Local High Schoolers gain STEM exposure via CICS-MD internships

Two local high school students interning with the ESSIC-administered Cooperation Institute for Climate and Satellites (CICS-MD) presented their latest research findings at a faculty seminar on April 1.

The students, Kayla Brown, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, MD, and Zuriel Herran, a senior at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, MD, worked under the tutelage of Visiting Assistant Research Scientist Dr. Scott Rudlosky, a physical scientist with the Satellite Climate Studies branch at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The CICS-MD-sponsored internship program is part of an effort to build connections with area high schools and works to give young students science exposure in order to continue to build a STEM workforce.

Brown’s study, entitled “Comparison of Ground-Based Lightning Detection Systems,” is based on two lightning detection networks; The Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN) and the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN).  In her study, Brown contrasts the performance of each network and analyzes differences between them.  She’s   currently working on the completion of calendar year 2014 data analysis, with plans to then perform analysis of data from 2015. 

Herran’s work, which focuses on wildfires, was entitled “Exploring the Relationships between Lightning and Wildfires using Satellite and Ground-Based Data.”  The study observes characteristics of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes that ignite wildfires and also works to find the average dwell time between lightning ignition and initial fire detections.  The study portrays the spatial and temporal relationships between lightning and wildfires through mapping.

Both students agreed that the internship program provided them with invaluable skills.

“[This internship] has given me a tremendous amount of experience,” said Brown. “I came here not knowing anything about atmospheric science or the tools that I’m working with. This is what I want to continue my education in, so [this internship] has given me a really solid foundation and a good background.”

Herran appreciated that the program gave him more exposure to the realities of the scientific community.

“It’s not your high school science fair,” he said. “The expectation is that we start maturing and growing into young professional scientists.”

The high schoolers faced many challenges while performing the advanced research. Brown spoke about her struggle to master Python, a high-level dynamic programming language.

“It was a really long experience,” she said. “I didn’t have any sort of experience with coding before. It was a big challenge, but once you sort of got over the hump it became a lot easier.”

Rudlosky was very proud of the work both students put into their presentations.

“They were both terrific people when they came in,” he said. “But in terms of science, they definitely blossomed given the opportunity.”