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  • Shawna Bjorgan, Arizona State University

Interning remotely with YouthMappers & USAID GeoCenter


I am an electrician. Specifically, I’m an AE2 in the USN. For those of you that don’t communicate primarily in acronyms, I am an Aviation Electrician’s Mate Petty Officer Second Class in the United States Navy. (Whew, that’s a mouthful.) My specialization is the MQ-4C Triton and I am part of the Navy’s first unmanned patrol squadron; I previously specialized in electrical component repair for the P-3 Orion, C-130 Hercules, and E-2 Hawkeye.

MQ-4C Triton’s first flight on May 22, 2013. Photo credit: Alex Evers I have enjoyed my time in the Navy immensely, but am also looking forward to joining the civilian workforce as a GIS professional. My current squadron does some pretty amazing things with surveillance, but my day-to-day job does not have a lot of crossover with my future civilian profession. The Navy has helped me refine some transferable soft skills and Arizona State University has helped me become technically proficient; however, in order to become a well-rounded professional a student must have the opportunity to apply those skills. As I work toward starting the next chapter in my life, one question has plagued me: How can an internship possibly fit into my schedule and still allow me to travel for detachments in support of my squadron? USAID and YouthMappers I first learned of YouthMappers through an internship and job bulletin distributed by my college. USAID GeoCenter and YouthMappers were looking for virtual interns for the Summer 2019 semester. I applied immediately. It had never occurred to me that such an opportunity might exist remotely. The YouthMappers homepage shares the sentiment “We don’t just build maps. We build mappers”. That mission is evident in everything they do, including making an internship accessible to non-traditional students like me. My internship experience has been incredibly fulfilling. Our primary focus was mapping farmland, roads, and buildings in the Philippine province Davao del Norte to support rural agriculture. A secondary project—initiated by ASU’s YouthMapper chapter—had us mapping mobile homes and caravans in Mesa, Arizona to better understand heat deaths among vulnerable populations.

Davao del Norte is located in the southern Philippines in the Mindanao region. Shapefile Source: PSA and NAMRIA Gaining relevant experience came with the unexpected benefit of helping people in a direct way from the comfort of my home office; for that, I am grateful. If you’re reading this blogpost, you’re likely already familiar with how awesome YouthMappers is, so I will avoid waxing poetic about the all the good they do. If you’re not familiar, stay and poke around the site a bit! YouthMapper affiliates are doing amazing things around the world.

This is me in my office, getting ready to do some mapping. As it turns out, the open source GIS community also communicates primarily in acronyms. I learned about OSM (OpenStreetMap), HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team), JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap Editor), OSMCha (OpenStreetMap Changeset), ODM (OpenDroneMap), QGIS (Quantum Geographic Information System), and TS-Raster (Time Series Raster). We learned so many new things that I am sure I have left a few acronyms out. In addition to learning about these various programs and projects, we had weekly guest speakers and presentations from people in industry, researchers, and our fellow interns about how they apply open source tools to their work. Final Thoughts This experience was everything I thought it would be and more. Their names aren’t mine to share, but special thanks to the USAID GeoCenter Senior Geographer (who served as our USAID facilitator), the Research Professional at ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning (who served as our ASU facilitator), and the Executive Director of Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at ASU (who heads up our YouthMappers chapter). These three individuals went out of their way to provide an immersive and educational internship program. If you are a student at a U.S. institution of higher education with a YouthMappers chapter on campus, apply for this internship through your YouthMappers chapter. You will not regret doing so.

When not repairing airplanes, Shawna Bjorgan is a student at Arizona State University, School of Geographical Services & Urban Planning. She will be graduating May of 2020 with a BS in Geographic Information Science. She is proud of her work with Unmanned Patrol Squadron One Nine, known as “Big Red” , and Fleet Readiness Center Southwest. She hopes to find a place in municipal government once she has left Navy in March of 2020. The opinions in this blog are hers alone, and are not representative of either Arizona State University or the United States Navy.

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