Through its DEVELOP program, NASA is on a mission to cultivate the professionals of tomorrow by addressing diverse environmental issues today. And Clark students have contributed to that work, thanks to GIS courses and hands-on experience that set them on the path to success.
DEVELOP, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, is a career development program that gives students or young professionals a chance to build remote sensing, science, and GIS skills. Over 10 weeks, participants work on multiple projects, growing their technical and professional abilities.
At least seven Clark students in the Master’s in Geographic Information Science (M.S./GIS) program have been accepted to the program in recent years.
Caroline Williams ’20, M.S./GIS ’21, is now a DEVELOP Fellow after participating in the program during the summer and fall semesters in 2021.
Coursework and advisers were helpful in preparing her for the program, but Clark Labs had the greatest impact, says Williams. At Clark Labs, she held numerous roles, including as a software tester, in tech support, and as a research assistant on two different projects. She learned how to troubleshoot and shaped the skills she would need for NASA.
“I felt really excited and ready to take on any new tasks, which was really useful going into DEVELOP,” Williams says.
Kyle Pecsok ’20, M.S./GIS ’21, who like Williams was a participant in two terms of DEVELOP after graduation, says Clark taught him how to handle data in a fast-paced environment.
“One of the most helpful things for me was having the experience with remote sensing and using raster GIS, because a big component of NASA DEVELOP is using NASA Earth observations, which is raster data,” he says.
At DEVELOP, Pecsok worked on a project analyzing soil moisture in Illinois and another examining heat vulnerability in Yonkers, New York.
As a Fellow, Williams will be supervising projects like those she and Pecsok contributed to as participants. She’s especially excited to work with participating students from her alma mater — Billy Henshaw, an M.S./GIS student who expects to graduate in May, is among the participants who started in January.
“Having that sense of community in previous terms on the participant side was extraordinarily exciting,” says Williams.
Henshaw heard about DEVELOP from Sharon Hanna, director of career development and external relations in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment. With career goals that include working at a research center, Henshaw figured he’d apply.
“I’m just intrigued by what is actually done in a professional research setting with climate modeling, and am working out if this is something I actually want to do full time,” says Henshaw. “These 10 weeks will be a good indicator.”
The caliber of Clark’s courses and enthusiasm of the University’s students explain why a pathway is expanding with DEVELOP, says Williams.
“I think Clarkies are the passionate type and are able to put that passion to action,” she says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Henshaw.
“Clark’s curriculum really emphasizes doing GIS work for social impact, for social good, and I’ve always been the type of person who cares about the community and how it could be improved — socially, environmentally, sustainably.”
For Henshaw, the M.S./GIS professional seminar course was vital in preparing for DEVELOP. The course required him to build cover letter formats, a résumé, portfolio, and other documents needed for an application or interview.
Henshaw hopes he continues to learn from his DEVELOP experience even after the 10-week program concludes.
“I’m really excited about the work that I’m doing for NASA, and if I end up enjoying the research that I do for these 10 weeks — the prospect of potentially doing that for a full-time career is extremely exciting,” he says.