The windows of Room 202 in the Shaich Family Alumni and Student Engagement Center offer an unobstructed view of Jonas Clark Hall, a testament to Clark’s treasured history.
But on Sept. 27, inside Room 202, the focus remained squarely on the future.
Clark’s new Center for Geospatial Analytics made its debut with a conference that drew nearly 40 stakeholders from the U.S. and abroad to discuss the issues and advances in a field that is revolutionizing geography. And it was in geographic parlance that the center’s director, Hamed Alemohammad, characterized the impact of the launch event: “It put us on the map.”
Geospatial analytics leverages satellite imagery and other location-specific data to help researchers, policymakers, and the public study the Earth and visualize the impact of human activities on our environment. The workshop was designed to foster frank conversations about a range of subjects related to the geospatial analytics field, among them: technological breakthroughs and their use in addressing pressing problems; the need to encourage and cultivate widespread data literacy; training the next generation of scientists and innovators; and building a more diverse geospatial community.
Alemohammad noted that the discussions among the participants, who were drawn from academia, science, and industry, were both lively and productive.
“One of the goals of the workshop, from a Clark perspective, was to learn how we can tap into technological advancements in a way that benefits Clark, but also in ways that allow us to be contributors,” Alemohammad said.
Some of the key takeaways from the conference:
In his keynote address to the workshop attendees, Dr. Budhendra “Budhu” Bhaduri, director of the Geospatial Science and Human Security Division and a Corporate Research Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, noted the incredible advances in GeoAI technology in areas like disaster response, human security, energy security, and damage assessment.
The workforce of the future will still need a “foundational education” in areas like math, computer science, and geography, he said, but interdisciplinary teams will become increasingly important for solving problems with GeoAI. The integration of physical and social sciences with AI that is used ethically and responsibly will help drive solutions to imposing problems. “Data and computing technologies will become integral to our academic DNA,” he said.
In his opening remarks to the workshop attendees, President David Fithian cited the enduring contributions of Clark Labs founder Ron Eastman and the “outsize impact” Clark has had in GIS and in other arenas of science, noting that Clark “actively and passionately draws on our historic strengths” to contribute to a better planet.
Before the various sessions got underway, Alemohammad told the participants about Clark’s rocketry pioneer, Robert Goddard, and the University’s connection to world-changing research and discovery. A number of them had professional associations with NASA’s Goddard Space Center and later took a walk on campus to view the memorial dedicated to the renowned physicist.
The gloried past is giving way to a promising future for the Center, Alemohammad noted. Last week’s conference supplied a firm foundation on which to build.
“I will use the outcomes of this workshop to design the strategy of CGA for the next couple of years,” he said, “and work with other faculty on campus to establish partnerships outside of the University to increase our impact.”