“Developing” a Winter Internship into the Summer with NASA

by | August 26, 2013
Category: Student Voices
The NASA DEVELOP team at IRI (clockwise from left): Yifang Yang, Sunny Ng, Caitlin Reid, Elisabeth Gawthrop, Pietro Ceccato, Alex Sweeney and Tammy Tran

The NASA DEVELOP team at IRI (clockwise from left): Yifang Yang, Sunny Ng, Caitlin Reid, Elisabeth Gawthrop, Pietro Ceccato, Alex Sweeney and Tammy Tran

By Caitlin Reid, Climate and Society ’13

 

My summer internship was a direct result of my winter semester internship with the NASA DEVELOP National Program at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI). This winter was also the first term that the IRI had participated as a “hub” in the DEVELOP program, and fellow Climate and Society (C&S) classmate Sunny Ng and I were the first two IRI DEVELOP interns, working with Dr. Pietro Ceccato.

We were introduced to this NASA program during the fall semester, when Dr. Ceccato and a representative from NASA came and spoke to the C&S class about the upcoming opportunity with NASA’s Applied Sciences Program. DEVELOP works to connect students with NASA resources. Scientists at NASA and partner organizations mentor interns as they work to address community-based issues around the world. I applied for and got an internship that used remote sensing to address public health and climatic issues in Africa. I carried that work into the summer term.

Measuring spleen size of a kala azar patient

Measuring spleen size of a patient in Kala Azar, Sudan

Because of my previous experience, I was promoted to be one of the center student leaders at IRI this summer with four new interns to work with (all fellow C&S students!). This term I worked on a project with partner Alexandra Sweeney similar to my work last term (which looked at how environmental factors affect malaria transmission in Ethiopia) to determine how environmental and climatic conditions can be used to predict visceral leishmaniasis transmission in Sudan. Understanding these factors allows for the development of early warning systems, which can prevent epidemics from breaking out.

Presenting research in DC with Pietro Ceccato (left) and Dia-Eldin Elnaiem, one of the project's partners.

Presenting research in DC with Pietro Ceccato (left) and Dia-Eldin Elnaiem, one of the project’s partners.

In addition to my new project and new management responsibilities as a Center Lead, I also created a tutorial for making high-quality videos, which is one of the required deliverables as a part of the program (in addition to a technical paper, PowerPoint presentation, and academic poster). This was because the video I made for my winter work was singled out as being a benchmark for the DEVELOP program.

I was also informed late in the term that I would be presenting my project at the NASA DEVELOP Annual Earth Science Applications Showcase, which was their closeout conference held at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

My main focus at Columbia, and a primary reason for why I applied to the C&S program, has been to develop my ability to communicate technical climate information to people without a background in the material. These different projects – from creating tutorials about making videos, to explaining my research to diverse audiences – pushed my ability to communicate to different types of people with different learning styles. Even my role as Center Lead improved my communication skills, as Sunny, who also worked as a Lead, and I worked together to help manage four people and guide them through the DEVELOP process efficiently and effectively.

Bonus of presenting at NASA HQ: meeting Bobak Ferdowski aka Mars Curiosity Mohawk Guy.

Bonus of presenting at NASA HQ: meeting Bobak Ferdowski aka Mars Curiosity Mohawk Guy.

I will say that my talk was not as smooth as I wanted it to be. And even though I improved on my second video, there are still things that I would have liked to do differentlyHowever, given that I rarely speak in public (and particularly not to a room full of NASA scientists) and that I was coming from a background with no video experience, I am ultimately proud of what I accomplished in ten weeks. This internship gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work, and use the climate information that I learned in the C&S program. I will use the experience and knowledge that I gained in these various roles throughout my life, and I am extremely for grateful this amazing opportunity.

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