Second leader named at Center for Geospatial Information Technology

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 3, 2006 – Stephen Prisley of Blacksburg, associate professor of forestry in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, will become the director of the university’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology (CGIT) as of May 15.

The Center for Geospatial Information Technology conducts geospatially-related research for federal and state agencies and private business and provides expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) applications to the university community. The Virginia Tech researchers are expert on extracting, analyzing, and visualizing information from data provided by such geospatial technologies as GIS, GPS and remote sensing.

Prisley, who worked as a GIS manager in industry for 15 years then returned to Virginia Tech in 1999, uses GIS for natural resource management, such as analyses of forest resources for strategic and tactical forest management planning. He also does modeling of forest carbon inventories, inventory projection for wood supply planning, and projections of the impact of forest operations on watersheds.

Randy Dymond, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, and the founding director, formed the Center for Geospatial Information Technology with the support of a university ASPIRES grant and, in three years, the affiliated faculty have received $2.5 million in research funding.

CGIT research has included flood plain management, facilities management, watershed management, and hazard mitigation. New areas of research during the last year are geospatial intelligence and homeland security, Prisley said. Bill Carstensen, a CGIT associate director and professor of geography, and Prisley received a $450,000 National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) grant in 2005 to automate and enhance geospatial data interoperability (Application of spatial uncertainty models to automate and enhance data fusion). "This is a promising avenue and we will see more of that kind of research," Prisley said.

"We are also working with the Department of Defense," he said. Carstensen and the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech are working with the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), which conducts advanced research and development related to information technology, including Global Infosystems Access. "Agencies like the CIA employ a lot of people who use maps and pictures to figure out what is going on. NGA has hired a number of our students," said Prisley.

Other clients include the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Transportation Research Board. "We partner with private companies, such as Dewberry & Davis LLC, on hazard mitigation plans and are working with Lockheed Martin Management & Data Systems on efficient and effective sensor placement for wireless signals and digital radio systems," said Dymond. "We provide mapping, analysis, and visualization."

The Center for Geospatial Information Technology also supports the work of other Virginia Tech faculty members, providing computing resources, software, and full-time expertise. For example, when Taranjit Kaur, assistant professor of biomedical science in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, needed geospatial analysis as part of her NSF Career research (Bridging the gaps using bush-to-base bioinformatics, geographical information systems, and a program called read-it), the center provided the expertise. "We will assemble teams to go after the big grants and we will also play a supportive role for people whose main area is not geospatial," said Dymond.

The center also supports graduate students. For instance, the NGA project supports Ph.D. students in forestry and statistics and a master's degree student in geography. "An emerging Ph.D. program in geospatial and environmental analysis is going to help the center by providing high-level students who already have substantial geospatial education. We can provide them with the opportunities to use what they have learned, and possibly provide support," said Dymond.

"Our affiliated faculty demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the center," said Prisley. In addition to the forestry, civil and environmental engineering, and geography departments, affiliated faculty members come from the agricultural and applied economics, biological systems engineering, biomedical sciences and pathobiology, computer science, crop and soil environmental sciences, electrical and computer engineering, large animal clinical sciences, entomology, geological sciences, landscape architecture, learning technologies, mining and minerals engineering, urban affairs and planning, and mathematics departments, and the library.

"The interdisciplinary nature is key," said Dymond. "I represent engineering and Steve represents natural resources. The change in leadership is part of the plan and in a few years we will do it again to represent another discipline."

Dymond will become an associate director along with Kitty Hancock, also associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, who heads the CGIT Northern Virginia office. The center will soon add a research scientist in Alexandria, Va. "The additional person will help with collaborations in the Washington D.C. - Northern Virginia area by being able to interact more frequently," said Prisley.

Prisely received all of his degrees from Virginia Tech in forestry and even as an undergraduate his emphasis was remote sensing technologies. He has worked as a Hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Division, Manager of Resource Information for Continental Forest Industries, Applications Scientist for the Earth Resources Observation System Data Center Alaska Field Office, Graduate Assistant GIS Specialist with U.S. Forest Service Region 8, and most recently, as Forest Resources Information Manager for Westvaco Corporation.