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GIS Fair supports area students' blossoming interest in STEM

 May 9, 2016

 Office of Corporate Communications

More than 100 students from Washington, D.C.-area high schools presented their geospatial information systems projects during the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's GIS Fair, April 6, at the agency's Springfield, Virginia, headquarters.

The NGA GIS Fair is part of the agency’s Partners in Education program and provides an opportunity for students at Robert E. Lee High School and South Lakes High School to gain mentorship and feedback from GIS professionals.

During the NGA GIS Fair, the young geospatial innovators’ final projects were “judged” by NGA employees, who provided feedback on purpose, design and methodology, execution, creativity and presentation.

The students use their own tools and the Esri ArcGIS online tool to find, collect and digitize data, said Charles Sabatier, science specialist from Fairfax County public schools. The fair is a valuable way for students to present their projects in front of a professional audience and get feedback.

Student projects covered a variety of GIS topics including population change, correlation in crime rates and state political preferences, mapping cholera, and discovering flood risks in Virginia’s James River watershed.

“It was energizing to see how these high school students are using data-rich spatial analysis to explore phenomena like obesity and public safety,” said Jon Breece, NGA geospatial intelligence analyst and GIS fair judge. “Projects that I reviewed relied on finding, structuring and exploring diverse datasets to reach evidenced-based conclusions.”

“I loved being a part of this [NGA GIS Fair] because of the enthusiasm and talent of the students,” said Eliza Bradley, NGA spectral imagery scientist.

Bradley was inspired by the range of topics, and the opportunity to provide constructive feedback and encouragement, she said.

“It was a great chance to hear directly from students about what NGA could do to encourage them to work here and to see NGA’s commitment to our community and future workforce,” said Bradley. “With GEOINT Pathfinder 2 and other programs, it makes me feel that we are making progress toward addressing the needs and interests of this next generation. We need to create an environment that unlocks this potential.”

The NGA GIS Fair is essential to NGA’s relationship with the community and the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education, said Brittany Beverly, NGA PIE program lead.

“STEM education is the key to our tomorrow,” said Beverly, whose favorite parts of the annual fair is seeing NGA volunteers display their “world class talent” while planting seeds of interest into the broad world of GEOINT.

Beverly encourages all NGA employees to participate in at least one PIE event a year.

“It’s such a rewarding experience to influence a student, classroom or to show your child how cool you are to their classmates,” said Beverly.

Beverly also enjoyed seeing the work the students put into their projects and how, when they first arrive, they’re timid and nervous, and by the end of the day, they’ve become confident and excited.

 “The passion students find in participating in these activities often lasts a lifetime and results in a more enthusiastic and successful workforce,” said Michelle Sandersfeld, NGA spectral scientist and GIS fair judge.

“Get a technical degree – do anything you want,” said NGA Deputy Director Sue Gordon, while urging the students to not limit themselves. “You are leading us to our future,” said Gordon.

Video by NGA Office of Corporate Communications