Local college students recently participated in training that not only taught them about geospatial technology, but also took them on adventures outside of the classroom.

The geosciences and geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, training is a three-year project at Claflin University funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“It’s a targeted infusion project focused on building an interdisciplinary geosciences and geospatial intelligence curricula through applied training and mapping and spatial reasoning,” principal instructor Dr. Camelia Kantor said.

“This type of training is unique to the area and possibly to the country, and will be serving as a model in training students in these fields,” Kantor said. “It is rare that a small school located in a predominantly rural area leads two other major research institutions in such technically advanced projects.”

The course has an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together students from different departments at Claflin as well as a few students from South Carolina State University.

“So we have a really interesting mix of students, different classifications, different majors and minors who are participating in an intensive three-week training. We are in year two of the training,” Kantor said.

The course also brings together instructors from several schools to assist her: Dr. Narcisa Pricope of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington; Dr. Camelia Knapp of the University of South Carolina; and Dr. Mihail Kantor of Claflin’s biology department.

Students learned about online mapping and field data editing and post-processing. They also learned about concepts relating to groundwater, aquifers and hydrology.

In the first week of this year’s training, the students collected water samples from local ponds and streams to analyze the nitrate content in order to build a geodatabase.

“We’ve been learning what GEOINT is, so we’re basically playing with satellites and pinpointing where our location is, as well as going around and taking samples from different lakes, bringing them back to the lab and testing them for their nitrate levels,” said Claflin senior biology major Monai Mitchell.

In the second week, they watched as a drone flew over Claflin’s campus collecting geospatial imagery, which was later used in class. In the final week of the course, students visited Congaree National Park, canoeing and hiking and working with the park’s educational director to understand watersheds and geology.

“At the end of the week, we go back to the human aspect of geospatial technology – we’re looking to human geography in case studies,” Kantor said.

In the field and in class, students got hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment and industry-standard software.

“We’re all trying to teach the students, train the students in geospatial technology – geographic information systems, we’re doing a little bit of remote sensing, we’re doing data collection, GPS data collection,” Kantor said. “And we’re doing the basic procedures of creating maps ... databases, geodatabases ... we’re doing a lot of stuff."

"I’m actually in phase two of the internship, so this is a continuation of last year for me,” S.C. State sophomore agribusiness major Trevon Andrews said. “Last year ... we learned geospatial concepts, what GEOINT is ... and an introduction to how to use GIS software and to be able to use and operate a map.”

“This year, we’re not operating maps so much as actually collecting data and then creating our maps, and taking it a step further to be able to analyze those maps and then build relationships and draw connections and conclusions from what we see on our maps that we created,” Andrews said.

Claflin senior sociology and education major Marshall Wingate is also in his second year of the training.

“What we’re learning now is mapping. We’ve been collecting data samples. I’m actually configuring them out on a map and pinpointing different locations,” Wingate said. “Today was actually making a map with rivers and lakes in it, and it’s very interesting.”

The training is intensive, but the students seem to enjoy it, Kantor said. And the skills the students learn in the training can make them highly sought after in the job market, she said.

“Right now, the fact that they already know how to utilize the symbology, how to utilize the correct projections, to work in RGS in ESRI -- this is the top software in mapping -- they’re already marketable in anything that deals with utilization of cartography,” Kantor said. “And actually if you look into ... this year’s classification of Forbes’ top jobs, cartography and photogrammetry is number 15. So this is a very hot job market.”

The skills also have military applications, she said.

“We have a pretty good number of ... ROTC students doing this because the technology is now highly utilized by the military,” Kantor said.

“I’m going to join the Air Force when I graduate,” Mitchell said. “And from there in the Air Force, they deal with airplanes and dropping bombs and doing surveillance and reconnaissance."

She added, “So this will actually help me because they’re pinpointing the location and using different GPS (data) to figure out the radius. So when you drop a bomb, it has to land in that radius, and you need GPS and satellite imagery to do that."

“I’m actually an Army ROTC cadet at South Carolina State University, and a combat engineer is one of my possible selections,” Andrews said.

“Geospatial certifications, GEOINT certifications ... are available for combat engineers, and they’re actually recommended for those officers in that field,” he said. “Because what a combat engineer does is to locate the enemy and create a path to reach the enemy, and that deals a lot with geospatial sciences.”

“I’m actually involved in the community,” Wingate said. “I want to do research in the communities and I want to actually use mapping to help me pinpoint different locations or different structures in the community (to help identify) destructive things that’s bringing the community down."

“So what I’m trying to do is try to find things in our area ... that are destructive toward the community."

Contact the writer: chuff@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5543.

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