Serving Students with the MyCOE/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program

Students speak about their projects as part of the My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE)/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program at NASA headquarters. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

Students speak about their projects as part of the My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE)/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program at NASA headquarters. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In April, the SERVIR team capped off one of its latest projects – the MyCOE/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program. A joint venture of SERVIR (the Regional Visualization and Monitoring System) and the My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE) project, the fellowship program contributed to Earth observation projects and the development of students as local experts.

Students said the fellowship program has expanded their abilities as scientists.

“This program has given me the opportunity to learn GIS (Geographic Information Systems) skills and remote-sensing skills,” said Roseline Nijh Egra Batcha, a fellow from Cameroon. “It has given me the opportunity to showcase what I can do.”

Prasamsa Thapa, a fellow from Nepal, stressed the benefit of her work both to her local community and to her own future in geospatial work. “It’s an opportunity that encourages us to do more,” Thapa said.

In 2004, NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) teamed up to establish SERVIR. With a focus on regional partnerships, SERVIR seeks to “provide Earth observations and predictive models based on data from orbiting satellites.”

SERVIR has two currently active hubs: one in Kathmandu, Nepal, in partnership with ICIMOD (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) and one in Nairobi, Kenya, in partnership with RCMRD (Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development). The My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE) project began in 2002 in advance of the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The goal of the project is to “approach the theme of sustainable development using a geographic perspective that allows innovative responses to local community challenges.”

“The partners really believed it was a valuable effort to build under that whole concept of engaging with students around geographic technologies for sustainable development,” Dr. Patricia Solís, director of the MyCOE/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program, tells Earthzine.

The fellowship program was developed in 2009 in collaboration with the NASA SERVIR program and its East Africa hub. Throughout the life of the fellowship program, fellows have been selected from East Africa, the Himalayas, West Africa, and Southeast Asia, with the help of different regional partners.

The program starts with an open call for applications, according to Solís. “Anyone and everyone are eligible to submit. They can be any university level – undergraduates, graduates, and PhDs.”

A final requirement is outreach.

Wasiu Alimi, a fellow from Nigeria, said organizing his outreach seminar was one of the most demanding parts of the program, but the experience working with his community was the most valuable.

“The challenging part was the dissemination of the project results to the farmers,” said Susan Malaso, a fellow from Kenya who worked on applying GIS technology to frost mapping for agricultural planning. Malaso has since joined the staff of RCMRD in Nairobi, and the algorithm for detecting frost risk that she developed in her project is being put to practical use in the region through SERVIR.

Each region had its own theme for project proposals. All four themes centered around climate change and its unique impacts in the region.

Fellows were provided with funding and training for their research, but a few students were selected to attend a capstone event in April 2014. These 14 students, nominated by workshop leaders, spoke at NASA and USAID headquarters in Washington, D.C., before traveling to the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers to present their research.

Solís said the research projects are tackling vital issues from a regional, rather than strictly national, perspective.

“The problems that we’re looking at – especially climate change – do not respect borders, so it’s really important that we’re doing this as regions and continents and globally. We find that so many of the problems and so much of the work that we’re trying to do resonates across space, and we always learn something.”

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Joyeeta Poddar, a student at the Birla Institute of Technology in India, speaks about her project during presentations as part of the My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE)/SERVIR Global Fellowship Program at NASA headquarters. Image Credit: NASA/ Joel Kowsky.