GIS Academy Hosts National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency


Figure 1: Academy youth pose with Deputy Director Sue Gordon of NGA, along with Dr. Hawthorne at the Atlanta Event.

On Oct. 28, Timothy Hawthorne, Ph.D., and The Geospatial STEM Academy hosted Sue Gordon, deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), for a student and STEM meet and greet event. Currently an assistant professor of geographic information systems (GIS) in the department of sociology, Dr. Hawthorne is also the Founding Director and Principal Investigator of  The Geospatial STEM Academy.

Held at the Atlanta Regional Commission center, 70-75 people were in attendance. Deputy Director Gordon and her team were in Atlanta on a previously scheduled trip to research GIS related projects.

Gordon and her team took 2 hours out of their busy schedule to visit the event and talk to the students to give advice and tips for their future.

About 20 STEM Academy students and their parents had the opportunity to meet and talk with the deputy director. The students also had the chance to present their summer projects to her, showcasing their hard work and accomplishments. All the presentations will be published on a NGA special event website.


The event began at 6:30p.m with refreshments and a short video about the academy and its purpose. Dr. Hawthorne and Tara Mitchell, Lead Education Coordinator, did academy introductory remarks before introducing deputy director Gordon.


Figure 2: Academy high school youth present their emotion mapping project to the deputy director.

Deputy director Gordon spoke to the audience briefly about the importance of a STEM education.

18 students presented their projects to the deputy director. The presentations were set up in a science fair style, letting the students have a more one-on-one conversation with deputy director Gordon.

There were 3 main presentations: determining sidewalk integrity for social service locations and walkability, greenspace and inventorying trees species, and emotions and perceptions of youth in urban environments.

These projects gave the youth the opportunity to learn new technology and apply their new skills in real world settings as they worked with community partner organizations, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank, The Westside Atlanta Land Trust and The Atlanta Beltline.


After the presentations, Dr. Hawthorne discussed what was next for the academy, such as mini-grants for academy alum, NGA/GIS day visits, competitions and the expansion of the program to Orlando in summer 2016. He hopes to develop a new STEM Academy in partnership with UCF and other community youth organizations.

Along with Dr. Hawthorne, Interim Associate Dean, Florian Jentsch, Ph.D., also represented UCF at the event.


Figure 3: Academy youth and Dr. Hawthorne met with NGA senior leadership in Alexandria, VA. They presented to Director Cardillo and Deputy Director Gordon.

The NGA and Deputy Director Gordon were extremely impressed with the event, the students, and the caliber of their work. She invited Dr. Hawthorne and a handful of the academy students to participate in the 11th annual Tech Showcase Event at the NGA headquarters in Springfield, Virginia on Nov. 16.

They were the only high school aged STEM group in the country at the event. “This was a wonderful opportunity for the students,” Dr. Hawthorne stated, “…great for the students to have a national stage.”


Dr. Hawthorne is a broadly trained human geographer with deep interests in community geography, qualitative GIS, and critical GIS. His research and teaching utilizes innovative methods to integrate qualitative data and mixed methods into GIS analysis.

Dr. Hawthorne serves as Chair of the Applied Geography Specialty Group for the Association of American Geographers and also serves on the editorial board of The International Journal of Applied Geospatial Research. He is currently submitting a grant proposal, to the NGA, to help fund the creation of The Geospatial STEM Academy in different cities across the U.S.

“Our goal is to expand this model of community-based learning of geospatial technologies with partnering universities across the U.S. to develop a geospatial consortium for these in-demand STEM careers.” said Dr. Hawthorne.


If there are any community youth organizations interested in being a partner with Dr. Hawthorne and the Geospatial STEM Academy, please contact Dr. Hawthorne at



To learn more about the Academy, please visit:

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