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May 26, 2010

Rebecca Strecker, NASA News Chief
NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3249

Former DEVELOP Student Travels to Africa to Support Research Efforts

For Jason Jones, the DEVELOP program at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center prepared him well for his latest professional adventure: supporting biodiversity research activities designed to make a difference in day-to-day life in Africa.

Jones traveled to the continent as one of three U.S. fellows supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to participate in My Community, Our Earth (MyCOE) programs in Africa. The groundwork for his involvement was laid through his participation in NASA's national DEVELOP student internship program. As a DEVELOP intern at Stennis Space Center, Jones worked with team members to compile research on community concerns, such as coastal erosion, and to create advanced computer-generated visualizations based on that data. The research and visualizations were presented to community leaders for making decisions on how to address the concerns.

Jones engaged in much the same activity in Africa. The MyCOE program was created in 2002 during the World Summit for Sustainable Development and continues to work with young people around the world through focused initiatives supported by public-private partnerships. The Association of American Geographers (AAG) is the partnership Secretariat. In 2009, AAG and NASA launched the MyCOE/SERVIR Biodiversity Initiative in Africa with additional support by the U.S. Agency for International Development and other organizations. SERVIR was created by NASA and USAID in 2005 to integrate satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters, with regional portals in Mesomerica as well as in Africa. SERVIR is an acronym standing for the Spanish words meaning Mesoamerican Regional Visualization and Monitoring System, as well as the Spanish word for "to serve."

The goal of the joint effort between MyCOE and SERVIR is to help young people in Africa use geographic techniques to study various biodiversity issues, such as work with threatened species or the study of people and environments. The resulting information and data then is provided to policy makers to help them make informed decisions about the issues. NASA's SERVIR-Africa seeks to gather data from a variety of sources, including satellites, human-held sensors, on-ground instruments and historical documentation. The data is compiled into an online, interactive visualization system of maps and models for decisionmakers. Using the system, decisionmakers are able to identify trends and coordinate responses on a variety of issues, such as health risks, climate change and land use. For instance, the work can provide valuable information on how to respond to disasters or to help farmers guard against crop loss from weather changes.

Jones credited his experience at Stennis with preparing him for the Africa work. "It was DEVELOP that initially sparked my interest in geospatial science and technology," he said. "The program has played the most critical role in my growth as a young professional. I am extremely grateful for all that DEVELOP and especially my mentors have done for me. Without DEVELOP, this experience in Africa would never have existed."

The MyCOE/SERVIR partnership, with funding support from USAID, engages 12 teams of students with mentors from nine African countries to conduct long-term biodiversity research projects using geographic information and technology. The NSF supports the effort by enabling U.S. fellows like Jones to learn from and contribute to this work with the youth teams in Africa. This year, three U.S. students with interests and skill sets matching the ongoing projects were selected. Each received support for travel costs, three months of living expenses in Africa, project placement and project mentoring.

In his work, Jones supported Environmental Information Systems-AFRICA, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa, that seeks to promote development of geospatial technologies across the African continent. He worked as an administrative assistant to the organization's executive director, served as a liaison between EIS-AFRICA and MyCOE/SERVIR research teams, and helped organize a United Nations Environment Program conference in Kenya. Jones also worked to provide qualified applicants with high-resolution commercial satellite imagery for their research efforts.

Upon his return from Africa earlier this spring, Jones began work with Optech International at Stennis International Airport.

For information about Stennis Space Center, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/.

For information about the MyCOE / SERVIR Africa Initiative: https://sites.google.com/a/aag.org/mycoe-servir/.

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