December 27, 2016
Before last summer started, I didn’t know the difference between a shapefile and a raster file, had taken one class in JAVA and told myself I’d never code again. By the end, I was presenting results of Geographical Information System (GIS) code I helped create to NASA officials at their D.C. headquarters!
Last year, my family and I moved to the Langley, Virginia area. I was on winter break from school, when my dad mentioned he had heard about an interesting student internship called DEVELOP, a part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, serendipitously headquartered in Virginia.
I reached out to the DEVELOP coordinators, who were kind enough to give me further details and show me around the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC). The week before winter break ended, I offered to help out around the office before returning to school. I enjoyed the experience so much I decided that Spring to apply to the program and was accepted as a DEVELOP volunteer!
Rather than the traditional mentor-student internship dynamic, DEVELOP has a unique approach in their program. Participants are split into teams and assigned a project, where we work together to create a product for an end user. I was intimidated the first week; almost every participant had graduated or were in graduate school, and most had some level of experience with GIS or environmental science.
However, the platform for my project, Google Earth Engine, was new to me and my teammates. As a part of the Everglades Ecological Forecasting team, I worked with my group to create a methodology that could classify and map mangrove and marsh transitions in Everglades National Park.
It was invaluable to have the chance to see a project through from beginning to end, and to have physical deliverables that I created as evidence. This past summer I cultivated many soft skills, like drafting, editing, presenting, and networking and most challenging of all, how to ask for help. Though it can feel like admitting a shortcoming, it demonstrates a willingness to learn. I learned that no matter how much you think you know of a topic, if you can’t communicate those ideas or interact professionally, that knowledge can’t really contribute to career advancement.
At the end of my experience I was nominated DEVELOPer of the term by LaRC for which I am both touched and infinitely grateful. It’s amazing to look back at how far I progressed in such a short time. As a student looking to pursue a career in engineering, I believe that participating in the NASA DEVELOP Program demonstrates I can contribute beyond my college degree as a professional. I’ll be returning to school this fall as a junior and moving forward I am eager to apply to more NASA internships as well as to maintaining the relationships I’ve developed this summer.
Rachel Cabosky is a General Engineering student at Miami University of Ohio, minoring in 2D media studies; she is a DEVELOP participant and the recent recipient of a SSAI scholarship.