Environmental Science Student in the news

08/10/ 2011

Clarisse Betancourt, The Environmentally Conscious Intern

Clarisse Betancourt wants to save the world, and what better place to start then at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This spring, the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) matched Betancourt with NASA Mentor Eric Brown de Colstoun to work on a 15 week project involving resource monitoring in and around two National Parks in the Upper Delaware River Basin.

“One of the objectives of our research involved monitoring important regions such as the national parks, which are our national treasures,” explained the environmental science major from the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras Campus. “The learning experience through the research was intense.  I have learned about National Monitoring Programs, Landsat, computer programs, sources to collect data, and others.”

For Betancourt, the biggest challenge she faced was leaving Puerto Rico for Greenbelt, Md., a place she had never been. However, she said, “This changed after the first week I started my internship because I met people that work for NASA and live in Maryland.”

While at Goddard, Betancourt also faced the challenges of using ArcGIS and developing her remote sensing skills, which were critical to analyzing “the changes of increasing impervious areas and/or decrease in tree cover in and around two national parks in the Upper Delaware Basin.”  She noted, “This research gives [park resource managers] an inexpensive approach to understand these changes and their [impacts].”

Betancourt became interested in earth science in high school and she is the first generation of her family to go to university.  Betancourt commented, “I was always interested in learning more and gaining experiences during my undergraduate studies [and] to get an opportunity to work for NASA.” This is her second tour with USRP; last summer she interned at Marshall Space Flight Center with Maury G. Estes and Mohammad Almmadan, researching “the impacts of land cover, land use, and climate change on hydrologic processes in shallow aquatic systems.” Before coming to NASA though USRP, she had completed other environmentally charged internships with her university and Texas A&M, as well as volunteering for 6 months as a guide for “More Kids to the Woods,” a federal program in Centro Ambiental Santa Ana Forest in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, to teach kids the importance of forests.

Upon graduation, Betancourt will continue her environmental science studies in graduate school.  Looking back at her time at Goddard, Betancourt encourages future interns to “soak up as many great experiences as possible, you are working in one of the best scientific centers in the country.  Be enthusiastic, energetic, and excited to learn from your project and the other projects your branch [has].... Also, make friends and maintain long-lasting relationships with the people you work with because in the future they [may] be your colleagues.”

Coulston commented about his experience with Betancourt, "At a time when our scientific community needs more Latin scientists, and more women scientists, it was a true pleasure to work with a future Latin Woman Scientist in Clarisse. Her positive outlook, willingness to learn, and mentorship of a younger intern on our project really made big contributions. We clearly need more young scientists such as Clarisse to help us solve the environmental challenges that we face in the near future!”