Category Archives: Earth Explorers

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.