IVROP student attains prestigious summer internship study at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the California Institute of Technology

Mariana Valdez working at the Community Garden


Imperial County, CA —The Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program (IVROP) is proud to announce that IVROP FACES for the Future program participant and 2013 Calexico High School graduate and Valedictorian, Mariana Valdez, has been offered and has accepted an internship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.


The internship is part of a 10-week pilot study of the Salton Basin using the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument, one of five sensors flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. The Terra satellite has been continuously observing the Earth since the year 2000 and is projected to continue operating through this decade.

The purpose of this study is to document changes in the aerosol burden and dust plume aerial coverage and frequency over the period of 2000 to 2013 of the Basin, along with any changes in surface vegetation in the agricultural lands of the Basin. Due to the 13-year data record, this database has the potential to reveal changes which have occurred in the Salton Sea and its vicinity over more than a decade, as well as to establish a baseline against which future changes in the region can be compared.


Mariana Valdez was one of only a about half a dozen students from Imperial County who were deemed able to meet the extensive prerequisites necessary to be considered for the internship as, initially, applications were being accepted from students from around the United States. Mariana’s high academic achievement as Calexico High School Valedictorian with a 4.46 GPA, 12e Advanced Placement classes, and numerous scholastic awards enabled her to earn the internship, said IVROP Career Technical Education Coordinator Phil Villamor.


“At this young age, Mariana has not only an outstanding GPA – which includes multiple high-level science and mathematics courses – but she also has valuable experience in environmental group activities,” said Villamor. “She also plans to double major in Neuroscience and Environmental Engineering at (University of California,) Berkeley in the fall 2013. She plans to focus on research.”


Because the internship was initially open for one student only, a stipend through the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was only allocated for one student. As the opportunity for a second student intern was made available, the IVROP and the Imperial Irrigation District collaborated to find suitable candidates for the internship and to provide a stipend for the student who would intern at the JPL.


The IID is providing a $1,500 stipend, the IVROP Community Foundation is providing a $500 stipend and the IVROP’s FACES for the Future program is also providing $150 for the JPL Internship opportunity for which Mariana Valdez has been selected.


Mariana will be working both with professionals and a student intern from the University of Virginia throughout the 9-week duration of the internship. The internship starts on June 18, 2013.


“It is a one in a million opportunity,” Mariana said in an interview.


Mariana said she had been preparing for this internship by being involved in a number of activities including helping organize the local Earth Day event at Bucklin Park, founding the “Eagle Garden Club” Community Garden in Calexico, staying continuously involved with the Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Academics (MESA) program and attending the Imperial Valley Renewable Energy Summit.


Mariana said she believed the IVROP FACES program helped her considerably through the application process for the internship. From first notifying her about the internship opportunity, to workshops on professionalism from IVROP partner Cal-SOAP, to job shadowing a neurologist at the El Centro Regional Medical Center; Mariana said the FACES program was invaluable to her.


“If it wasn’t for FACES I would not have had my résumé and I wouldn’t have been able to get my application in to JPL so quickly and on time,” said Mariana.


Mariana said she is looking forward to this internship opportunity for many reasons including professional experience and creating knowledge as part of this comprehensive study. Mariana said she hopes to get a lot out of this internship herself in order to jumpstart both her college career and future career in research.


“(I am looking forward to) being able to interact with scientists and (the lab’s) tools because it will give me some professional skills that I haven’t had a chance to get in the classroom. What you read in a textbook is like five years old, (but through the internship) I’ll be right there creating the knowledge that someone else will read about,” she said.


Moreover, Mariana also hopes the study helps local students. To her knowledge, Mariana said she is the “very first person from the Imperial Valley at JPL and these internships have been going on for years.”


“Hopefully I can open up the door for any young students that want to study engineering or science to be able to come to one of these internships and experience the same things I will be experiencing or even something better,” she said.


Mariana also said she hopes the study helps aid in the effort to clean up the Salton Basin in order to help all residents of Imperial County.


“If you’re able to understand how those dust and clouds affect the climate there are different things you can (help prevent), for example viruses can be carried in the dust,” she said. “I hope (this study) leads to the government carrying out some action, if they are able to see the patterns and pinpoint the cause, so some change can be made here.”


“Anyway the Salton Sea can be used efficiently to help improve the area instead of it just being therewould be good for the area,” said Mariana.