NREL scientist receives Outstanding Public Leadership Medal from NASA

Clayton Turner (NASA), Paul Evangelista and David Bowles (NASA)

CSU Research Ecologist Paul Evangelista (center), with Clayton Turner, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center (left), and David Bowles, who recently retired as director of the center. Photo: Mark Knopp/NASA

Story by Thomas Stohlgren, senior research scientist in NREL

Paul Evangelista, a research ecologist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) at Colorado State University recently received an Outstanding Public Leadership Medal from NASA.

The medal is awarded to individuals for notable leadership accomplishments that have significantly influenced the NASA Mission. This is one of the highest awards given by NASA and the highest honor granted to a non-federal employee.

Evangelista was recognized for his eight years of leadership with the DEVELOP program, part of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program which addresses environmental and public policy issues through interdisciplinary research projects.

“Paul’s commitment to students and early career professionals are a credit to the NREL and the Warner College of Natural Resources,” said John Moore, head of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and the director of the NREL.

“This medal is only awarded to highly effective scientists who also serve as role models and can foster collaboration and teamwork across the organizations and industry to affect global change. We couldn’t be prouder of Dr. Evangelista,” he said.

Evangelista is the lead science advisor of the Fort Collins DEVELOP node, one of three programs — out of a total of 11 — that is affiliated with a university. It was also the first university-based DEVELOP location to partner with a federal agency; the CSU team partners with the United States Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center.

He said it was an honor to receive the prestigious medal.

“It’s an award I share with over 150 students and early career professionals, and more than a dozen fellow faculty and scientists here at CSU and at the U.S. Geological Survey,” said Evangelista.

He and his team, including students, have discovered innovative and practical applications of NASA’s Earth observation systems and technologies to better understand ecosystem processes and inform natural resource managers.

Since 2012, the CSU DEVELOP teams have completed over 35 projects with state and federal partners, such as the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service and the Colorado State Forest Service. These teams have won national awards and addressed community concerns.

As the lead advisor, Evangelista ensures the scientific merit of DEVELOP projects and leads program participants — referred to as DEVELOPers — in creating usable Earth science data and products for partner organizations. He advises and mentors 24 undergraduate and graduate students and mid-career professionals each year.

The CSU-led DEVELOP teams have also served as advisors and contributed to multiple international projects, including creating a drought-severity index for Ethiopia during the region’s worst drought in more than 30 years.

This project implemented a drought index using several NASA satellites to create decision support tools for partners in Ethiopia. The tools provided crucial and timely information for humanitarian aid and famine relief, and increased the capacity to monitor future droughts.

The National Resource Ecology Laboratory is part of the Warner College of Natural Resources.