Geospatial Stem Academy Introduces Local Students to GIS Technology

On a walk or drive by Ponce de Leon Avenue this summer, you might see a group of high school students pushing a stroller carrying a baby doll. Don’t be alarmed.

These students are testing the walkability of crumbling sidewalks in the area as a part of an assignment for Georgia State University’s Atlanta Summer Geospatial Stem Academy.

The academy is a geospatial technology summer training program for local high school students. The first of its kind in the Southeast, the program offers four week-long summer workshops to 100 local students, 25 students per workshop.

Students arrive on Georgia State’s campus with very little knowledge of geospatial technology. But after an intense week of hands-on learning, academy students leave Georgia State as geospatial technology stars, skilled in areas such as geographic information systems, drone mapping and mobile mapping techniques. 11200871_10153347030183119_4881595700239237048_n

“The students have been really responsive and open to learning something new. They’ve been challenged and they’ve risen to that challenge,” said faculty-lead Timothy Hawthorne. “We throw a lot at them in the span of a week, especially considering most of them have never experienced something like this in their classrooms, so I think they’re impressed by how much they’re able to do in such a short amount of time.”

For each workshop, the 25 attendees are separated into three groups. Each group is assigned a community-based project to complete over the course of the week such as social service access and walkability, emotions triggered by geographic areas and tree species data. The students map their findings using a mobile GIS application on tablets funded by the Verizon Foundation.

The groups work closely alongside community partners including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, InTown Collaborative Ministries, Westside Atlanta Land Trust, the Atlanta Beltline and Trees Atlanta to complete their projects.

Each class of Geospatial STEM Academy students presents their findings to their parents, the community partners they worked alongside and their Georgia State geospatial technology mentors at the conclusion of the week-long program.

“Our motto is to have fun, learn, collaborate and grow,” said Hawthorne. “I tell the students in the beginning that the most important thing they can do is to have fun. Research suggests that you will learn better and retain more if you have fun. And they’ve had a lot of fun working together.”

The Geospatial STEM Academy is funded by a $75,000 grant awarded by the Verizon Foundation. For more information about the program, click here.