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EcoPress Interview with a NASA DEVELOP team member– Apply now!

EcoPress Interview: Christina Welch is currently a team member of the Colorado Agriculture team, working with the NASA DEVELOP program, which is hosted at CSU . NASA DEVELOP is an “interdisciplinary research environment where applied science research projects are conducted under the guidance of NASA and partner science advisors”. The program is headed by Dr. Paul Evangelista of NREL. Christina joins EcoPress for the first time to discuss the unique opportunity of working with the DEVELOP national program.

 NASA DEVELOP is currently accepting applications for the Fall 2015 term.  The application for the Fall 2015 term is open until July 3, 2015. Check it out here! For more information on applying, see the bottom of this post.

 Welcome to EcoPress Interview! Christina, could you explain the main goal of the NASA DEVELOP program?

Absolutely, DEVELOP bridges the gap between NASA Earth Science and society, building capacity in both participants and partner organizations to better prepare them to handle the environmental challenges that face our society today. During the program’s 10-week term, participants work with NASA scientists and use NASA Earth observatory technologies to address relevant environmental issues.

Most people equate “NASA” with “space and rocket ships.” How does the DEVELOP program fit in under the NASA umbrella?

The DEVELOP program is a national research initiative under NASA’s Earth Science, Applied Sciences Program.  Believe it or not, NASA does more than space exploration. In fact, new innovations with NASA’s Earth observing satellites make it possible to measure parameters like ocean salinity, soil moisture, solar radiation, precipitation, and plant biomass. So here in DEVELOP, we use data from one of NASA’s 18 Earth observing satellites, usually coupled with a computer model to create maps and tutorials for our project partners.

This is your fourth “term” with DEVELOP, what have you gained from your experience with the program?

I was originally attracted to the program because I wanted to expand my GIS and remote sensing skill set. However, since I graduated from the University of West Florida with a B.S. of Environmental Science, the DEVELOP program has instilled not only the science based knowledge but also the professional skills necessary to help launch my career. With DEVELOP, I have improved in scientific writing, conducting professional presentations, and networking. I’ve worked with a different NASA satellite each term and learned how to run the associated models. Overall, I am honored to be working at the Fort Collins node under Dr. Paul Evangelista. The Fort Collins node is a inviting, productive work environment.

“The DEVELOP program has instilled not only the science based knowledge, but also the professional skills necessary to help launch my career…”

I understand there are 15 DEVELOP locations around the country, so what makes the Fort Collins “node” a unique, integral part of the DEVELOP Program?

Yes, one of the 15 national DEVELOP locations is hosted right here, by NREL, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center.

At NREL, participants collaborate with highly regarded local natural resource managers and leading scientists to address community and land management issues.  The Fort Collins node specifically conducts high quality, interdisciplinary research, largely but not always in conjunction with USGS or the US Forest Service.

You mentioned local partners, can you give a few examples of local partnerships?

Yes, the strong, diverse partnerships found at NREL is another reason the Fort Collins office is unique. Partner organizations include USGS, Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies, the Ben Delatour Scout Ranch, North Central Climate Science Center, the Geospatial Centroid at CSU, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the US Forest Service and USAID. These partnerships are strong because of the NREL’s affiliation with both an academic and federal organization, so we are able to connect with scientists and land managers at both the local and national scales.

Can you tell us about the project you are working on right now?

 Sure. As previously mentioned, there are three DEVELOP “terms” throughout the year, with each term lasting 10 weeks. For the summer term, I am on the Colorado Agriculture team. The main goal of this project is to continue and complete the delineation of the location and age of forest harvests over a 25 year history, using Landsat scenes which cover northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. If necessary, our projects can extend for more than one term, as is the case with the Colorado Agriculture project this summer. This project uses the newly developed LandTrendr model to delineate the location and age of forest harvests occurring in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. As true with all DEVELOP projects, we are using one or a few of NASA’s remote sensing satellites. This summer, the Colorado Agriculture team will be accessing the Landsat satellite data.


Using Landsat 5 as a primary data source, the image above shows a satellite-based map of part of the Colorado State Forest State Park, and the white polygons represent known harvest treatments.  The image on the right has the LandTrendr output overlaid; the multi-colored polygons represent different harvest years.  The model captured forest harvest and other patches of vegetation loss.

Is there a way to check out what type of projects DEVELOP takes on?

 Definitely. I would recommend checking out the winner of the Spring 2015 Earthzine contest. This video can give you a great idea of the type of project DEVELOPers tackle. 

Is there anyone specifically you would encourage to apply?

As I mentioned earlier, I have found the DEVELOP program to be the ideal way to gain experience after completing my undergraduate degree. Therefore, I would encourage undergraduate, graduate students, or those who have recently graduated to apply. This program offers an exceptional opportunity especially if you are interested in GIS, computer models, or earth sciences.

How can we find information on participating in NASA DEVELOP?

The NASA DEVELOP website is a great place to look for an overview of the program and locations.

Anyone interested in more information specifically about the Fort Collins node is welcome to contact us:

Brian Woodward ( – Center Lead

Steve Chignell ( – Asst. Center Lead

Christina Welch ( – Team member