By Lori Lyn Lirio
LEAN Dizon Teodoro, a 22-year old Filipino-American may have come from a small island of Saipan but her dream is as big as the universe.
Teodoro, a graduating student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, landed internship stints at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA.
For three semesters, she was part of the research fellowship for the NASA Hawaii Space Consortium and last summer she landed an internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“Since I moved to Hawaii on my own, I went seeking out for all the opportunities I could to get my hands on NASA. I realized how amazing UH Manoa is, especially the strong and encouraging network of my specific school (School of Ocean, Earth Sciences and Technology or SOEST),” said Teodoro, who is pursuing Bachelor of Science in Geology and Geophysics.
One of her mentors, Health Kaluna, made it possible for her to be at research and internship at NASA.
“Without her, I would not have landed a research fellowship for the NASA Hawaii. She made me land an internship at a place I have always wanted to work at-NASA JPL. She had a best friend there where they both went to grad school at UH Manoa and her friend currently works at JPL so she hooked me up with that internship,” Teodoro said.
At NASA JPL, Teodoro said she worked with the Near-Earth Object Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer or NEOWISE team. Her research was mainly focused on detecting near-earth objects that have not been detected through automated detection pipeline.
“Every day, I looked at about 100 images to identify any potential asteroid candidates. Many image search tool techniques were used to extract any near-earth asteroids on the images.”
At first, she said it was challenging for her because she does not any clue what to do.
“I had little to no background knowledge in astronomy. I also had to do a side-project that weighed heavily in coding Python. It was definitely a steep learning curve for me but a rewarding one. My mentor helped me tremendously and was generous. I didn’t have a strong foundation in math or science but he helped me every step of the way.”
Although she has been exposed to astronomy, Teodoro said she is still not sure what she wants to be.
“What I want to do is to help contribute to future human space exploration. My experiences have been a mix of health and geosciences and so I want to be able to combine those two fields to see how humans can adapt to extreme environment or perhaps how we can colonize Mars in the future. I mean working for NASA full time would be great but it’s not really an ‘end goal’ of mine,” Teodoro said.
Before the NASA stint, Teodoro has been involved in various research projects. She was involved in research in Chiang Mai, Thailand on how methamphetamine affects the brain. The Minority Health International Research training program facilitated the research, which goal was to bridge gaps between cultural differences in a research setting.
During her two-year stay at Northern Marianas College, she had the opportunity to go to University of California in San Diego to do NASA-related research – looking at the effects of microgravity on the human body.
“Of all the these research internships, it all started with the NIDDK STEP UP Program (National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases-Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons), where I first exposed to research right after high school doing box jellyfish research to public health research. I just did a huge variety of summer research projects that I think made me a well-rounded individual,” she said.
Teodoro graduated in Marianas High School in 2014. She said moving to Hawaii was the most financially challenging phases of her life but she does not regret it even though she has gone through hardships.
“There is more to life than just a walk on the beach. There are opportunities out there waiting for you – opportunities to grow, to learn new things that will completely change your life for the better. Sure, you come from a small island, but don’t let that define you and your goals in life.”