Sara Rybak, a student in the Environmental Studies and Geographic Information Systems programs at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, won First Place in the College Student Poster Competition at the 28th annual Minnesota Geographic Information Systems and Land Information Systems (GIS/LIS) Conference held in Duluth during October.
Rybak, a current Sturgeon Lake resident and a graduate of Willow River High School, entered her poster titled “Evaluating the Impacts of Environmental Factors on Eastern Larch Beetle in Minnesota.” She began her project during the Spring Semester 2018 Geographic Information Systems II course, and completed most of the scientific analysis during a summer internship at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Rybak used data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and NASA for her project and has been working in partnership with Dr. Bryan Aukema in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as well as NASA research scientists in Huntsville. She found a notable correlation between environmental variables such as precipitation, enhanced vegetation index and evapotranspiration, and the spread of the Eastern Larch Beetle infestation, which kills tamarack trees.
“Winning the statewide student poster contest is a huge achievement, especially considering that Sara was competing against students in bachelor’s and graduate degree programs,” said Carl Sack, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College GIS Program Coordinator and faculty member. “Hats off to Sara on the well-deserved recognition.”
Competing students must be enrolled in a qualified Geographic Information Systems college degree or certificate program to be eligible for the statewide award.
Rybak, a sophomore, is continuing her Eastern Larch Beetle research with ongoing support from a NASA grant. She plans to publish her findings from the project in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. She also currently serves as President of the GIS Club at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. Upon graduation, she plans to transfer to a four-year institution for a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, and ultimately attend graduate school.
“This has been a fabulous opportunity for me while attending Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, one that I never would have dreamed about,” said Rybak. “Working on this project through the NASA Center for Applied Atmospheric Research and Education Program has been a life-changing experience. I have a special place in my heart for the college and a great appreciation for the staff and the opportunities they offer to students.”
Rybak’s internship and on-campus research work were supported by a NASA grant aimed at providing students at minority-serving colleges and universities with real-world research opportunities under the mentorship of scholars and research scientists. The Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Geographic Information Systems Program participates in the grant through a partnership with San Jose State University and NASA’s Universities Space Research Association. This support results in the integration of cutting-edge research into the college’s regular curriculum as well as paid work-study and internship opportunities for GIS students.
Geographic Information Systems is a growing technology field that uses maps and geospatial data from the Global Positioning System (GPS), remote sensing satellites, drones, and public sources to solve problems. GIS is used in urban planning, environmental science, forestry, law enforcement, public health, land records, cartography, and many other careers. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates median pay for GIS technicians at between $43,000 and $64,000 with a job growth rate between 11 and 19 percent, depending on the specific job field and level of education.*
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College offers a two-year Associate of Science Degree in GIS and a 16-credit GIS Certificate. The degree is designed to meet entry-level job qualifications of a GIS Technician or enable transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, while the certificate adds value to a degree in a different subject by enabling graduates to apply GIS to problems in that field.
For more information about the contest or the GIS program at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, contact Carl Sack, GIS Program Coordinator, at 218-879-0718 or carl.sack*AT*fdltcc.edu.
*The BLS divides GIS technicians into two fields: Surveying and Mapping Technicians, which has a minimum qualification of a high school diploma and 2017 median pay of $43,340 per year, and Cartographers and Photogrammetrists, with a minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree and 2017 median pay of $63,990 per year.