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NGA fourth annual GIS Fair showcases local high school student talent

 May 5, 2017

 Elizabeth Short
 Office of Corporate Communications

More than 80 seniors from high schools near the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Springfield, Va., headquarters participated in the agency’s fourth annual Geospatial Information Systems Fair here, May 2.

Tuesday’s fair was part of NGA’s Partners in Education program, which focuses on sparking interest among students from community schools in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The program is part of a larger relationship between NGA and local high schools in Virginia and St. Louis to encourage future employment in the intelligence community, geospatial information, national security and federal government.

“It is clear that [the projects] get better every year, said NGA chief of staff Ed Mornston. “The projects improve, the quality of the presentations are better, [which] is very encouraging and uplifting for us.”

Students from local Virginia high schools, Robert E. Lee and South Lakes, who are interested in GIS are able to enroll in James Madison University’s Integrated Science and Technology department, Geospatial Semester program. Throughout the year, students take college GIS classes and focus on a yearlong project that gives them the skills needed for higher education and eventually, their careers. Upon completion of the program students earn college credit.

The Geospatial Semester program was founded in 2005, as a partnership between JMU and high schools across Virginia to keep seniors engaged in STEM during their final year.

“The program has a tremendous amount of success,” said Joyce Keranen, geospatial instructor from JMU. “Kids get so much independent project work to solve geospatial problems and get experience through this program.”

Projects at this year’s fair included exploring drunk driving behavior in the U.S., improving walkability and examining the country’s suicide trends using GIS concepts and technology.

In the morning, students presented their projects to a panel of judges. They also received professional mentoring and showcased their projects in front of NGA employees to view and provide feedback. The students will use the feedback to improve their projects before presenting their final projects at JMU at the end of the month.

“It was great receiving feedback from professionals because they are able to tell you different technology to use and other information that should be incorporated that was originally missed,” said Ben Gryski, a student at South Lakes High School.

“We need people who value diversity and (who want) to apply their talents to make a difference nationally and globally,” said Mornston. “And in the area of geospatial sciences, we need people who can use the rapid evolution of information technology and social media to enhance mission operations and advance the field.”

Watch the video  to hear some of the student's reactions about being at NGA.