Elon’s hands-on learning led Kasie Coccaro ’06 down a path toward developing unique technologies at National Geographic.
Imagine if you had a camera that worked in the deepest parts of the ocean. What would you see? Only about 5% of the ocean has been fully explored, so chances are good you’d catch a glimpse of a vast landscape of biodiversity unknown to most people.
This is exactly the kind of innovative hardware that Kasie Coccaro ’06 oversees in the Exploration Technology Lab at National Geographic. As the lab’s senior director, she leads a team of engineers who develop unique technologies like the Deep Ocean Dropcam, which can be programmed to collect 4k video on the ocean floor for a designated time before rising to the surface again and transmitting a radio beacon so a scientist can collect it and analyze the footage.
“One in every 10 times this piece of technology goes to the bottom of the ocean, it yields a scientifically publishable discovery,” Coccaro says. “To date, we’ve deployed it over 600 times.”
A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, Coccaro has been a digital innovator since her Elon days. The public administration major was among the first to minor in multimedia authoring at Elon, learning how to design, write and code digital content. She credits her Elon experience with enabling her to land jobs that required years of experience right after graduation.
I would not have been competitive in subsequent jobs if not for those real-world opportunities — internships and mentoring — that I got from professors at Elon.
“Elon professors provided me a lot of real-world resume building opportunities that I would not have received at a larger school,” Coccaro says. “I walked out of Elon with seven jobs or internships, and every one of those was an opportunity a professor connected me with. I would not have been competitive in subsequent jobs if not for those real-world opportunities — internships and mentoring — that I got from professors at Elon.”
Coccaro used those skills to launch her own custom website business before securing the role of deputy director of White House digital programs in the first-ever White House Office of Digital Strategy under President Barack Obama. In her current role at the National Geographic Society, the organization’s nonprofit arm, Coccaro and her team develop technologies and tools to empower National Geographic’s network of “Explorers,” who receive grants to study natural and cultural worlds.
“My department aims to accelerate unique asset capture, data collection and data analysis for our Explorers,” Coccaro says. “We do this in the most remote and extreme locations.”
Explorers focus on storytelling, science and research, or education, and they all work with the Exploration Technology Lab to figure out how to achieve their goals most effectively. Coccaro says her team operates under two premises — that Explorers lack access to technology that meets the requirements for their expeditions, and that many of them don’t fully understand all the ways technology can help them advance their goals.
“We innovate for our Explorers by building novel hardware technology and partnering with them to provide information and access to new ways of thinking around their research and storytelling,” Coccaro says.
For example, the lab helped develop the world’s highest weather stations as part of an Everest Expedition to better understand how climate change impacts mountains and glaciers. Coccaro and her team also created Crittercams, which are worn by a wide variety of creatures and capture often unprecedented video of animal behavior from the animal’s perspective. This technology has been deployed with more than 80 marine and terrestrial species, collecting data that is crucial to advancing conservation and research to protect these animals.
“There’s no money to be made from cameras you put on the backs of sharks,” Coccaro says. “But without our help and support, Explorers would not have the innovative tech to do the work they do and to have the impact they hope to achieve.”
Kasie Coccaro ’06
Senior Director, Exploration Technology Lab at National Geographic // Novel Tech Developer
Projects & Activities
Coccaro, K. (Spring 2006). Web and graphic design intern. NutritionInMedicine.org, Chapel Hill, NC.
Coccaro, K. (2006). Polling intern. Elon University Poll, Elon, NC.
Coccaro, K. (2004). Digital campaign management intern. Alice Bordsen, NC House of Representatives District 63 Campaign.
Coccaro, K. (2003-04). Web development and design for multiple North Carolina businesses: Barrettdesign Events and & Floral, Greensboro; Chapel Hill Chamber Orchestra, Chapel Hill; Allied Churches of Alamance County, Burlington; Christian Adventures, Greensboro.
Coccaro, K. (2002). Volunteer. Virginia Gov. Elect Mark Warner Campaign.