From Space to Policy: The NASA DEVELOP Program Serves Society Through Science

By Jamie Favors, Beth Brumbaugh, Quinten Geddes, Kirstin Cooksey

NASA’s mission to ensure that its Earth science resources are utilized in the fullest and broadest terms possible is the main goal of the Applied Sciences Program, a component of NASA’s Earth Science Division. Applied Sciences seeks to discover and demonstrate innovative uses and practical benefits of NASA Earth science data, scientific knowledge and technology. This program’s priority is the end-users in environmental management, decision making and public policy fields who can benefit from the practical use of NASA Earth observation assets.

This is where DEVELOP’s story begins. The DEVELOP Program finds pathways that will connect science with society for practical benefit through young professionals and student interns.

The DEVELOP mission is to unite NASA Earth observations with society to foster future innovation and cultivate the professionals of tomorrow by addressing diverse environmental issues today. DEVELOP achieves this by serving as a training and development internship that fosters an interdisciplinary research environment for interns to work on applied science research projects. These projects highlight the practical use of NASA Earth observations and measurements in addressing community concerns both domestically and internationally.

The program attracts talented scholars and provides them with a platform to assist their communities by supplying novel tools in the decision making process to address concerns from the local to global scales. Participants work on projects utilizing NASA resources that measure our Earth in a multitude of ways. They provide a project partner or end-user with a tangible outcome that can be used to enhance their management or policy decision making. DEVELOP’s partners come from a wide variety of organization types, including local, state, regional, federal, international, NGO and academic organizations that are interested in learning how NASA’s Earth observations can be applied for societal benefit. The majority are state and local government entities that have local environmental concerns and could benefit from the cost-effective and continuous data of NASA’s satellite observations. DEVELOP seeks new project partners to demonstrate that utilizing the unique vantage point of Earth from space is a powerful tool in addressing environmental concerns . In this way, DEVELOP is a program that achieves dual capacity building, through the intern taking part in the program, as well as the end-user who is provided a novel tool or methodology that has the potential to enhance their everyday work and decision making.

This dual capacity building is what aligns DEVELOP with the Applied Sciences Program as part of its broader Capacity Building Program, which focuses on extending the application of Earth science to benefit people globally. DEVELOP is the intern-related effort of Capacity Building which also has activities in regional (Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GOMI)), training (Applied Remote Sensing Education and Training (ARSET)), and international (SERVIR) capacity building.

DEVELOP is unique in that it is entirely intern run and intern led. Young professionals and students have ownership in designing their project. Interns gain valuable research experience at DEVELOP and learn how to manage and work with other people in a professional environment. Interns are able to gain experience leading small student research teams, as well as often providing leadership to an entire DEVELOP location where many different teams are simultaneously conducting diverse projects. These are the types of early professional experiences that help to propel a student’s career.

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The first seeds of DEVELOP were planted in the summer of 1998 at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Three student interns co-authored a white paper detailing the broad applicability of NASA’s Earth observing satellites, titled The Practical Applications of Remote Sensing (Bauer et al., 1998). That work was combined with the Digital Earth Initiative, a federal interagency project focused on furthering humans’ understanding of the planet. In 1999 DEVELOP was officially formed and began to expand beyond its initial roots in Virginia.

The program grew to southwestern Virginia when a partnership with the local government in Wise County established the second DEVELOP team location. From there DEVELOP expanded to four locations, with the opening of teams at NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and NASA Ames Research Center in California. Over the next six years, DEVELOP continued to grow and established new locations at the Mobile County Health Department in Alabama, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative in Illinois.

DEVELOP’s most recent expansion included nodes at Saint Louis University in Missouri and with the U.S. Geological Survey at the North Central Climate Science Center in Colorado. This fall will also mark the beginning of activity at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York. With an established footprint in the United States, DEVELOP has recently branched out internationally with project activities occurring in Mexico (Monterrey Tech, Saltillo), Colombia (University of Colombia), and Nepal (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development).

 To date, over 2,500 internship opportunities have been awarded to highly-qualified young professionals and students. Operations are managed by the DEVELOP National Program Office located at NASA Langley Research Center. Over 300 interns, ranging from high school through graduate-level and recent graduates, participate in DEVELOP each year and are afforded an opportunity to refine their research skills using NASA science and technology products. These are tools and resources that the interns often apply in future careers in science, technology and public policy.

Projects with Partners

Projects that benefit communities are at the core of DEVELOP. These projects rely on the science of NASA spaceborne remote sensing and environmental modeling and are focused locally in order to best address community concerns. DEVELOP projects are case studies demonstrating how NASA Earth observing assets are realistic tools for environmental managers and policy makers to utilize as they aim to make the best possible decisions about issues facing their communities.

Over the coming 10 weeks, we will introduce you to projects that highlight DEVELOP’s capabilities. From using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to monitor glacier movement in Alaska, to providing park managers with new methods for assessing burn severity and resulting air quality impacts in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia, DEVELOP’s impacts are broad and important.

For more information about the program visit the DEVELOP website.

Editor’s Note: Directions Magazine is proud to be in partnership with NASA DEVELOP and we’ll be featuring numerous articles in the coming weeks from the interns in this program.

Published Monday, October 8th, 2012

Written by Jamie Favors, Beth Brumbaugh, Quinten Geddes, Kirstin Cooksey

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