A big part of our program is having students learn the basics of GIS and connecting how to use the technology for social good. The technology is an avenue to provide students with access to greater opportunities, leadership experiences, and confidence.
Using Drones and GIS, Detroit Academy Inspires Students Toward New Career Pathways
Students at the Frederick Douglass Academy's (FDA) newly launched geographic information system (GIS) pathway were tasked with mapping three blocks of their neighborhood and incorporating multiple layers of information. One student made a stark discovery. When exploring the locations of occupied and unoccupied residences relative to working fire hydrants, the student saw that there were not enough hydrants nearby for the 24 homes in his Detroit neighborhood. His discovery inspired him and other classmates to further engage with community challenges using maps.
"Our students learn to use the technology and mapping to find solutions that improve their communities," said Frank Romo, CEO of RomoGIS, and GIS pathway advisory board member.
Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men is a tuition-free college preparatory high school in Michigan with a history of promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. The state's MiSTEM Network partnered with Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and Eastern Michigan University (EMU) to provide students with college-level GIS courses. The academy's lead science teacher and science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEaM) coordinator, Chad Segrist, knew this opportunity could provide students with alternative career avenues they may not have considered previously.
Segrist collaborated with Romo, and other advisory board members, to launch the school's first GIS Summer camp in 2021. Students learned GIS basics by completing small projects like finding hidden objects around the campus and geocaching and listening to guest speakers and presentations from GIS coordinators and community leaders. That fall, the school also debuted a new GIS curriculum online.
"That first year, we dipped our toes in the water, introducing the students to as much GIS as we could virtually, and they received the first three of nine college credits," said Segrist. Students produced online projects focused on the community such as contact tracing COVID-19 infections and mapping food deserts or inequitable housing in their neighborhoods. "We learned a lot from the camp and first year online, and it helped prepare us for what we wanted to do when we came back, face-to-face," Segrist said.
Inspiring Students to Seek Diverse Career Pathways with GIS
The GIS pathway program offers a course each semester beginning with GIS fundamentals and the engineering of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones—required before a student advances to the next course. By a student's second year, dual credit classes at EMU are available. EMU's director of the Institute for Geospatial Research and Education, Yichun Xie, teaches the dual credit courses. The curriculum is designed for students to learn how to use ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro and conduct GIS analysis to solve community challenges and pursue personal passions.
"GIS is so diverse, and the goal of the pathway is to give students the skills and basics of GIS and work with them to see what their interests or passions are and help them apply the technology to it," said Romo. As the program develops, FDA would like to incorporate programming, game coding, science electives, and experiences using GIS in interdisciplinary projects. "GIS may not be for everyone, but it may spark interest in a career field, and we hope to help students develop that."
- As part of Michigan's effort to promote STEM education, staff at the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men partnered with Eastern Michigan University and local organizations to develop a new GIS pathway for students.
- The GIS pathway provides students with hands-on experience using drone and mapping technologies. Students learn how to make maps, clean data, conduct spatial analysis, and create data visualizations, earning dual credits and creating community change with GIS.
- The products highlighted in the article are ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro.
In addition to the GIS course work, Segrist collaborates with program partners from OHM Advisors, Michael Cousins and Ray Lillibridge, teach students drone fundamentals and piloting with the goal of students obtaining their commercial license before they graduate. The first cohort will be testing for their license in fall 2022. "Having a commercial license can be a huge step for students to allow them to earn income and pursue careers directly after graduation," said Segrist.
"The unbelievable time and effort that Jordyn and Michael give of themselves, so that our students can realize opportunities that otherwise would not be possible is immeasurable. It is their work and the work of others that allow our students to feel confident and cared for. I am so glad that they are part of the FDA family" Segrist added.
A key part of the curriculum for students in their senior year will be completing an internship. While remote, some students completed internships with the mayor's office and their GIS team for urban planning. Other students worked with Romo's company on projects related to voting and tenant rights. "A big part of our program is having students learn the basics of GIS and connecting how to use the technology for social good," Romo said.
Segrist and Romo envision the program expanding to prepare students for entering the workforce with résumé writing workshops, mock interviews, and career presentations in their senior year. They believe that a holistic approach to supporting students as they grow by looking at other soft skills they will need in the tech space, such as how they communicate or present themselves, will serve them well.
As the program develops, Segrist would like to incorporate a senior capstone project to involve all the practical GIS skills students have learned, applying the technology for an interdisciplinary experience. "The goal is for the capstone project to be something students are excited to do that could also be included in their portfolio of skills as they pursue higher education or as a starting point to enter the workforce," Segrist said.
Creating a Sustainable GIS Education Program and Collaborative Environment
While the program is new, Romo and Segrist believe they are just scratching the surface of the GIS pathway's potential. In the future, they would like to broaden the pathway to include hands-on training events, drone and mapping competitions, presentations, and community service projects.
Romo hopes the pathway can develop a new community of young GIS practitioners ready to make a difference in their community.
"The technology is an avenue to provide students with access to greater opportunities, leadership experiences, and confidence," Romo said.