Author Archives: mnagaraja

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 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.

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 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!

Women in History Shout Out

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“… In that very straightforward way, Fran was part of the generation of women who blazed trails for girls and women who followed. That legacy of open doors is part of what she leaves behind. We are all the richer for it.” – Robin Greenler, Family Friend

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Frances Dunkle Coffin (1922-2012) was born in a small town in central Pennsylvania and earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  After a brief stint working as a paint chemist for the Armstrong Cork Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Frances entered Cornell University’s graduate school in 1945, where she studied and worked with Simon Bauer and Richard Feynman, among others.

She completed her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1950 with a thesis entitled “An Investigation of the Acid Catalyzed Hydrolysis of Gamma-Butyrolactone”.  Frances then moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work at what was known at that time as the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory.  (It has since been renamed the NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field.)  In 1951, she married Kenneth Putnam Coffin, a colleague at NASA whom she had met while doing graduate work at Cornell.

While at NASA, Frances focused her research in the field of thermodynamics and crystallography.  After having three  daughters, she worked part time for NASA from 1961 until 1971, when she left NASA.  While her children were young, Frances kept busy volunteering for the Girl Scouts, environmental causes, her local church, and the United Way.  Later, she returned to chemistry, teaching classes at Baldwin Wallace College and local community colleges.  During this period of her career, she was instrumental in introducing microscale chemistry to the curriculum, because of her interest in the environment.

Frances died in 2012 at Kendal at Oberlin in Ohio, where she and Kenneth enjoyed an active retirement in the company of friends from NASA and Cornell. She is survived by her three daughters and  by four grandsons, the older two of whom are carrying on the scientific tradition by studying mathematics and physics at college.

Writing Credit: The Coffin Family
Quote Credit: Robin Greenler is a close family friend who works in science education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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.

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