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Changing The World, One Student At A Time

DEVELOP students working on a survey of populations of an invasive plant species in northwestern Nevada in 2004. Image credit: NASA.
by Rory Collins
Hampton VA (SPX) Aug 28, 2008
Can we put some of the world's biggest societal problems - like global warming, disaster management and public health - into the hands of students? For NASA's DEVELOP student internship program team the answer is a definitive "Yes!" The DEVELOP program celebrates its tenth anniversary this summer.

For 10 years the program has pushed the envelope of the traditional summer internship, encouraging students into research projects with big implications for society.

The DEVELOP program offers students the opportunity to use NASA Earth-observing satellite data to address national and international policy issues. DEVELOP participants are chosen through a competitive application process and they must be currently enrolled in high school or college and have at least a 3.0 grade point average.

DEVELOP is a student-run and student-led program, with science advisors and mentors from both the public and private sector.

DEVELOP is sponsored by NASA's Applied Science Program in the Earth Science Division, which extends the use of NASA Earth science data and technology for societal benefit through partnerships with state and federal agencies.

These partnerships focus on innovative approaches for using Earth science information to provide decision support that can be adapted to help solve problems plaguing societies worldwide.

"The DEVELOP program is unique in that it takes on projects that communities are really concerned about and impacted by," said Tracey Silcox with the DEVELOP National Program, NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. "Each individual project finds a way for NASA data and observations to better serve society."

Some of the projects that students have worked on in the past have addressed issues such as poor air quality and public health concerns associated with West Nile Virus. In 2007, one student project examined the impacts of global climate change on Virginia's coastline.

The project used NASA satellite data to focus on the effects of temperature and sea level rise and the potential economic impacts that these changes could have on the region.

"Working side by side with scientists that allow us to apply our own thoughts and solutions to societal problems was great," said Becki Leggat, a 2008 DEVELOP student. "But the most rewarding part was being able to see the potential impact that our work would have on communities."

In addition to the challenge of the science research, the students are challenged to meet very high standards of professionalism as they present their work to policy makers, local and national government officials, NASA management and industry partners.

It is through these interactions and presentations that the students truly see how communities could potentially use their studies in their decision or policy making.

"DEVELOP students get real-world experience. Not only do they analyze and interpret satellite data, they also present their findings to community leaders and decision-makers that can use their hard work to improve communities," said Mike Ruiz, head of the DEVELOP program.

"Students have presented to high-ranking political officials, such as state governors, top NASA officials and scientists, and have presented at several scientific conferences such as the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, and the American Geophysical Union and conducted several media interviews."

When it started ten years ago, the DEVELOP program was just three students working on one project. In 2008, the program has grown into more than 200 students nationwide working on more than 25 projects that impact communities around the world. What's more, DEVELOP students have delivered project results back to the community at more than 80 scientific and policy forums.

In a decade, DEVELOP has touched more than 1,500 students through their involvement in the program. However, the program has gone beyond just teaching students about careers at NASA.

This program inspires students to think about the problems that society will face in the future, and empowers them to find solutions. These students, with diverse backgrounds and interests, walk away from their internship prepared to handle the challenges of the new generation.

Related Links
The DEVELOP National Program
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