Collaborators and Colleagues: Summer Interns are an Integral Part of the EOSDIS Team

More than 30 EOSDIS interns are supporting tasks at the ESDIS Project Office, NASA’s Science Data Systems Branch, and at DAACs across the country this summer.

The word “collaborate” comes up often when talking with the 2017 Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) summer interns and their mentors. Of course, this is expected when 32 high school, college, and graduate school students spend 10 weeks working together accomplishing vital tasks and projects that help further the EOSDIS mission. After 10 weeks, though, another word also becomes quite common for both interns and EOSDIS staff—“colleague.”

This summer’s EOSDIS interns are supporting critical tasks at five EOSDIS Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs), the Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project, and NASA's Science Data Systems Branch. For many of the interns, this is their first opportunity to apply their knowledge to real-world tasks in a professional environment. For some, this also may be the start of a NASA career.

ESDIS Project office interns Rice
ESDIS Project Office interns and their mentor/co-mentor, Dr. Justin Rice. L to R: Dr. Rice, Karthik Garimella, Jonathan Rosenberg, Ben Banavige, and Zac Lamb. ESDIS Project image.

A NASA career “is definitely a possibility” for ESDIS intern Jonathan Rosenberg, a senior mechanical engineering and computer science double-major at the University of Maryland. Jonathan is using the Grafana analytics platform to create graphs and prototype dashboard set-ups to enable visual interaction with ESDIS metrics. “At first I thought it would be distracting sharing a conference room [with other ESDIS interns],” he says. “But it’s really not. It’s a collaborative environment that helps us focus on our work. We’ll often bounce ideas back and forth, or take a break to help each other with our code.”

ESDIS interns Ben Banavige, a rising senior statistics major at Harvard University, and Karthik Garimella, an entering computer engineering Master’s student at Washington University in St. Louis, are working together on a project converting Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC) data recipes into Jupyter notebooks. From there, they hope to put these data recipes in the cloud. “I want to help Earth scientists get more comfortable with cloud computing; this is a big part of our project,” Karthik says.

Two of this summer’s ESDIS interns are returning interns. Zac Lamb, a computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, was an intern last summer and is working on a text mining effort to provide better metrics for overall ESDIS data usage. “We have thousands of scientific articles that have used NASA data and many of these articles do not provide a full or correct citation of the datasets,” he observes. “From my work here, I hope I can apply the new tools and techniques I learn during this summer to my own thesis research.”

Meanwhile, this is the third summer internship at ESDIS for Dionne Wright, a rising junior at Penn State University majoring in information science technology. Dionne started as an ESDIS intern when she was in high school and continues her work converting paper documents in configuration change request (CCR) folders into an electronic database. “I can take what I’m learning here at NASA and connect it with my classwork,” Dionne says. “It really helps connect the dots between school and the real world.”

ESDIS Project office interns Shelley
ESDIS Project Office interns Dionne Wright (L) and Tumie Olateru (R) with their mentor Shelley Rice (C), the ESDIS Project configuration management officer. ESDIS Project image.

Working with Dionne on this configuration management project is Adetumara (Tumie) Olateru, a rising high school senior at Chesapeake Math and Information Technology Academy in Laurel, MD. “It’s a great experience,” Tumie says. “Just being around here and meeting new people; getting to learn new processes and explore career paths. You feel really good about yourself when you get into NASA.”

These six interns supporting the ESDIS Project Office are among the almost 450 interns working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, this summer. They are part of the hundreds of NASA interns supporting tasks and missions at NASA centers, laboratories, and facilities across the country.

NASA internships are available throughout the year and provide unique NASA-related research and operational experiences for students as well as educators. Each fall, NASA puts out a call for projects to be added to the NASA Interns, Fellows and Scholars One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI) website. Through OSSI, students can search and apply for all NASA internship, fellowship, and scholarship opportunities in one location.

NASA internships are available for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. High school interns must be at least 16 years old and a current sophomore, junior, or senior; undergraduate and graduate students must be accepted or enrolled full-time in an accredited U.S. college or university in a degree-granting course of study “appropriate to NASA’s long-term professional workforce needs.” Along with a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, perspective interns must be U.S. citizens. NASA internships for international students from select countries are available through the NASA International Internship Program.

Every intern works under the supervision of a mentor, and sometimes more than one mentor. Mentors play an important role in not just helping interns with their assigned projects, but also passing along the experience and knowledge they have acquired through their years at NASA.

Dr. Justin Rice, an ESDIS systems engineer, is the primary mentor for Ben and Karthik, and assists EOSDIS System Architect Dr. Chris Lynnes, who is the primary mentor for Zac and Jonathan. To Dr. Rice, learning, working hard, and having fun are the highest priorities of a successful internship. He also believes it’s important to give the interns insights into his experiences. “Determining what’s next after school can often prove challenging,” he says. “During my time as an intern, I sought out the advice of seasoned professionals to help me along, and they were gracious enough to oblige my requests. Now, in many ways, the roles are reversed. I do my best to pass on things that I have learned as a NASA intern, graduate student, researcher, engineer, and software developer in an effort to assist our students in their careers.”

Dr. Rice sees his interns as collaborators, and notes that he is learning from them just as they are learning from him. “Technology rapidly evolves and changes, and it’s good to be open to the fresh ideas and perspectives of our interns. Sometimes I advise them; other times, they advise me,” he observes. “Two-way mentoring is the best way to cultivate an environment conducive to learning; everyone benefits.”

ASDC interns
ASDC interns. Front Row (L to R): Asher Mazaika, Katelyn Zigner, Kathy LaMarsh, Preston Callaway; Back Row (L to R): Ardlan Khalili, Brody McDevitt, Trevor Martineau, Noah Dunn. Not pictured: Rachael Erb. ASDC image.

Along with the six EOSDIS interns supporting ESDIS, interns also are supporting projects for NASA’s Science Data Systems Branch at Goddard and at EOSDIS discipline-specific DAACs. Nine interns are at the Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC) in Hampton, Virginia; five are supporting projects at the Alaska Satellite Facility DAAC (ASF DAAC) in Fairbanks, Alaska; five are working at the National Snow and Ice Data Center DAAC (NSIDC DAAC) in Boulder, Colorado; and two are supporting projects at the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) in Palisades, New York.

NSIDC interns.
NSIDC interns. Top Row (L to R): Tom Morgan & Marisa Merola. Bottom Row (L to R): Justin Berdahl, Tyler Thomas & Kayla Woods. NSIDC images.

Three interns also are at GES DISC: Meghan Andrews, a rising senior geography major at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA; Kendy Edmonds, a rising senior studying unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) at Kansas State Polytechnic in Salina, KS; and Zachary Bruick, an entering atmospheric science Master’s student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Zachary also is one of 12 recipients this summer of a John Mather Nobel Scholarship, which was established by Goddard Senior Astrophysicist, Goddard Fellow, and Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather and is awarded to selected Goddard interns. The scholarship provides a travel allowance towards the cost of presenting research papers at professional conferences.

GES DISC principal support scientist Dr. Jennifer Wei is the mentor for Meghan and Zachary, who are working on geographic information system (GIS)-based projects. “Because we’re a NASA data center, I hope they gain an understanding of how we do data—how the data are structured, how we handle data, how data are processed, and how data can be visualized in ways people can understand them,” she says.

Dr. Wei notes that along with their individual projects, GES DISC interns attend a Python programming language boot camp, seminars, and weekly meetings, and are encouraged to create an internship experience that best suits their needs and interests. “If they want to do research, we let them do research. If they want to be more engaged with programming, we let them do this,” she says. “The interns come here with a dream and I hope they leave here with their dream fulfilled.”

Of course, the intern experience involves more than simply working on tasks. Interns participate in many enrichment, networking, and social events. Intern activities at Goddard include a film festival, tours through laboratories and facilities, and the opportunity to participate in the same lectures and programs open to all Goddard employees.

As the interns prepare to return to their schools, they leave with not only a sense of accomplishment, but also a greater understanding of NASA and EOSDIS - and their potential future roles in both.

For ESDIS intern Tumie, who would like to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point after high school, seeing NASA engineering in action is one highlight of his summer. “It’s great to get an overview of the whole ESDIS Project,” he says.

Karthik also is enjoying his summer. “It’s just awesome to be at a place like this; every week we have tours and meetings we can go to,” he says. “Yesterday we went on a tour of the robotics laboratory and saw behind the scenes about how they’re going to work with satellites in space. This is just really cool for me as a computer engineer.”

Karthik’s collaborator Ben agrees. “This seems like a normal office, but right down the hall is where they’re controlling orbiting Earth satellites,” he observes. “You can see where the [James Webb Space Telescope] was built. It’s brought a much greater appreciation for NASA.”

This appreciation is reciprocated by the mentors, who note that the interns are not only accomplishing tasks that help further their work, but sharing new knowledge being taught to the next generation of EOSDIS staff. “They are part of our family; we treat them as a colleague,” says Dr. Wei.

Dr. Rice concurs, and notes the special nature of working as a NASA intern. “I’m pretty sure the relationships they form here will last far beyond this summer,” he says. “You meet someone at an internship and it’s definitely not the end, but just the beginning.”