This unique program links industry, government, and universities to conduct innovative research projects addressing problems of relevance to the community. It brings together students, early career professionals, and those in transitional stages of their career (e.g. finishing military service), forming teams to tackle environmental challenges using earth observation data. The stories of the next generation of environmental scientists participating in the program were incredibly inspiring.
I started to talk to NASA colleagues about how I could involve some of my students in Australia. They generously offered to engage with one of my current students, who was about to head over to Florida on a student exchange program. So I passed the opportunity on to my 2nd year Bachelor of Environmental Science undergraduate student, Valentina Coccetti. I was hoping that she could be a bit of a guinea pig for me, and give me an insider's perspective into the program. I want to share some of her thoughts to show just how inspirational the program is, and to highlight exactly why I want to create a similar experience in Australia.
"At the beginning of last year I signed up for a student exchange program. To my surprise I was actually accepted and I completed Semester 2 while studying abroad at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. In total I spent about 4 and a half-months there– it was an amazing experience!
Naturally I was really excited about this trip when I first got accepted and I talked a lot about it during Semester 1. This is how Karen came to know about my involvement with the student exchange program. Further to my surprise, as if the upcoming exchange trip wasn’t amazing enough, she provided me with another amazing opportunity.
Now, you can imagine my shock when I opened and read her email one mediocre morning while casually on my way to work. NASA, what? Me? Has she sent this to the wrong person?
The opportunity Karen provided me with was to observe and take a small part in an internship program run across the US by NASA called NASA DEVELOP. DEVELOP was formed with the hopes of bridging the gap between NASA and society, through involvement of the next generation and external organizations.
The DEVELOP program is run right across the US in 13 different locations and 2 non-US locations. I got to visit the University of Georgia for a week in October to observe this internship in process during my semester abroad.
When I visited UGA in the Fall term of the DEVELOP program, I spent time with the Colombia Ecological Forecasting team, where the objective was to enhance the conservation efforts of Colombia’s most endangered primate – the cotton-top tamarin. The team used NASA satellite data to aid in achieving the goals of the project partners, which was to increase the habitat suitability for the endangered primate.
I just want to quickly point out that this South American country is actually located more than 2000 miles, or in other words about 3400kms away from Athens, Georgia. The fact that such thorough research can be done on an area so far away is pretty damn amazing.
I just wanted to say that this experience was such an eye opener for me – its one thing learning about something in a school environment and then to actually get to see how it is put into practice in the real world. Like I’m sure many of you agree, I feel when you learn about things in university it has a detached feel to it – you know that what your learning is used by researchers and professionals, but its like you feel that what your learning isn’t the full thing. You know there must be more to it, and while it’s interesting, at the end of the day you just do what you need to do to pass and get that degree.
Being given the opportunity to travel to a NASA DEVELOP site and witness the work being done there has been one of the most inspirational experiences I have ever had. Seeing these students, just like ourselves having a key hand in something as precious as saving a entire species was just awe inspiring to me.
As a student who knew what I was interested in but no idea what kind of work to aim for, this experience has both reinforced why I’m studying Environmental Science and has given me something to aspire to upon completion of my degree." - Valentina Coccetti
The NASA DEVELOP Program fits squarely within my interests of linking research and education in remote sensing. It also promotes another keen interest of mine - leadership and effective teamwork. I would love to implement this in Australia.
I invited Valentina to share her experience with my current remote sensing class, and her full talk can be viewed below.