Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Undergrad NASA Internship

May 29, 2013

Madison Boehm, a senior in Geography specializing in GIScience, spent the summer of 2012 interning in NASA's DEVELOP program at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. DEVELOP brings in promising GIScience students from across the country to work in teams of 7 or 8 on a project for a federal agency or other country.

Madison's team worked with North Carolina Department of Agriculture on a more efficient method for determining crop damage after a natural disaster. North Carolina agriculture is impacted by disasters such as a hurricane, flood, or drought on a nearly annual basis. The department's previous method had been to send agents into the field to get some partial data and then extrapolate from that sample; the agency was concerned with their inability to efficiently examine all damaged crop sites, resulting in too much remediation being given out.

Using Landsat 5 and MODIS satellite images, the student team looked closely at images of North Carolina crop land before Hurricane Irene struck and then near the end of that event, before the flooding had receded. Crops that are submerged, even for just a short time, will be ruined. Using case study methodology, the team estimated acreage and then loss per crop type in specific soil families. They had USDA data for crop values and calculated a number of indexes (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, the Normalized Difference Moisture Index, the Normalized Differential Water Index and the Normalized Multi-Band Drought Index) in order to estimate losses.

This methodology will be ready for use by the department at the next natural disaster.

Before he interned at NASA, with what he described as "no real GIS experience outside of classes," he landed a research assistant job in the OSU Biological Ecology Engineering Department. In that position, he worked with a huge dataset and a Python script to classify 100-meter sections of the Mekong River in China by their land use, slope and elevation for a project that needed to average out these characteristics for the entire river.

With the NASA internship under his belt, he was successful this year in getting an assistant position in Agricultural and Resource Economics Department at OSU for the Willamette Water 2100 project. A series of 100 orthophotos (aerial photos geometrically corrected so that the scale is uniform) had been given to sample farmers to mark where they have differences with tax lot records. Madison has been correcting tax lot data with ARC-GIS tools.

Before his experience with NASA, Madison hoped to land a GIS tech position in natural resources. However that internship expanded his view of possible career directions. The DEVELOP program brought in a range of experts and encouraged students to interact with them. The students presented their work at NASA Headquarters to an audience that included the NASA president and astronauts. At Langley Headquarters, Madison became intrigued after talking with a few Air Force specialists about the field of geospatial intelligence–interpreting remote sensing imagery for intelligence gathering.

As graduation nears, Madison is exploring his options in both natural resources and geospatial intelligence, and talking with mentors and OSU alumni to see which career avenue is a better fit for him.

When asked if he has any advice for other students, Madison replied, "Don't be bashful about talking to your GIScience professors. There is no way I would have gotten the NASA internship without close relationships with my mentor, Laurie Becker, and GIScience program director, Kuuipo Walsh. They helped me through the NASA application process and gave me recommendations. And Ms. Becker is continuing to help me in my career explorations and decisions, for example, recommending people I can talk to."

Madison Boehm

Madison Boehm, during his time at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is seen standing in front of an aircraft used to collect atmospheric data and aerial imagery. Boehm researched the effects that natural disasters, such as hurricanes and droughts, have on local agriculture using Geographic Information Systems and remotely sensed data.

Willamette Water 2100

Willamette Water 2100 - Willamette Valley Ecoregion Land Use / Land Cover ca. 2000 and South Basin Field Trip Stops


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