DEVELOP Alumni Spotlight

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Trevor McDonald. Image courtesy Planet Labs, PBC
Trevor McDonald. Image courtesy Planet Labs, PBC

Trevor McDonald is the Product Manager of Marketplace and Platform at Ursa Space Systems. Ursa is a satellite intelligence company that provides business and government decision-makers access to on-demand analytics solutions through their virtual constellation. Before that, he spent over five years working at Planet. Trevor was a recent graduate hired for his “dream job” working with public and private stakeholders at Planet, a career path he largely credits to his NASA DEVELOP experience.

One week after graduating from UCLA in 2015, Trevor began working on DEVELOP’s New Mexico Water Resources & Agriculture team out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He had previously taken classes in Geographic Information Systems and remote sensing, but in his two terms at DEVELOP, he could hone his technical skills and gain real-world experience. In addition, Trevor mentioned that there were three key valuable experiences he gained while at DEVELOP.

“It was a theoretical and real-world classroom. A place where we can learn about remote sensing and then how to apply it... That was one of the biggest things that I took away as a [DEVELOP] participant, moving from the theoretical to the practical.” – Trevor McDonald

The first was the realization that he was especially interested in the applied nature of science. Trevor described his DEVELOP work as “two worlds colliding… being able to connect science and the application of science.” In DEVELOP, each team works directly on addressing real-world environmental concerns and providing tools or products to help inform partners’ future decision-making. In this environment, Trevor found his passion for working in applied sciences, which would eventually become his long-term career. “It was a theoretical and real-world classroom. A place where we can learn about remote sensing and then how to apply it... That was one of the biggest things that I took away as a [DEVELOP] participant, moving from the theoretical to the practical.”

DEVELOP's JPL New Mexico Water Resources and Agriculture team, Summer 2015. Image courtesy NASA DEVELOP
DEVELOP's JPL New Mexico Water Resources and Agriculture team, Summer 2015. Image courtesy NASA DEVELOP

Trevor mentioned the next most valuable DEVELOP experience was the ability to work closely with and communicate with partners. During his two DEVELOP terms, Trevor and his teams regularly met with project partners to gain insight into the environmental issues they were facing and received frequent feedback on how their work could help them in the future. “Sometimes in the commercial world, you don’t get enough direct feedback from stakeholders, but in DEVELOP, you get regular feedback from partners to better yourself and your work.” Trevor described that kind of feedback and the ability to learn how to communicate remote sensing applications to a lay audience as an invaluable experience in terms of professional growth that he regularly used in his future positions at both Planet and Climate Engine.

Finally, Trevor highlighted the importance of the relationships he built while at DEVELOP and JPL. “You're getting exposure to the world's leading scientists.” It was the people Trevor worked with, the science advisors, teammates, partners, and more, who was one of the most valuable parts of DEVELOP. He described the importance of “the ability to admit that you don't know something… and then looking for help and having that help right at your fingertips.” Being surrounded by mentors and other curious-minded, passionate scientists who challenge you every day and help you grow into the career path you’re interested in prepared Trevor for his next steps. With his DEVELOP tool belt, Trevor has continued to pursue his passion for applied science and to make a difference in organizations by effectively communicating remote sensing abilities.

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 space and Earth science, particularly environmental policy.

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