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DEVELOP Alumni Spotlight


In winter of 2012, Josh Kelly was attending the American Geophysical Union’s Annual Meeting to present a poster on his undergraduate research on submarine volcanoes when he saw a NASA table in the exhibition hall advertising for student research opportunities. At the table was Lauren Childs-Gleason, then a representative of NASA DEVELOP’s National Program Office, and currently DEVELOP’s Science Manager. As they got talking, Lauren mentioned that they were planning to have a project that upcoming summer researching pumice rafts in the Pacific Ocean. Recognizing the overlap with his undergrad research, Lauren encouraged him to apply. A few months later, Josh started working as a DEVELOP participant at Langley Research Center. 

Josh Kelly in front of NASA logo
Josh Kelly during his first term as a DEVELOP participant at Langley Research Center, back in the summer of 2013.

Unbeknownst at the time, saying yes to this opportunity at a chance meeting would snowball into Josh learning the technical, networking, and communication skills he needed to identify his career passions and go on to become a faculty member at California State University, Los Angeles. DEVELOP was Josh’s first experience with remote sensing, which he claimed would later become his best tool in his professional toolbelt for graduate school and beyond. Having previously built that foundation in remote sensing gave him an edge to help complete his PhD at San Diego State University and UC San Diego. His research looked at historical shoreline change along the eastern coast of Australia using Landsat data, finding that as El Nino transitioned to La Nina, they saw a transition from beach growth to beach erosion. This work helped coastal managers prepare in advance for future transitions. 

Josh Kelly doing field work in Australia
Josh’s current lab at California State University, Los Angeles relies on drone imagery, as well as Earth observation data.

In addition to the technical work, Josh found that the soft skills he learned as a DEVELOPer were just as valuable long-term. His experiences learning how to both collaborate on and lead a team, give and receive feedback, and communicate with partners, combined with the technical background, made him into a better professional. Moreover, Josh’s DEVELOP experience gave him valuable perspective on the kind of impact he wanted his work to have.

“What has stuck with me from DEVELOP is the applied aspects of doing science. The kind of science that’s useful, that’s helpful. Ultimately, we do science because the public gives us funding, and so we should be doing science that is in turn beneficial to the public. What really makes DEVELOP special is being able to work directly with the project partners… so my experience [with DEVELOP] really ingrained that in me and motivates my future research topics.” 

Perhaps the longest lasting impact from Josh’s DEVELOP experience? The relationships and the network he built during his time. He still keeps in touch with his original teammates, as well as with Lauren and DEVELOP’s national science advisor Dr. Kent Ross, meeting up with them at conferences or discussing each other’s work over social media. When reflecting on the experience, Josh offered the advice of “don’t hesitate to stay in touch with DEVELOPers. DEVELOPers are a network for life… and if you see a door open, jump through it. Say yes. That's what I did with DEVELOP. [It all started by] talking with Lauren at a table and snowballed into me being a remote sensing scientist in academia.” 

Celeste Gambino is the current Senior Communications Fellow for DEVELOP, based out of the Massachusetts – Boston DEVELOP location. She has a B.A. and M.S. in Geology, with a research focus in paleoclimate and geochemistry. She’s interested in everything about space and Earth science, with a particular interest in environmental policy.


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