always be humble, honest and true to yourself. Remember to have perspective in everything you do.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Achieving my goal to work at NASA one day.

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

The most difficult moment in my career was dealing with being in an uncomfortable position and trying to deal with it on my own. What I have learned is that I need to ask for help when I need it, and I need to have perspective and try to understand things from another person’s point of view – my point of view is not the only one out there.

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

There are two people who have been the biggest influence on my life to date. One is my graduate student advisor, Donald Blake, who I mentioned previously, and the other is my mentor, Waleed Abdalati, who I met through a NASA leadership training course I took in 2012.

Don Blake taught me to always be humble and that every job out there is equally important towards getting the mission done. He taught me how to look at data meticulously and carefully and not rush through things. He taught me that I can do anything I want to as long as I work hard and put my mind to it.

Waleed has taught me to look at things from different perspectives, as there is always more than one perspective. He has taught me to be open-minded and to explore all options. He is such a great leader, and his overall charisma and demeanor is something that I hope to model one day.

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

I am not sure that I imagined what it would be other than doing what I love doing. And I am still doing that!

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

Yes, and unfortunately I think that even though we are in the 21st century, discrimination still exists even among my peers.

What does your future hold?

I would like to think a lot of great things!

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

Have perspective in everything you do, keep an open mind and always be true to yourself and never take yourself too seriously.

NASA DEVELOP’s Lauren Childs-Gleason and Jamie Favors

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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

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