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Teresa Purello: Seeing the World From Home

Less than 600 people have ever been to space. Less than 600 people have ever left this planet and seen it for what it truly is: a giant entity made up of hundreds of interconnected systems and processes. But this view of Earth is one of the most important for understanding how these systems work and how we impact our environment.

Joseph P. Allen, an astronaut, once said, “Of all the arguments, pro and con, for going to the moon, no one suggested that we should do it to look at Earth. But that may, in fact, have been the most important reason of all.” He understood the importance and uniqueness of viewing Earth from space.

How do we make sure everyone has the opportunity to see this view of Earth? By capturing the image and sharing it with the world. NASA does this with multiple Earth observing satellites including Landsat and the International Space Station.

This is the role of NASA’s Capacity Building Program and part of my job as an intern with the program this past summer.

NASA’s Capacity Building Program works to put remote sensing data into the hands of scientists, organizations, and governments around the world so that it can be used in decision making, disaster response, and climate resiliency. Within the Capacity Building, there are 4 program areas:

  • ARSET (Applied Remote Sensing Training) – provides trainings on how to use and apply remote sensing data
  • SERVIR – collaboration with USAID for international projects using NASA Earth science data
  • DEVELOP – 10 week partnership projects
  • Indigenous Peoples Pilot – works with indigenous communities and tribal nations through tailored training, community engagement, and collaborative projects.

I learned about the program through my GIS 280 professor, Dr. Stacy Supak. She sent a different GIS focused internship at NASA and I decided to explore more of NASA’s internships. The Capacity Building Program internship fit many of my interests in environmental science, communication and remote sensing. During my interview, I was excited about the possibility of teaching others about the importance of remote sensing in environmental science.

In our first meeting, I learned that between the eight of us, we lived in four different time zones, had very different majors, and were all at different stages in our education. Being virtual, especially with how different each of us were, initially made me worried. Planning meetings and working collaboratively seemed challenging given the time zones. I could not have been more wrong.

As a Capacity Building Program intern, I worked on various projects throughout the summer. We had some projects that were worked on by the entire team and others that were smaller groups.

Our collaboration is exemplified in our Capacity Building Program StoryMap. As a team, we created an interactive summary of all the work the Capacity Building Program does across their four focus areas. I co-led this project with another intern and we divided up the research and content creation so that everyone had the opportunity to conduct interviews and write a portion of the StoryMap.

As a part of the team of eight interns, I worked to teach middle school and high school students in Ohio and Wisconsin about the importance of remote sensing data and how they can pursue careers in environmental science. In the virtual summer camp, which was a collaboration with Groundwork USA, we focused on remote sensing in urban areas with emphasis on heat islands, tree canopy, and cloud cover. We created data collection activities to teach students data collection techniques and how NASA uses citizen science to match ground data to the data collected by satellites. I really enjoyed being able to inspire younger students to pursue STEM fields and show them the many opportunities NASA has for them to explore their interests and curiosities.

Each of us had different experiences and areas of study that we were able to use during these projects; we learned from each other throughout the summer. For example, as a journalism minor, I had experience conducting interviews — I was able to share the skills I had learned with my team members and each of us conducted interviews for the StoryMap. However, I did not have experience creating a lesson plan, but learned how from my peers.

The highlight of my summer was presenting at NASA’s Earth Science Applications Week. Working with another intern, I researched the history of the applied sciences work NASA has done since its inception in 1958. While the Applied Sciences Program was not officially created until 2001, NASA had been working on projects related to Earth Science since 1960 when the TIROS 1 satellite launched. As part of the opening ceremony to Earth Science Applications Week, I presented the information I gathered to over 200 people as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program. Later in the week, I presented the Capacity Building StoryMap project as well. Being able to present my work to so many people was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

My internship experience allowed me to utilize skills I have gained through my classes at NC State, but also gave me so many opportunities to develop and use new skills. As a team, we overcame the challenges that come with interning virtually, even though we did mess up the time zone differences a few times. The internship also gave me the ability to meet and learn from so many people. Not only did I meet many interns from around the country, I also got to hear from NASA employees working on the Artemis mission, Mars rovers, heliophysics, and more. I “travelled” to New Mexico, California, our atmosphere, and even the Moon and Mars through my conversations with others.

This internship helped me realize how much I enjoy the public speaking aspect of communication. As a journalism student, I have gotten comfortable with the writing portion of communications, but I also enjoy doing presentations. Through the opportunity, I learned of many possible career paths at NASA and other organizations that focus on research, education and policy. I am so grateful for the experience I had with NASA’s Capacity Building Program.