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

“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


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

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.


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

Jamie and Lauren at the DEVELOP Table at AGU

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

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

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

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

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

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

What interests you most about Earth science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Celebrating Earth Science

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

Yolanda Roberts

How did you discover your passion for Earth Science?

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

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

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

What inspired you to work in this field?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does your future hold?

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

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

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

Any other advice you would like to leave us with?

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

Women in History Shout Out

“… 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


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.

NASA DEVELOP @ GSFC: Katrina Laygo & Melissa Oguamanam

Today let us introduce you to Katrina Laygo and Melissa Oguamanam from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Melissa and Katrina are the Center Leads for the DEVELOP Program’s Goddard location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues. 

Melissa Oguamanam & Katrina Laygo | Image Credit: Melanie Rosenberg
Melissa Oguamanam and Katrina Laygo, GSFC DEVELOP Center Leads
Image Credit: Melanie Rosenberg

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?

Katrina: During one winter quarter at UCLA, a DEVELOP student visited our Geography Department and gave a presentation on the program with examples of projects that had been completed. I was so impressed with how direct of an impact these DEVELOP students were making on their communities and how closely they brought NASA Earth observations to addressing environmental concerns. Before that point, I did not know how I could be involved with NASA, and had very little background knowledge on the agency. DEVELOP opened up an incredible opportunity to contribute to the agency and to the nation. 
Melissa at GSFC | Image Credit: Luciano Rodriguez

Melissa: I first read about DEVELOP at NASA Goddard in an email from my academic adviser the summer before my senior year of undergrad. My eyes widened and I knew it was an opportunity that I could not pass up and immediately began working on my application. I felt that this internship program was the perfect fit for me. When I applied, I was hoping for an opportunity to work with NASA scientists to use geospatial technology to examine issues in Earth science and apply what I had learned in school to real world problems. Little did I know that my experience with the DEVELOP Program would encompass all of the above and more! 

What interests you the most about Earth science? 

Katrina: On my childhood bookshelf was the World Book Encyclopedia Set (Children’s Edition). Along with my bicycle and my art supplies, this was probably one of my favorite possessions. I remember reading about incredible places such as Angel Falls in Venezuela – the highest waterfall in the world – the great depths of the Mariana Trench, the Mississippi River, Rafflesia flowers blooming in Borneo, and the Cape of Good Hope. This added to my curiosity about the natural world around me and inspired me to someday visit these places (I’m happy to say that I’ve checked the Cape of Good Hope off my list). The aspect about Earth science that interests me the most is studying the processes by which these natural wonders formed in great detail with the application of remote sensing, and to better understand how they affect us, and how we affect them. I am most interested in oceanography and biogeography. 

Melissa: Everything: its complexity, mystery, and beauty. The Earth is a reflection of many events that occur in life. It is so powerful. It is powerful enough to support life and provide all the resources needed to sustain life. And it is also powerful enough to be destructive at the same time. I am amazed about how everything on Earth is connected and how the Earth is always changing. By just walking outside and observing your surroundings, you can learn something new about the Earth every day. 

What role does NASA play in your life/career?

Melissa: Whether it is assisting with weather forecasting and emergency disaster management, or providing Earth observing satellite imagery for studying deforestation, NASA plays a huge role in my life and career both directly and indirectly. NASA is playing a huge role in creating tools to monitor the Earth, establishing historical records of changes that have occurred. It is up to us as Earth scientists to make use of all this data, understand it, and apply it for better environmental management and policy decisions. 

Katrina at Kennedy Space Center | Image Credit: Melissa Ogumanam

Katrina: NASA has inspired me to be a leader, to broaden my scientific research and communication skills, and to challenge myself to both pursue and create opportunities that I otherwise would not have considered. I thoroughly enjoy the people I work with at NASA and have created lasting relationships with my fellow interns and my mentors. Before my participation in DEVELOP, I had not considered pursuing a graduate degree. I am now a M.A. candidate for International Science and Technology Policy, with a concentration in Space Policy, at the George Washington University. I am considering how to shape an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Earth Science and Geodetic Engineering, bringing my space policy experience from GWU. NASA nurtured my love for science, engineering, and policy and I am inspired by the challenges – intimidating at times – that these disciplines bring. In the spirit of the Mars Curiosity Rover slogan: I want to “dare mighty things.” 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Melissa: So far, I would say that my greatest accomplishment is deciding to enter the challenging STEM field. I look forward to the many possibilites that will come about from joining this exciting and growing field. The sky is the limit! 

Katrina: I am very proud of how I have been able to directly apply my education in Geography and Environmental Studies from UCLA and in International Science and Technology Policy from GWU to my career experiences and vice versa. It was such a dream come true to have sat in my UCLA Geography Lab during Spring Quarter, conducting an ecological forecasting project using NASA Earth observations, and then to have found myself at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that summer working on a similar project! Being surrounded by incredibly talented and welcoming scientists and engineers and working at a legendary institution, it felt very surreal at times. Attending graduate school in Washington, D.C. has greatly engaged me with the policy community and enhanced my ability to communicate with a variety of end users. 

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?
Katrina at JPL | Image Credit: Seth GorelikKatrina: When I entered college, I started as a Film Production major. There were days when I worked 18 hours on film sets or was stuck in the infamous Los Angeles traffic with multiple location film shoots. As a consequence, I have learned that the academic and career path you choose is also a lifestyle decision. I did not feel that this was the educational path and lifestyle I wanted to have. I loved film making, but I also loved studying the natural environment. After much consideration, I became a Geography and Environmental Studies major and I have not looked back since. I greatly appreciate the skills I gained from film school and still have a love for visual storytelling. With DEVELOP, we have filmed short documentaries of our projects for the public. Hosted by Earthzine, these videos are a fantastic way to communicate the benefits of NASA Earth science to a broad audience. I have enjoyed applying skills gained from film school to these videos!

MelissaI struggled withdeciding whether to enter graduate school directly after undergrad or waiting until after I gained some additional work experience. I decided to apply to graduateschool during my senior year to keep my options open. I was accepted into acouple of strong graduate programs, so when the time came to make a decision Iwas happy to have programs to choose from when I finally decided that I did want to go tograd school later in the year. I learned that it is good to keep your optionsopen in case exciting opportunities arise.

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

MelissaI would say that my family is the biggest influence in my life. They have instilled in me the value of being grateful for all the opportunities that come my way. They also inspire me to never forget where I come from and to give back to my community. 

Katrina: My parents and my sister are the biggest influences in my life. They always keep me grounded and endlessly encourage me to pursue my academic and career endeavors. My father is an architect, my mother is a registered nurse, and my sister is an EMT with aspirations for medical school. I am so inspired by their accomplishments and their perseverance between work and life at home and in school. They take pride in what they do and it is humbling to watch them in action. I am grateful for their love and support. 

How has your academic or professional career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?

Melissa conducting fieldwork in a Florida mangrove forest | Image Credit: Katrina LaygoMelissa: In college, I studied Geography. I’m still an early career scientist. I never expected to be working at NASA completing earth science research projects. I was surprised about the amount of opportunity available with DEVELOP internship program such as working with amazing scientists, performing field work, attending seminars, and presenting my research. The journey has been amazing so far. 

Katrina: I am currently a M.A. candidate in International Science and Technology Policy, with a concentration in Space Policy, at the George Washington University. My research interests are in assessing the challenges of maritime security and disaster management in Southeast Asia and their implications for the economic, political, and security environments in the region. 

What does your future hold?

Katrina: Becoming a leader in the space industry. Traveling the world. Pursuing Earth science research in Southeast Asia. Engaging in science diplomacy. Integrating my educational and career experiences into humanitarian causes. Space travel. 

Melissa: I definitely want to stay in the geospatial technology field. With the growing human population and more people moving into urban areas, there is a need to address, manage, and analyze the ever-changing landscape and environmental concerns using specialized tools. I would like to use the skills I learn as a GIS/Remote Sensing Scientist to help manage and solve environmental issues that occur around the world and in West Africa in particular. I would love to be involved with projects that deal with agriculture and food policy, urban ecology, terrestrial ecosystems, wild fires, deforestation, and environmental health. Participating in the evolving African space industry has been a dream of mine as well.

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

Melissa: Take advantage of opportunities made available to you. Preparation is key. Research, study, hone your craft, gain valuable skills, and know how to market yourself. And then go for it! It’s never too late to start over and work with what you have to reach your goals. Review the issues you need to overcome, make a plan, and begin from there.

Katrina: Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t doubt yourself or your abilities. Whether this is in speaking up at a meeting, participating in a class discussion, accepting a challenging task, asking for guidance from your science advisors, or in networking at a conference – those are just a few of many examples. It has been very challenging for me at times to follow through with this, but when I have done so, it has been immensely rewarding!

Women's History Month Shout Out: Beate Sirota Gordon

“[She was] the woman who in February 1946 wrote the women’s clause of Japan’s new draft constitution, the impresario who for almost 40 years brought thoughtful, dazzling and original Japanese and Asian performing arts to American audiences”
– Nassrine Azimi 

Beate Sirota Gordon in Japan in 1946. Image retrieved from the Asia Society, courtesy of the Gordon family
Beate Sirota Gordon in Japan in 1946

Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012) was a long-unsung heroine of Japanese women’s rights, having written them into Japan’s post-World War II Constitution. First at the Japan Society and then the Asia Society, she worked tirelessly to introduce North American audiences to authentic and traditional artists from across Asia.

Beate (pronounced bay-AH-tay) was born in Vienna to Leo Sirota, the renowned Ukranian concert pianist, and the former Augustine Horenstein on 25 October 1923. The family moved to Tokyo when Beate was 5, where her father taught at the Imperial Academy of Music and she absorbed both Japanese language and culture. In 1939, just before she turned 16, Beate left for Mills College in Oakland, Calif. while her parents remained in Japan. 

In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor made it impossible for Beate to contact her parents, leaving her alone with no financial support. While still a student at Mills, Beate put her foreign language skills (she was fluent in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and Russian) to use, monitoring radio broadcasts from Tokyo for a United States government listening post in San Francisco. At that time, she was one of 100 Caucasians in the entire United States who were fluent in Japanese. She graduated from Mills College in 1943 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1945.  

When WWII ended, she still did not know whether her parents were alive or dead. Beate joined General MacArthur’s staff as an interpreter, and arrived in a devastated Tokyo on Christmas Eve, 1945. She found her parents malnourished but safe, having been interned in the countryside.

Beate was the only female assigned to MacArthur’s top-secret constitutional committee, charged with drafting Japan’s post-war constitution in just 7 days, a task which the Japanese government had failed to accomplish twice. As “the only woman in the room”, she was tasked with composing the section on women’s rights. She produced what became Article 24 of the Constitution of Japan

“Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”

Growing up she saw how women were treated in Japan; they were usually married to men they did not know, could inherit nothing, and could even be bought and sold like chattel. Beate understood the importance of having women’s rights recognized in the Constitution itself, and fought to preserve Article 24 in spite of protests from the Japanese negotiators. The 25-year oath of secrecy imposed upon the committee members kept her contributions to women’s rights unknown for decades.

Following her return to the United States, Beate worked to introduce North American audiences to traditional arts and performances from across Asia, first at the Japan Society and later the Asia Society. She traveled the continent scouring for talent, bringing Vietnamese water puppets, Javanese dancers, Korean pansori singers, and many others to stages throughout the United States and Canada. 

Women's History Month Shout Out: Pearl I. Young

“Pearl Young was indeed a remarkable woman. She was not only the first female professional employee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), she was also a teacher, journalist, lecturer, author and world traveler.” – W. Hewitt Phillips

Pearl Young in the Instrument Research Laboratory at what is now NASA Langley Research Center

In 1922, Pearl I. Young (1895-1968) became the first woman hired as a technical employee, a physicist, of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that was the predecessor to NASA. The contributions she made led the way for professional women at Langley Research Center.

Pearl Young grew up in North Dakota and left home at age 11 to work as a domestic in order to attend high school. She also worked her way through college, graduating in 1919 from the University of North Dakota (UND) as a Phi Beta Kappa with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Following graduation, Young was offered a faculty position in the UND Department of Physics, where she taught for two years. In 1922 she accepted an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the NACA (now NASA Langley Research Center) in Hampton, VA. She became the first professional woman employee at Langley and the second female physicist working for the federal government.

In 1929, Young was appointed as Langley’s first ever Chief Technical Editor. Perhaps her most lasting contribution to the NACA and NASA was setting up an editorial office and writing the “Style Manual for Engineering Authors”, a manual that set the format for reports on research conducted at Langley and was subsequently adopted by all of the NACA Centers.

Young was also a part-time reporter and feature editor for the regional newspaper, earning a front-page by-line for her interview of Eleanor Roosevelt. Young did not only report on noteworthy people and events. She experienced adventure firsthand, paying $800 for round trip ticket No. 1 on the first flight of the airship Hindenburg in 1936. She was one of the 50 passengers on the airship’s first flight, about a year before it crashed in flames into New Jersey. 

In 1943, Pearl Young left Langley for the brand-new NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (now NASA Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, OH, where she trained the lab’s new technical editing staff. At the end of World War II, Young resigned her post as chief technical editor of the NACA and returned to teaching, accepting a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State College (now Penn State University). In 1957 she returned to Lewis Laboratory, where she conducted specialized bibliographical work until her retirement from NASA in 1961.

Sources:  North Dakota NASA Space Grant ConsortiumUND Discovery; Speech given by W. Hewitt Phillips, Langley Distinguished Research Associate, during the dedication ceremony of the Pearl I. Young Theater at NASA Langley Research Center (August 22, 1995)

International Women's Day 2013

Hello Women@NASA Blog Readers!

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day in which we honor and celebrate the contributions of women as well as recommit ourselves to fight for the rights of women and girls around the world. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Women@NASA blog will be featuring a weekly Women in History Shout Out

This week we are highlighting a woman whose bravery and efforts truly embody the 2013 United Nation’s International Women’s Day theme: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. 

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Today’s Women’s History Month Shout Out is to Fartun Abdisalaan Adan, Executive Director of Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia. Ms. Fartun Adan is one of the 2013 recipients of the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. This award annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.

The International Women of Courage Award ceremony begins at 3 p.m. EST and will be livestreamed at www.state.gov. Attendees and those watching the livestream are encouraged to use the Twitter hashtag #IWOC and #IWD when discussing the events.

Fartun Adan - State Dept Image

Image Credit: U.S. Department of State
Ms. Fartun Adan is the Executive Director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, a Somali NGO based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ms. Adan has been a champion of human and women’s rights, peace-building, the rehabilitation of child soldiers across Somalia, and the support of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) victims. She and her husband, Elman, worked as peace activists for many years, taking in child soldiers, providing them with education and job training, and reintegrating them into the community. In 1996, Somali warlords assassinated her husband for their peacemaking efforts. After Ms. Adan’s husband was murdered, his family took over the organization, leaving her with nothing. Without financial means, Ms. Adan fled to Canada as a refugee where she raised her three daughters.  
In 2007, at the height of conflict in Mogadishu, Ms. Adan returned to Somalia to continue the work that she and her husband had begun; beginning by restarting the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre’s vital programs. Ms. Adan initiated a Sister Somalia program in 2010 to support SGBV victims who had survived rapes and/or escaped forced marriages. In addition to this program, Ms. Adan established the first sexual violence hotline and rape crisis center in Somalia in 2011. Since its founding, the center has served over 400 Somali women and girls, providing counseling and medical services, entrepreneurial skills training, business start-up kits and funding, as well as relocation to a safe haven. The Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre continues to reintegrate former child soldiers back into society through education and job training skills. On average, 350 youths are trained through this program each year, and Ms. Adan plans to expand this number to 700 for 2013.

NASA DEVELOP: Yanina G. Colberg

Today let us introduce you to Yanina G. Colberg from the Wise County/City of Norton Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Yanina is a Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Wise County, VA location. NASA’s DEVELOP Program is a student-led research internship that focuses on using NASA Earth observations to address community concerns and public policy issues.

Hoy quisiera introducir a Yanina G. Colberg del Condado de Wise/Ciudad de Norton de la Oficina de la Secretaría de la Corte de Circuito. Yanina es la Administradora del Programa de DEVELOP que está localizado en Wise County, Virginia. El Programa de NASA DEVELOP consiste en investigaciones dirigidas por estudiantes que se enfocan en el uso de observaciones de la Tierra hechas por sistemas de satélites de la NASA para dirigirse a las preocupaciones de la comunidad y las decisiones de las politicas públicas.

Yanina G. Colberg, NASA DEVELOP Wise County Center Lead

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?

What inspired me to apply to DEVELOP was a desire to grow professionally and I saw DEVELOP as an opportunity where I could learn something new every day. DEVELOP promotes STEM and with my science background it is a good fit for me because I am learning and gaining work experience while I complete my studies. One of the things that made it very appealing to apply was the fact that I would be learning new techniques through software such as ArcGIS and other tools that I didn’t know and I was able to learn. Also, DEVELOP allowed me to meet a lot of cool and interesting people that helped me through the learning process. DEVELOP helps communities (both domestic and international) to address their environmental issues with the aim of enhancing policies and decision making.

¿Qué te inspiró aplicar a DEVELOP?

Lo que me inspiró solicitar al programa DEVELOP fue el deseo que tenía para crecer profesionalmente y vi DEVELOP como una oportunidad donde yo podría aprender algo nuevo todos los días. DEVELOP promueve STEM y con mi trasfondo en la Ciencia era apropiado para mí. Adicionalmente, estoy aprendiendo y ganando experiencia laboral mientras completo mis estudios. Una de las cosas que me motivó a solicitar fue el hecho de aprender nuevas técnicas a través de “software” como ArcGIS y otras herramientas las cuales no conocía y fui capaz de aprender. También, DEVELOP me ha permitido conocer mucha gente estupenda e interesante que me han ayudado en mi proceso de aprendizaje. DEVELOP ayuda a comunidades (ambas domestica e internacional) haciendo referencia en situaciones ambientales con el objetivo de mejorar las pólizas y las tomas de decisiones.

What interests you most about Earth science?

Earth science has always interested me even as a kid, it was very interesting to learn how planet Earth works and to understand how one person can do little things to help our planet. For me remote sensing and the use of satellite data are particularly valuable and these areas are what interest me the most. You can use all the data to illustrate how changes occur in different parts of the world. By applying NASA satellite data and tools we can see which areas of our planet are being affected and we can perform research that will lead to well informed decisions on what different countries can do to restore these areas.

¿Qué es lo más que te interesa de la Ciencia Terrestre?

La Ciencia Terrestre siempre me ha interesado, cuando era una niña encontraba bien interesante aprender como el planeta Tierra trabaja e incluso aprender cómo una persona puede aportar aún en medidas pequeñas para ayudar el planeta. Para mí la Teledetección y el uso de data satelital son particularmente valiosas y son estas las áreas que mas me interesan. Podemos utilizar toda la data para ilustrar como los cambios ocurren en diferentes partes del mundo. Mediante la aplicación de la data y herramientas de los satélites de NASA podemos determinar las áreas en nuestro planeta que están afectadas, esto es conducente a la investigación que a su vez nos guía a informarnos sobre lo que diferentes países pueden hacer para restaurar las áreas afectadas tomando decisiones de calidad. 

What role does NASA play in your life/career?

NASA helps me to understand how the planet Earth works and it has opened a lot of doors for me. I am able to learn something different every day. I am so proud to say that I am working with this organization because I believe I am helping make change for the better. I also find it interesting that I have the opportunity to do a lot more than just research. I am able to communicate with other people (clients, science advisors, researchers, etc.) in a professional way and learn how to develop both science and business skills by interacting with them.

¿Qué papel juega la NASA en tú vida/carrera?

NASA me ha estimulado a un desarrollo comprensivo ilimitado y proporcionado un mundo de oportunidades prácticas que me han llevado a nuevos niveles de conocimiento sobre como el planeta Tierra trabaja. Adicionalmente, se han abierto muchas puertas para mí. Estoy bien orgullosa de decir que estoy trabajando con esta organización porque me siento que estoy contribuyendo en cambios de mejoras para bien. También encuentro interesante tener la oportunidad de hacer mucho más que solo investigación. Me capacita para la comunicación con otros; clientes, asesores científicos, investigadores en el ámbito profesional y aprendo cómo desarrollar ambas habilidades en la ciencia y el negocio interactuando con ellos.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I think every challenge that I face I accomplish and I always do my best to achieve it. I am in the process of acquiring my master’s degree while I continue working for DEVELOP and I think that I am in a great place. I work with amazing people and produce projects to help other countries. I love what I do and to do something that matters is my biggest accomplishment.

¿Qué consideras tu mayor logro?

Yo pienso que cada reto que enfrento lo completo y siempre hago mi mayor esfuerzo para lograrlo. Estoy en el proceso de obtener mi grado de maestría mientras continúo trabajando en DEVELOP y pienso que estoy en un gran lugar. Yo trabajo con gente maravillosa y producimos proyectos para ayudar otros países. Yo amo lo que hago y hacer algo que realmente importa es mi mayor logro.

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?

Every day I have to make different decisions but one that was most difficult for me was to move to follow my dreams. I come from Puerto Rico and I was a little afraid that maybe I was trying to do something in my life that may not work and I wanted to succeed, I want to be someone in my life that does something to help the people of the world and that opportunity was in the United States working with the DEVELOP Program. It is not easy to be away from family, but when you really want something you have to go and get it. Now I have not only developed more skills professionally, but I have also gained another family. I learned to take the risk no matter what happens, because you always learn and gain experiences that will be useful further along in life. 

¿Puede usted describir un tiempo donde haya tomado una decisión difícil y que aprendiste por las consecuencias?

Todos los días tengo que tomar numerosas decisiones, pero la decisión más difícil fue relocalizarme fuera de mi tierra para alcanzar mis sueños. Yo soy de Puerto Rico fue un gran paso para mi apartarme de mi hogar e inevitable el sentimiento de duda cuando se trataba de los resultados, quiero tener éxito. Por otro lado tenía bien claro que mis oportunidades para ser parte de algo significativo y edificar en mi futuro haciendo lo que me gusta apoyando iniciativas y personas alrededor del mundo era en los Estados Unidos desarrollando mis talentos a través del programa DEVELOP. No es fácil estar lejos de mi familia, pero cuando verdaderamente quieres algo tienes que ir tras ello. Actualmente, no solo he desarrollado mi capacidad profesional y mi carácter, también he encontrado una nueva familia. He aceptado los cambios y ajustes y he aprendido a confiar en mi naturaleza e instintos. A través de esta vivencia he adquirido conocimiento que es y será útil largos años por venir. 

Yanina G. Colberg at LaRC Hangar

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

Every person in my life influences me, but the people that influence me the most are my parents and my husband. My parents always believe in me and they told me to always follow my dreams. My husband supports me in everything that I do and he tells me all the time that I have to do what makes me happy. My family is always there for me no matter what and helps me when I need them the most. 

¿Quién ha sido la mayor influencia en tu vida, y que lección te enseñaron?

Yo firmemente creo que todas las personas en nuestro camino tocan nuestras vidas, pero las personas que más me han influenciado han sido mis padres y mi esposo. Mis padres siempre han creído en mí y siempre me dijeron que siguiera mis sueños. Mi esposo me apoya en todo lo que yo hago y él me dice todo el tiempo que debo hacer aquello que me hace feliz. Mi familia siempre ha estado presente en mi vida no importa la situación y me ayudan cuando más los necesito.

What would you like to study in college? How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?

I am currently doing a Master’s in Space Studies with a Concentration in Remote Sensing and working with DEVELOP. I had a great opportunity to be part of the DEVELOP Program and it has surprised me in many different ways. I am able to do research in collaboration with students in other countries, something that I never imagined I would have the opportunity to do. All of the people that work with me have different backgrounds and we constantly learn from each other. Each of us is unique and we help each other so that at the end we have a valuable final product for our partners. I love to show people what I do and like to get involved in everything that I can in order to make a positive impact in my community and hopefully one day the world.

¿Qué te gustaría estudiar en la Universidad? ¿Cómo tu carrera te ha sorprendido y te ha dado oportunidades inesperadas?

Actualmente estoy haciendo una maestría en Estudios del Espacio con una concentración en Teledetección y además trabajo con DEVELOP. He tenido una gran experiencia educativa siendo parte del programa DEVELOP; El conocimiento adquirido dirigiendo proyectos exploratorios y analítica acerca del medioambiente en diversas partes del mundo ha sido de proporción inmensurable. Yo dirijo un equipo de estudiantes brillantes en la investigación del medioambiente en otros países, algo que nunca imaginé tendría la oportunidad de hacer. Todos los miembros del equipo vienen de diferentes trasfondos y constantemente hemos aprendido uno del otro, todos extraordinarios. Trabajamos arduamente para presentar un producto conclusivo de calidad para nuestros asociados de negocios. Me encanta enseñar a otros  lo que hago y me gusta involucrarme en todo lo que pueda para tener un impacto positivo en mi comunidad y ojalá algún día en el mundo.

What does your future hold?

In the future I see myself doing big things. I would like to be working in the space industry and collaborating with other scientific minds. I will never stop learning, I want to do a PhD and keep helping people. Apart from the professional field, I want to have a big family in the future. 

¿Qué es lo que te espera el futuro?

En el futuro me veo haciendo cosas grandes. Me gustaría trabajar en la Industria Espacial colaborando con otras mentes científicas. Yo nunca pararé de aprender, quiero obtener un Doctorado y seguir ayudando gente, aparte de mi campo profesional quiero tener una familia grande.

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

A piece of advice to everyone is to follow your dreams and nurture what makes you happy. Always believe in yourself, trust your instincts in the way to attain your goals. Ultimately it is purpose what will drive you to accomplishments, make sure a define purpose leads your way.  

¿Qué consejo te gustaría dar a quién lee tu historia?

Un consejo para todos, es que vayan tras sus sueños y nutre lo que te hace feliz. Siempre cree en ti mismo, confía en tus instintos para llegar al camino de alcanzar tus metas. Finalmente, lo que te guiará a obtener tus logros es el propósito que inspira a lograr las metas. Hay que asegurarse de que el propósito esté bien definido.

Yanina G. Colberg at ESRI