Saving the Herd with AI
Nisha Verma, a graduate student at Maryville University, posts the reasons for her participation in the Ideathon in the first group activity of the day.
By Carolyn Ziaja, NGA Office of Corporate Communications

NGA joined forces with the Missouri Technology Corporation and Saint Louis University Oct. 5 to launch “Saving the Herd with AI,” the first in a series of events exploring the use of automation to advance Counter Wildlife Trafficking, or CWT, efforts.

During the three-day inaugural “Ideathon,” teams of graduate students representing four St. Louis-area universities worked together at SLU’s Learning Resource Center to propose solutions to specific CWT problems outlined by Odean Serrano, founder and director of the CWT Institute.
Professional experts from NGA, industry and academia, including geospatial practitioners, researchers, artificial intelligence developers and data scientists, served as mentors and advisers to the students.

“Saving the Herd with AI” represents NGA’s commitment as a key player in the St. Louis geospatial ecosystem, and its dedication to supporting the next generation of developers to create innovation through automation, said Mike Fitzpatrick, event organizer and NGA project manager in NGA's Office of Ventures and Innovation.

“NGA’s geospatial mission relies on automation and must grow as technology expands,” said Fitzpatrick. “Combating wildlife trafficking is a geospatial problem intertwined with transnational organized crime that includes ties to terrorist entities.” CWT, as a result, as significant ties to national security.

At the event, Serrano explained the importance of geospatial intelligence in the counter-trafficking mission, and emphasized the need for collaboration across government, industry and education. “We need you,” she told the students.

Nisha Verma, a data science student at Maryville University, said she hopes to put her 5 years of data experience to work, expand her skills and make a difference in CWT efforts on behalf of animals.

“They can’t do anything about it, but we can,” she said.

Devin Howarth, an international relations major at University of Missouri-St. Louis, said he wants to see how far his ideas can go when backed by technology. He said he looks forward to working with data scientists, finding new ways to use the information he collects.
Howarth's teammate, Haddi Malik, a political science student, is focused on exploring community integration as solution for problems sets.

“You need to take a collaborative approach,” he said. “It’s so important.”

In his opening comments, Jason Hall, Missouri Technology Corporation board member and chief executive officer of Arch to Park, explained St. Louis is already ranked as one of the greatest growing innovation hubs. 
“We made a commitment to be the undisputed center of excellence for data [science] and geospatial [technology],” he said.
NGA's Christy Monaco and Jason Hall, Missouri Technology Corporation, kick off the Ideathon at SLU Oct. 5. Photos by Carolyn Ziaja, NGA Office of Corporate Communications
Teams will continue to work on their ideas, leveraging mentors and resources received at the Ideathon until the next event, Accelerator, in March, where they will pitch their completed proposals. The winning team will present their recommendation at GeoResolution next spring in Saint Louis.

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