Community Spotlight Series: Alyssa Beth Luna

Alyssa Beth Luna is a Computer Science student at the University of the District of Columbia, and a summer 2021 intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. She has attended 2 Earth Hacks events and spoke with Chelsea Vargas, Earth Hacks’ organizational storytelling coordinator, about some of her work.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory software engineering intern Alyssa Beth Luna

Chelsea Vargas: Tell us a bit about yourself (i.e., where you’re from, your background, what you’re in school for, etc.)!

Alyssa Beth Luna: I currently reside in Northern Virginia, but growing up I moved around a lot due to my mom serving in the military. I’m studying Computer Science at the University of the District of Columbia and I am set to graduate next year. There is a real need for Tech in Climate Research and I want to be a part of that.

CV: How did you get involved with Earth Hacks? What was your first hackathon?

ABL: It was a roundabout journey that started last year when I participated in my first hackathon; The GREEN Program and Earth Hacks’ Agile Capstone Environmental Justice Hackathon on September 12–13, 2020.

CV: What do you enjoy the most about hackathons, and what has been your favorite hackathon/project to date?

ABL: Other than winning prizes, the opportunity to meet and network with people of varying educational backgrounds and interests is what I enjoy most about hackathons. My favorite hackathon so far has been the Urban Heat Island hackathon because it taught me about the visualization of climate change and that ultimately there isn’t one way of storytelling. This hackathon inspired me to start my own passion project which explores Virtual Reality in the Climate space as a way of storytelling and solving climate-related problems.

CV: What was your journey to JPL, and what projects are you working on?

ABL: My journey to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) happened so quickly. I remember being in contact with Sanjana about her internship program and not really expecting that I’d get chosen. I am the Software Engineer intern at JPL and I am currently working on SWOT — NASA’s first global survey of Earth’s surface water, providing data for clean air and water, extreme events, and long-term environmental changes.

CV: What’s one thing either industry-related or not — you learned in the last month?

ABL: It matters very little what I do on a daily basis at JPL because, at the end of the day, the goal means so much more. For example, when I talk about SWOT to people who ask me what I do at my internship with NASA, it doesn’t seem all that interesting, however, I know that all this satellite data being collected will be used for further Climate research and that means a whole lot!

CV: What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

ABL: As a result of my mom being in the AirForce, I lived in Japan for 2–3 years when I was very young, but never picked up the language.

CV: What would you say to students who have never heard of an environmental hackathon or think hackathons, in general, are only for programmers?

ABL: Hackathons are for everybody! Your skill sets are just as valuable as that of a programmer. In fact, our climate crisis requires solutions with different perspectives because it affects everyone, not just programmers.