EOI alumna now working for NASA’s DEVELOP program

Paxton LaJoie
Paxton LaJoie

From completing her master’s in Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) to working for the Digital Earth Virtual Environment and Learning Outreach Project (DEVELOP) program at NASA, Paxton LaJoie made her dreams of working with remote sensing and solving ecological issues a reality.

After obtaining her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, LaJoie spent a year teaching science at an underserved middle school in Syracuse, New York. Wanting to work more with research and data collection, she set out to find a graduate program that aligned with her educational goals.

“When I was first looking at grad programs, a lot of them initially felt the same,” said LaJoie. “All the programs I looked at essentially wanted you to choose between focusing on modeling or spatial observations and I think EOI just presented itself as providing me a toe in every field so that I could sample everything.”

The Nelson Institute’s EOI program is a 15-month program that focuses on the disciplines of environmental conservation, remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS), and informatics. Learn more about the programand how to apply.

Before entering the EOI program, LaJoie had never worked with remote sensing before but was instantly intrigued by the process. “Just learning that we had all these incredible satellite images and all these great things we could do with it was just really fun for me,” said LaJoie.

Not only were the classes new and exciting, but LaJoie said that the people she met along the way also gave her a unique perspective as to what the program offers students. “I met a couple of people who had taken the remote sensing class just because they wanted to use satellite imagery for art which was absolutely not something I was using it for, but it really helped me get an idea of all the avenues for this field and I really liked it.”

LaJoie said she owes some of her success at the EOI program to Sarah Graves. Graves is the coordinator for the EOI MS program where she advises, trains, and engages with students to become leaders in using observational data to address pressing environmental issues. “The biggest reason I came to EOI and my number one biggest help throughout the program was Sarah Graves,” said LaJoie. “She’s amazing and she deserves some credit because she was the person who convinced me to go and helped me with everything and has been so supportive since then.”

Graves shared that she had the utmost confidence in LaJoie during their work together. “Paxton epitomizes values we have in the Environmental Professional Programs; having a genuine excitement to learn, being open to new opportunities, learning from and with your peers, and being resilient and creative when faced with challenges,” said Graves. “I am confident she will go far professionally, not just because of the strong geospatial skills she developed in the EOI program, but also because she is fun to work with and has a passion for supporting communities and creating healthy environments.”

After graduating the EOI program in August of 2020, LaJoie was hired at DEVELOP which is a part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program. There, she started as a team member and has since upgraded to a project lead position. LaJoie said that the transition from her graduate studies to working for DEVELOP was seamless. “It was the same type of work I was doing at EOI but as a job. So, I was very excited, applied right away and was lucky enough to be accepted and have the opportunity to work with DEVELOP.”

“[DEVELOP’s] goal is the same as EOI in that they are trying to promote capacity building, educate people on remote sensing, partner with different organizations on projects to try to build environmental knowledge in different sectors and solve ecological issues,” said LaJoie. “So, it was a really incredible bridge from EOI to the professional world because it was a lot of the same goals and components, just in a different sector. It’s been a really easy transition and I’ve enjoyed it.”

LaJoie’s said her tasks at DEVELOP are mostly researched based. “Every week is kind of different but it’s basically a lot of collaboration between our team and partner organizations and doing remote sensing research all day, every day to try and support the research goals of each project.”

Looking back, LaJoie said she found the right path for herself through the EOI program. “I’ve found that I really enjoy the remote sensing and GIS work and I definitely think that EOI was the right move for me.”

Learn more about the Environmental Observation and Informatics MS and how you can support the program