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!

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

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


Today let us introduce you to Ande Ehlen from NASA Langley Research Center. Ande is the Center Lead for the DEVELOP Program’s Great Lakes 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.

Ande Ehlen, NASA DEVELOP Great Lakes Center Lead

What inspired you to apply for DEVELOP?
My love for science started as a little girl growing up in Florida. I was always surrounded by new adventures, from tree climbing to exploring tide pools. I pursued my interests in science through my academic career and was lucky enough to stumble across the DEVELOP Program my senior year of college. I was drawn to the scientific and professional experience I would gain through an internship while still being able to attend school. The opportunities offered by the DEVELOP Program seemed endless, and have continued to prove so.

What interests you most about Earth science?
When I was little, my family always took camping and canoeing trips. We traveled a lot, and something about the environment has always sparked something within me. I’ve always been really interested in marine science, ecological relationships, environmental conservation, and field research. I followed my interests and even obtained my Advanced Certification for scuba diving! Earth science is a great field to study. There’s always something to learn or research in order to continue proving and finding solutions for complex environmental issues. Plus, we’ve got to take care of what’s close to us here at home!

What role does NASA play in your life/career?
My experience with NASA has shown me that working here is full of all kinds of opportunity. It’s about learning, growing, and networking. I’ve gained substantial skills in research analysis, GIS, remote sensing, and NASA’s capabilities. I’ve grown in my leadership skills, professional development, and working both individually and as a member of a team. I’ve also learned about myself and my capabilities. Lastly, the people I’ve made connections with through my experience with NASA are immense. Interacting with environmental groups, some of the world’s top scientists, and various policy makers has opened up many doors for my future.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
With this question, several things come to mind. I could list many things I’ve overcome in life that I am proud of, such as moving around a lot or achieving a degree in a challenging field. However, all I can think is that at 22 years old, I’ve really only begun to achieve greatness. I’m on the right track – my greatest accomplishment (so far) is simply having the ability to work toward writing my life’s legacy. I’ve only written the prologue, and there’s a lifetime of great accomplishments ahead. But so far, it’s everything I’ve done that’s helped me to arrive at this very moment. I couldn’t be more proud of myself for where I am today. Ande at the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park!

Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision and what you learned as a consequence?
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make was when my mother moved to Indiana the summer before my senior year of college. My older brother and sister already lived in Indiana, along with my nieces and nephew. It was difficult enough knowing how little I got to see them and now with my mother moving too, I felt very alone. I was torn between moving to Indiana after graduation, or staying in Virginia and seeing where that path may take me. Staying here in Virginia was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make, but also one of the best. I’ve discovered a lot about myself and my capabilities. I’ve also learned about independence, and that distance is just a number. Family is always within reach.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life, and what lessons did they teach you?
There’s one person who always encourages me through my academia, goals, work, and dreams. My mother has taught me what unconditional love is, to always be true to my abilities, and that no struggle is too large to overcome. She’s opened my eyes up to seeing that there is always someone to support you, and things could be so much worse. Through my mom’s aspirations and leading by example, I’ve learned to always accept new challenges and live fearlessly. You never know where you may end up.

How has your career surprised you or given you unexpected opportunities?
I’ve really gained a grasp of the capabilities of NASA Earth Observing Systems in studying environmental issues, from something as large as a hurricane to as small as one lake with water quality issues. I never thought I’d be studying so many various issues by using satellite data, and then be able to teach the methodology to end users who can benefit from it. However, I truly never expected to present my project and methodology to 35+ mayors and policy makers from around the Great Lakes this past June. I was the youngest person at the conference, and it was in Quebec, Canada! I was very nervous, but it was such a unique and rewarding opportunity and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

What does your future hold?
The future is always a mystery. I’m never afraid to explore new paths and take on new challenges. Ultimately however, I’d like to secure a challenging position with an environmental sciences focus and be helping with conservation or working to study environmental issues. I’d also like to return to school to receive my M. S. in a related field.

What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to those who read your story?
Ask questions. Spend time outside. Travel every chance you can. Explore your interests, no matter how little talent you may have in them. Work hard… you’ve got nothing to lose. Learn everything you can about yourself. Make sure those you care about most know how much they mean to you. Always expect the unexpected – anything can (and will) happen! And finally… enjoy science!

Earth Science Week: Hurricanes and Motivation

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

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

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. 

The Excitement of Curiosity

It’s been an exciting few days, from the chanting of “NASA! NASA! NASA!” in Times Square to the cover of major news outlets like CNN.  After all, the latest of NASA’s rovers landed on Mars at 1:31ET on August 6, 2012.  What makes this rover so different from its predecessors?  Sheer size!  Think of the others like remote control cars with which young kids  play and think of Curiosity like the real life sized version of an SUV.  Imagine having to remotely land such a beast in a terrain for which you only have pictures at best. With the scientific world watching and dollar signs hovering nearby.  All things aside, the successful landing is a huge technological advancement and that alone is exciting!  The upcoming two years of discovery are surely promising.  To celebrate a such a moment in our space program’s history, Women@NASA spoke with Ann Devereaux at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the center responsible for NASA’s unmanned space program.  Ann is the deputy lead engineer for the descent, entry, and landing of Curiosity, and we are so proud of her and her entire team!

Congratulations to entire NASA and JPL team!

What inspired you to work at NASA?

I grew up near Kennedy Space Center and always loved the idea of the adventure of going into space, scratching at the cosmos as those rockets blasted into the sky. I would see pictures of the planets in books with “Credit: NASA” on them, and I knew I wanted to be one of those people that made them happen. As a kid, I gobbled up all sorts of sci-fi: books, comics, TV, movies, but NASA was the place where sci-fi became real.

Do you remember what it was like on your first day of work at NASA?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple experiences – first, as a student intern in high school where in the proudest moment of my young life, I was able to drive past the gates of KSC and actually be right there where the rockets were launched, and not be just watching them from across the water as I had for so many years. The second experience was as a new college graduate who had just moved across country to come work at JPL, knowing that this was going to be the place that I built my career.

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

Designing, building, testing and operating equipment that has to survive the space environment, which is so unforgiving. You have to be constantly asking yourself what you might be missing. Our spacecraft are so complex and so capable, you want to make sure that you and your team have done everything possible to make them successful. It is hard to consider all the “unknown unknowns” when so much that NASA does is the first time anyone has done these things, ever!

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Being a part of the fantastic team that has brought MSL up from simple paper concept to being at the edge of landing on another planet, to bring back more knowledge about Mars than we’ve ever had before – that’s a profound gift and I’m happy to have been able to make the contributions I have. I’ve worked a lot of different aspects on the project – from telecommunications, to avionics and fault protection, to EDL. I have had to learn a huge amount at every turn, and it’s really made me appreciate the flexibility you need to have as an engineer. I have to be able to work in a big team to make big things happen.

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

I worked on Mars Observer, which was unfortunately lost just as it got to the planet. I had only worked a few months on it, so I hadn’t had the investment in it that so many others had. But I was still shocked and demoralized when we lost it. It really taught me that things can never be certain in our business and that we have to do everything we can to ensure success. However, we have to be able to also learn from the failures and move on to do better things.

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

I’ve had many people who helped me, but one boss back when I was pretty new taught me something particularly compelling: There’s no such thing as “no” solution. I learned through hard experience that I could never come up to him and just shrug my shoulders on to indicate that I didn’t know why something couldn’t be done or couldn’t find someone to do something we needed. His first question would be “What else have you tried?”. So I learned pretty fast that I needed to do all the “What else?” beforehand, of my own volition! This is a personal philosophy that I now carry forward into everything I do. In fact, now I tell folks who work for me the same thing, “Ok, we have a problem, but we can’t just quit. How do we move forward?”

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

My career has covered all sorts of bends and corners I’d have never expected! I have had so many experiences – working with s/c electronics, Deep Space Network communications, doing field engineering in Antarctica and Brazil for technology demonstrations, working with Space Station and now participating in a landing on Mars. I think having too strict an idea of exactly where you want to be means that you’re not open to new opportunities. A big part of why NASA is such a great place to work is that there is such a diversity of things to do and experience, it encourages us to stretch beyond what we might otherwise have been able to imagine.

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

Not really. I went to school and now have worked in very male oriented disciplines (communications and electronics) and many times – even now – I can go into good sized meetings and not see another woman attending! But I’ve always considered myself to be just an engineer, and I find my male colleagues have treated me accordingly. This doesn’t mean I haven’t occasionally pointed out (with good humor) when one of my colleagues has said something inappropriate, but I have found that as long as I treat them as equals, I get the same. I enjoy holding my own with anyone – male or female. Diversity is what makes it interesting!

What does your future hold?

I’d really like to work on some project proposals next – be able to come up with the original ideas for how to bring a science concept to life as a new spacecraft.

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

Hone your intuition, and be strong enough to make a call on a decision. Very few of our problems in any discipline have black or white answers. You have to balance what may be incomplete information on both sides of the question, and then make a judgement call. Don’t be afraid to do this! This is why we gain experience, so in the tough questions, we have enough information and enough gut feeling to be able to make those tough decisions. Being a person who is willing and able to do this allows you to really contribute to solutions, at every level of an organization.

NASA DEVELOP: This Young Woman's Story

When I first spoke to Tharini Jeyaprakash, I could sense drive. Motivation. Perseverance.  We chatted a few times about the NASA DEVELOP program, which was new to me.  I did some research and before long, I knew we had to discuss it here at our blog.  True to my initial thoughts about Tharini, I needn’t worry.  She approached me with a post she thought worthy of Women@NASA’s blog.  And I definitely agreed. So here’s her story.  It’s one of science.  Learning. Leadership. And, most of all, growth.

Tharini Jeyaprakash is a recent graduate from the University of Cincinnati and is working as a researcher for NASA’s DEVELOP National Program. DEVELOP is a student-led, student-run research internship that utilizes NASA Earth Science measurements and predictions on projects that adress local, regional, national, and international concerns.  Project outcomes demonstrate the application and importance of NASA Earth observations in addressing environmental policy issues.  DEVELOP, under the Applied Sciences Program within the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, was recently acknowledged with NASA’s Group Achievement Award.

“During subsequent terms, I was given the responsibility of leading a project and eventually leading the program in Mobile, Alabama” Tharini said. “I provided direction and support for the program involving detailed planning. Project management and professional communication were a couple of the other responsibilities that I had. I also learned the art of making movies while directing a documentary video about the project.

“It was challenging, but the experience showed me what I am actually capable of and where my passion lies. It was my dream to be associated with NASA when I decided to study Geo Informatics in Engineering in India a few years ago,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see my dream come true and to be serving society at the same time.”

Tharini Jeyaprakash presenting the “Lake Victoria Water Resources” project at a close out session at the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center.

 According to Tharini, the program typically has a group of 3-8 students working on environmental research projects during each 10-week term.   

“We use NASA science measurements to address current issues and produce meaningful results to partners. The ‘Lake Victoria Water Resources’ is one such project that I worked on in which we partnered with NASA SERVIR and Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization to map invasive species in Lake Victoria, Africa, which is causing a lot of problems in three countries bordering the lake.  The methodology will be used to train the personnel to monitor and control these species. Through the NASA DEVELOP program, students get opportunities to develop their personal, research and leadership skills,” she said.

Tharini undertook several successful initiatives after taking leadership in Mobile that improved the quality of research by establishing partnerships with state agencies, universities, professionals, and NASA centers. She led the most recent project which developed an innovative methodology to use satellite data that will be adopted by Alabama Forestry Commission to predict pine beetle infestation that is costing the state millions of dollars in forestry damage. The project was well received by the partners and appreciated by the scientific community. She also initiated outreach activities to educate the communities about NASA DEVELOP. She directed a movie about the recent project as one of the initiatives that is featured on Earthzine, a contribution of the IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO) in support of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and its mission.

Jamie Favors, second from right, representing DEVELOP National Program Office, presents an achievement award signed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr., to Dr. Bernard Eichold, Health Officer, and mentor of the Mobile DEVELOP program. On hand for the presentation were, from left, Mobile DEVELOP participants Marine Karepetyan of the University of South Alabama, University of Cincinnati alum Tharini Jeyaprakash, and Michael Brown of the University of South Alabama.

 “My mantra for success from high school through graduate studies has been ‘Aim big. Work hard. Stay focused. Reach your goal’,’” says Tharini, who aspires to have a career in Earth Science research. “It has been an incredible opportunity for me as a young professional to be associated with NASA and to gain understanding of complex environmental issues that impact a large number of people.”

The movie that Tharini directed can be viewed at here.

Congratulations to Ms. Tharini Jeyaprakash and the entire NASA DEVELOP team.  Best of luck from Women@NASA and may you achieve your dreams and inspire others to follow you.