NASA Applied Sciences’ DEVELOP National Program: Training the Next Generation of Remote Sensing Scientists

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Purple loosestrife

Purple loosestrife

Lauren Childs, DEVELOP National Program, Langley Research Center,
Madeline Brozen, DEVELOP National Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Nelson Hillyer, DEVELOP National Program, Langley Research Center,

Since its inception over a decade ago, the DEVELOP National Program has provided students with experience in utilizing and integrating satellite remote sensing data into real world applications. In 1998, DEVELOP began with three students and has evolved into a nationwide internship program with over 200 students participating each year. DEVELOP is a NASA Applied Sciences’ training and development program extending NASA Earth science research and technology to society.
Part of the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s Earth Science Division, the Applied Sciences Program focuses on bridging the gap between NASA technology and the public by conducting projects that innovatively use NASA Earth science resources to research environmental issues. The Applied Sciences’ focus areas include: Agriculture; Air Quality; Ecological Forecasting; Natural Disasters; Public Health; Water Resources; and Weather.
The goal of DEVELOP projects is to examine how NASA science can better serve society. DEVELOP students accomplish this goal through research with global, national, and regional partners aimed at identifying the widest array of practical uses for NASA data to help communities better understand environmental change over time. Projects focus on practical applications of NASA’s Earth science research results. Each project is designed to address at least one of the Applied Sciences’ focus areas1, use NASA’s Earth observation sources, and meet partners’ needs. DEVELOP research teams partner with end-users and organizations who use project results for policy analysis and decision support, thereby extending the benefits of NASA science and technology to the public.
A few of the projects students led last year at Goddard Space Flight Center were:
“Ocean Retrieval Validation: An Analysis of Machine Learning Techniques”
“Remote Sensing Technologies Applied to Eradication Efforts of Purple Loosestrife”
“Remote Sensing Applications in Habitat and Distribution Modeling: A Land Classification and Connectivity Model for the Tiger Corridor Initiative Strategy”
DEVELOP students at Langley Research Center meet the newly appointed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (front row, center) during the 2009 summer term.

DEVELOP students at Langley Research Center meet the newly appointed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (front row, center) during the 2009 summer term.

DEVELOP was established under the Digital Earth Initiative (DEI), a federal interagency project dedicated to creating a virtual representation of the Earth. DEI piloted an effort to increase public access to federal information about the Earth and the environment. A proposal that combined NASA’s DEI and a white paper written by three students advocating for a student program resulted in DEVELOP’s official formation in 1999. Since then, the DEVELOP Program has focused on student training and development, scientific research, and stakeholder interaction. The program fosters a high-quality corps of early career researchers possessing advanced skills in NASA Earth science research applications and partner agencies’ decision support tools, as well as experience delivering results to officials in government, academia, and industry. Projects are developed in response to community demand, with each project demonstrating how NASA science can address local environmental and policy concerns. DEVELOP expands the network of organizations and individuals contributing to, and benefiting from, the Applied Sciences Program by forming partnerships and demonstrating project results.
DEVELOP is unique in that projects are student led, with science advisors and mentors from NASA and partner organizations providing guidance and support. This allows students to gain valuable management and leadership experience, in addition to developing and applying research skills. Activities are conducted all year during ten-week terms in the spring, summer, and fall. Students are given the opportunity to present their research each term to a variety of audiences. Students have presented at various government organizations, live on television, and at national science and policy conferences such as the American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, Southern Growth Policies Board, and Council of State Governments annual conferences and meetings. Conference posters, papers, and presentations are important for the program and students. These activities foster contact with potential partners, extend NASA science and technology to a wider audience, generate project ideas, and aide in new student recruitment. Equally important, conferences give students experience in presenting their work and interacting with the international science community and policy makers.
Admission to the program is based upon a competitive application process, with applications available online at the DEVELOP website. Eligible applicants are currently enrolled in high school through graduate school levels, and have at least a 3.0 grade point average. In particular, students with a strong interest in environmental, atmospheric, and the Earth sciences, computer science, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and/or remote sensing are encouraged to submit an application.
DEVELOP students Madeline Brozen and Lauren Childs present their research at NASA Headquarters following a live broadcast on NASA Television.

DEVELOP students Madeline Brozen and Lauren Childs present their research at NASA Headquarters following a live broadcast on NASA Television.

“Students not only receive relevant hands-on experience with NASA science data products, remote sensing, and GIS, but they also learn the importance of team work, business development, and invaluable presentation and leadership skills,” says Brandie Mitchell [Stennis Space Center—DEVELOP Center Lead].
DEVELOP teams are located across the U.S., six in association with NASA centers — Ames Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Langley Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Stennis Space Center — and three in regional offices — Mobile County Health Department (AL), Wise County Clerk of Court’s Office (VA), and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (IL). Each team location varies in size and engages students of differing educational backgrounds. Summer terms typically host the largest number of participants, while the students participating in the spring and fall work flexible hours around their school schedules.
The program actively recruits students from high schools and universities throughout the country, with student center leads and team members at each location leading recruiting efforts. Students are sought who demonstrate academic excellence, community service commitment, passion, and enthusiasm for applied science research. These qualities have contributed to the considerable growth and success of the program during the last decade.
The DEVELOP Program is mentoring today’s students in preparation for careers as tomorrow’s scientists and leaders. Challenged to think outside the box, take initiative, and employ innovative ideas, students who participate in the DEVELOP Program are better prepared to handle the challenges that face our society and future generations. DEVELOP students explore the frontiers of science and remote sensing to prepare the future American workforce, all while extending NASA Earth science research results for societal benefit. The DEVELOP National Program has provided over 1,800 internships, giving students the opportunity to perform applied science research and interact with industry, non-profit, and local government sectors. The DEVELOP National Program strives to be innovative and forward thinking, which is made possible by NASA’s investment in students dedicated to learning.
More information is available about the Applied Sciences Program at, and the DEVELOP National Program at Watch future issues of The Earth Observer for DEVELOP project and team highlights.
This article was adapted from National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Earth Observer. March – April 2010. Vol. 22, Issue 2.