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Two FRCC Earth science students got an incredible learning—and professional development—experience this summer through the Geo-Launchpad program. Geo-Launchpad helps community college students from Colorado and New Mexico develop the research skills they need for their futures.

The program provides students a pathway to careers in science, engineering or technology—and is dedicated to increasing the diversity of students entering the geosciences. The Geo-Launchpad initiative is the result of cooperation between FRCC and UNAVCO—a non-profit consortium in Boulder that facilitates geoscience research and education. The program is supported financially by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Research Projects with Real-World Applications

Similar to recent years, UNAVCO partnered with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood to develop engaging research projects for these interns. Each team of students got to work closely with technical staff who served as mentors, and helped them complete their projects.

This summer’s was the sixth cohort since the program began. Four students participated, including two from FRCC:

  • Jonathan Bias (from FRCC)
  • Celeste Briefs (from Arapahoe Community College)
  • Sean Vogel (from FRCC)
  • Maeve Wilder (from Red Rocks Community College)

Team 1: Water Data

Jonathan and Maeve inspected and reviewed the standard operating procedure used to assess and accept hydrography data for the state of Alaska. Their recommendations may be used as the USGS proceeds to update its National Hydrography Dataset—which represents the water drainage network of the United States with features such as rivers, streams, canals, lakes, ponds, coastline, dams and streamgages.

The students developed their skills using mapping software like ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro. In the end, they provided future change recommendations for the professional team on how to streamline inspections and standardize processes. Jonathan and Maeve completed their project under the guidance of staff at the USGS’ National Geospatial Technical Operations Center.

Team 2: Mapping Structures

Celeste and Sean reviewed and updated data for manmade structures—including city halls, schools and fire stations—on The National Map (TNM). The map is a collaboration between the USGS and its partners at the federal, state, and local level to provide accurate and up-to-date topographic data of the United States.

The students edited data points themselves by fixing mistakes, creating new data points or deleting out-of-date ones. They also reviewed the edits of volunteers working on the project through the National MapCorps—a crowdsourced, mapping project implemented to collect structures data for TNM.

Summer 2020 Was a Little… Different

Despite the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the internships were conducted successfully via a remote platform with 11 weeks of virtual programming. All student interns were able to participate in the program from their home location.

“Students participated in weekly science circles—meeting via Zoom with an expert or professional who shared their own knowledge of high-level science, but also the story of their particular journey to where they now are as a leading expert in their field,” wrote Darcy Orozco, Dean of Instruction at FRCC’s Larimer campus. “One of the upsides of doing the internship remotely was that students were able to meet with experts from across the nation (and Mexico as well) because the gatherings were all held online.”

The interns worked in pairs—using Zoom, Google Classroom and Slack to coordinate their efforts from different physical locations

A Formal Poster Session… via Zoom

The internship program culminated in an official poster session (virtual, of course), led by UNAVCO’s Internship & Workforce Team. Each team of students presented their posters and fielded questions from scientists and educators participating from all over the country.

Uncharted Territory:

Reviewing the USGS Standard Operating Procedure for Future Hydrographic Mapping Endeavors

Mapping Our Nation:

How Volunteers are Modernizing the US Geological Survey’s National Map

Supporting Diversity and Inclusion with Internships

“UNAVCO has a long history of leading in and running student internship programs with a focus on increasing diversity and broadening participation in the Earth sciences,” according to the consortium’s website.

“We are confident that our remote internship programming will provide new insights and development to the National Science Foundation’s inclusion and diversity mission by fundamentally ensuring that programming is accessible to a wider audience than previously achievable due to location and physical limitations.”

Continued Success

Of course, the whole point of the internship is to set these students up for career success. Over the course of the summer, they worked with professional staff on communications skills, completing their resumes and CVs, doing informational interviews and getting exposure to different aspects of science careers.

Each student works with an individual faculty mentor at their home institution—someone who follows them throughout the internship, writes a recommendation based on their performance and meets with them afterward to discuss their academic and career goals. This year, FRCC faculty members Angela Green-Garcia (geology) and Max Miller (geography and geographic information systems) worked with Jonathan and Sean as mentors.

In the short time since the program ended in July, there is already a new development on the professional front. “I have just learned that Maeve Wilder and Jonathan Bias have been offered positions as student contractors with the USGS,” writes FRCC faculty member Patrick Shabram. “They will be working on the project that they helped set up!”

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