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From Quotes to Quakes with Maggi Glasscoe

From Quotes to Quakes with Maggi Glasscoe Maggi Glasscoe, an Earth scientist and earthquake expert at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, started her career majoring in journalism until an oceanography class changed her future forever. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


This feature was written by high school student Chelsie Sunblade as part of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's ongoing celebration of Women's History Month 2012. Learn more at www.jpl.nasa.gov/whm

It's been said that the best opportunities come when least expected. Margaret Glasscoe was on her way to becoming a journalist when one class during her freshman year of college set her life on a different course. It would turn out to be the catalyst that set her future into full throttle.

Glasscoe was born on the Air Force base in Blytheville, Arkansas, to an air force engineer and his wife. Her family moved to Arizona when she was nine years old. There she become a star pupil. She was among the other high achieving students at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona, that were "slated" to go to college. Even though her main focus in high school revolved around journalism, she still loved the sciences. Astronomy research was an activity she participated in during her junior year of high school. Playing clarinet in the school band, volunteering with the district video crew and participating with the school newspaper were among her favorite high school activities.

Journalism was how she came to California. The University of Southern California was doing recruitment for their school of journalism, and it sparked her interest in the school. However, her decision to attend USC led to more than just a change of scenery.

College definitely brought out Glasscoe's inner passions. College is where people go to try new things, discover themselves and their future; Glasscoe accomplished this and more. Staying true to her roots, she became involved with the college radio station as a disc-jockey and news-staff reporter. This was on top of tutoring students and working. Amazingly, she found time to take a class in oceanography. And it was that small decision that would lead her to declare a major in geology her sophomore year. It was only the beginning. She would go on to participate in the Geology Honor's Society and take an internship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - the beginning of a long and rewarding relationship between herself and JPL. The work she did during her summer internship at JPL involved developing web-based modules for global positioning systems. The internship allowed her to explore all the possibilities that JPL had to offer. She even went on to achieve a master's degree in geology from the University of California at Davis. She is now on her way to completing her doctorate in geology, which will mark her fourth degree including her bachelor's in print journalism, for which she never forgot her passion.

Today, Glasscoe's contribution to science goes beyond her background. When people do what they love, it becomes less like work and more like play. Glasscoe has gotten to play around with some of the coolest "toys" JPL has to offer all in the name of science. She is a master multi-tasker. Not only is she the principal investigator on the E-DECIDER (Earthquake Data Enhanced Cyber-Infrastructure for Disaster Evaluation and Response) project, but she also collaborates with other researchers, scientists and engineers on the QuakeSim and DESDynI projects. These projects take research to another level. The E-DECIDER project is striving to find better response scenarios for earthquakes using a web-based tool that interprets complex science data so decision-makers can be better prepared to react to earthquake events. The QuakeSim project is what interprets that data and makes it useful.

Such complexity requires teamwork. Glasscoe collaborates with the researchers, scientists and engineers at Indiana University, University of California at Davis, and the Sacramento U.S. Geological Survey. Even with all these great people and resources at her disposal, she stays almost constantly busy, but being able to solve problems of this scale helps keep her motivated. It also lets other women know that this kind of field isn't impossible. Glasscoe is proving that women serve important roles in science and that even more can be accomplished.

Glasscoe has done marvels for the world of science. Her research contributes to improvements in earthquake response. Her past contributes to her individuality and drive. Her decisions contribute to her future. Glasscoe is paving the way for women pursuing careers in science.