Women's History Month: Three DEVELOP Alumnae Discuss Life After DEVELOP

Women's History Month: Three DEVELOP Alumnae Discuss Life After DEVELOP

In 1987, Congress passed a joint resolution establishing March as Women's History Month. Women's History Month recognizes contributions women have made in our history and our current society. In honor of Women's History Month, DEVELOP interviewed alumnae Chippie Kislik, Leah Kucera, and Kelly Meehan to learn more about what they pursued post-DEVELOP and how DEVELOP influenced their career progression.

Chippie Kislik is currently a second-year Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley with the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. During her time with DEVELOP, Chippie served 2 terms as a participant, 3 terms as an Assistant Center Lead and Communications Fellow, and 3 terms as a Center Lead from Spring 2014 to Summer 2016 for a total of 8 terms at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Moffett Field, California.

Leah Kucera works for the NASA SERVIR Program as the Technical Reporting and Communications Lead for the SERVIR Science Coordination Office at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. During her time with DEVELOP, Leah was a participant for 2 terms at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California and served 3 terms as the Communications Fellow and Assistant Center Lead at DEVELOP's regional node that is hosted by the Bureau of Land Management and Idaho State University (ID) in the city of Pocatello from Spring 2017 to Fall 2018.

Kelly Meehan works at the Bureau of Reclamation in the Lower Colorado Region as a Remote Sensing Analyst in Boulder City, Nevada. Kelly was a participant for 1 term at Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Virginia and a Geoinformatics Fellow for two terms at DEVELOP's node at NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NC) in Asheville, North Carolina from Fall 2016 to Spring 2017.

What do you enjoy most of what you do?

Kislik: I am working with a woman named Maggi Kelly, who is my advisor in my department; we are in a remote sensing lab. I really like that my job involves curiosity. It keeps me up at night thinking 'oh this other method! Or this dataset!' It is really driven by the pursuit of curiosity and knowledge creation. It's also really fun because I can spend the day doing whatever I want, so it's really flexible, and I like being with peers that are doing similar sorts of research.

Kucera: A lot of my job is finding new ways to communicate exciting science and project outcomes from the global SERVIR network. Whether it's making graphics for social media, maps and banners for conference booth displays, or laying out a textbook explaining synthetic aperture radar for forest monitoring, I have a wide variety of projects, and there's never a dull moment.

Meehan: I really enjoy programming. My favorite part of the job is automating existing workflows with scripts and making them into tools so things can be run as efficiently as possible.

What inspired you to work in your field?

Kislik: When I was with DEVELOP, I really loved the water projects that we did. We did some algal bloom projects and Sargassum [bigger algae] projects. I went to do a Fulbright down in Ecuador and was mainly doing part of what I was doing at ARC. I decided grad school is definitely what I want. I was so excited about the research that was going on that started in DEVELOP.

Kucera: I would have never gotten into or known about the position I have today if not for DEVELOP. One of the great things about DEVELOP is learning about the NASA structure, what other associated programs are like, and what opportunities are available. Also being able to engage with the wider network, like going to the Annual Earth Science Application Showcase (AESAS) and being introduced to people who helped make this happen. I always knew I was passionate about science and art, and it's been great to find ways to do what I enjoy.

Meehan: I went back to graduate school to study ecology. I'm really interested in conservation work, and I realized how integral GIS and remote sensing are to that field. I was really inspired by what you can do with remote sensing to look at environmental problems. I also love how it can be a great tool and serve as a visual aid to help communicate an issue to a non-science audience.

What did you gain from your various roles in DEVELOP?

Kislik: As a participant, there was a lot of introduction to satellite imagery analysis, downloading, processing, and working in a team. As an Assistant Center Lead and Center Lead, it was really an introduction to facilitation and try to make sure that everyone was feeling supported on the teams. Also, there was a lot of partner collaboration which I really loved. In fact, I'm still in communication with some of them. The Communications Fellow position was great in terms of learning how to do social media and creating posters and creating videos.

Kucera: While working as a participant, you get a chance to actually do more of the applied science research aspect of it, which is great. I found in the fellowship roles, you're more removed from the science but you gain experience developing project proposals. It's great to see how projects come together and how to make a viable project for DEVELOP. The hiring process too - learning what people look for in applications, how to build a team, how to get people with complementary personalities and skill sets together - was really valuable.

Meehan: Through my various roles, I really gained insight into the public sector, working effectively on research teams, and also, different datasets that are produced by the public sector. I became very aware of software programs that are very current.

Was DEVELOP influential in your current career or school path?

Kislik: I would say it was really influential because DEVELOP was what initially inspired me to get into algal bloom research, and I'm still doing that today but instead of using satellite imagery, primarily I'm flying drones to collect that imagery myself. DEVELOP was a huge inspiration.

Kucera: Definitely! DEVELOP really helped me solidify more of what I was interested in pursuing professionally after graduating college. And when I went to AESAS, that's where I met the entire SERVIR team, including Africa Flores, who I currently work very closely with now. It was great to have all the Applied Sciences folks together in the same room.

Meehan: Yes, definitely. DEVELOP was my first experience in the public sector; I had worked in the nonprofit sector predominantly before that. I loved the non-profit sector but being in the public sector was very interesting too and inspired me to pursue a position in that arena. I know that my work, similar to the nonprofit sector, has meaning and I enjoy being a public servant.

What is some professional advice that you would give a DEVELOPer looking to get into your field?

Kislik: Try out a topic that sounds interesting and stick with it for at least 3 months to a year. Try to pursue it in a research environment or a personal project or studying it in school because it is sometimes hard to find that niche. Or go get a drone and go get your own imagery and stitch it together and see what you can find. Go out and experiment.

Kucera: I think the biggest and most basic thing is gaining some small graphic design skills. If you're doing research, you have to know how to communicate it in a way that people will understand. It's so important, and many people think of it as an afterthought. Take steps to train your brain to think about how you're displaying information!

Meehan: Always keep your eye out for opportunities and try to make the most of those opportunities. There are a lot of opportunities to attend conferences whether it's volunteering or working at them. Networking involves relationships that are lateral and non-hierarchical, and they offer two-way learning. Wherever you are in your professional career, you have something to offer someone else. Volunteering is another great opportunity to gain experience to see what kind of positions you like, what type and what size of an organization you like, the type of work you like to do; that can be a really great way to get your foot into the door. If you get the opportunity to do something that you really love, you just shine when you're in your element, and that can never hurt!

Did you overcome any gender barriers in your field?

Kislik: Yes. The majority of drone pilots are men; 4% of drone pilots are women. Sometimes you feel like you have to prove yourself because it's not exactly the status quo per se. There are a lot of women in my program, so I feel really supported in that way, and I have a lot of female role models. It's been really fun to try out these gadgets and these methodologies that might be in a more male-dominated field.

Kucera: It's the little things that build up. In my high school calculus class, I was one of three women, and you'd sometimes get joking remarks like 'why are you guys here?'. That's a little one. But usually, I've been pretty fortunate in that I try to see those times as a chance to change people's minds and prove myself as equally capable.

Meehan: That is tricky to answer from my individual experience because I'm not privy to information about how much my peers receive or what's behind the scenes for a position I have applied for. I can say that in general, we see that women are underrepresented in computing and IT positions across the board. They are also paid lower salaries than men in the same occupation. There is also a lot of vertical segregation, so women are concentrated in lower positions. There's a multitude of explanations for this; I think one that is common is that women commonly don't have as much access to networking and mentoring opportunities as a result of vertical segregation.

What are some lessons you have learned in your life?

Kislik: My Ph.D. adviser has a saying, 'be polite but firm.' I really like that advice because that's helped me get through tough types of communication or setbacks. Pursuing what you need to pursue and not being afraid to be persistent.

Kucera: I think the biggest thing is to be open to new experiences. Admitting when you don't know things, but also being a self-starter and getting yourself up to speed as much as you can for whatever you're facing is hugely valuable, no matter what your career choice.

Meehan: If I could offer one, I would say that often we think that there is just one path to get to where we think we want to be, and I think that in reality, this is a much more fluid process and a lot less linear. There's a lot of different ways we can get to what we would like to do, and this realization offers a lot of freedom and room for creativity.

What does your future hold?

Kislik: I have 3 more years of Ph.D. I'm really interested in thinking about potentially going back to governmental work. It would be really interesting to work with NASA again or to work with a local regulatory agency or NGO. Professorship is also on the potential horizon, but that is a little more limiting in terms of where you get to live. I love the Bay Area. If I wanted to stay in California, I would probably choose some sort of cool job that involves geospatial analysis and research.

Kucera: In the immediate future, I'll be going to Maputo, Mozambique, in April for the GFOI [Global Forest Observations Initiative] Plenary, where we are going to be presenting some of the materials for the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) handbook. I'm excited about the release since this has been a really involved and collaborative project. Further down the road, I'm planning on taking some grad courses at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and trying to eventually map out a path to a Ph.D.

Meehan: I plan on staying in the remote sensing and GIS field. I hope to have coding be a large percentage of my work tasks, and I am very interested in working on web app development. I'm interested as well in humanitarian data analyst work; I think that would bring my career full circle.

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