Geospatial Technology program offers hands-on experience to give students career jump start

For students at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, learning is about more than text books and lectures.

Daniil Stolyarov, a junior majoring in geospatial technology, has spent the past semester working on a collaborative project with Messiah College called “Digital Harrisburg.” It’s just one of many hands-on, real world projects that students can participate in during their time at Harrisburg University.

Albert Sarvis, assistant professor of Geospatial Technology and Project Management, spent the early part of his career working in the field, and he knows the demands that potential employers will have on graduates seeking to start their careers.

Geospatial technology is essentially computer mapping that uses three technologies. The first is GPS, which most people are familiar with using for general directions. The second form of technology is remote sensing with satellites, which help us visualize the surface of the Earth. The third is geographic information systems that analyze all the submitted information.

The program at Harrisburg University is unique in that it includes computer science with database work and programming, Sarvis said.

“Our students can go into careers where they can work in software development, as well as the core work needed to do mapping for PennDOT or an engineer in a consulting firm,” Sarvis said. “There are a lot of different opportunities in which students can use these skills.”

For Stolyarov, the information he learned in the classroom allowed him to collaborate with Dr. David Pettegrew, an assistant professor of history at Messiah College, as well as Messiah students Rachel Carey and Rachel Morris on “Digital Harrisburg.”

“I’m really building on the fundamentals I learned in class,” Stolyarov said.

“Digital Harrisburg” started with 50,000 names from the 1900 federal census and a 1901 map of the city. The significance of 1900 is that it was the start of City Beautiful, Harrisburg’s first redevelopment project that would completely transform the city within the next decade.

“You really need to have the people of Harrisburg on that map because they were the ones who voted to approve the movement,” Pettegrew said. “They were part of this history.”

Stolyarov was able to take the data collected by Pettegrew’s students and use geospatial technology to adjust a modern map of the city and create a digital version of the 1901 map. Stolyarov added streets from the turn of the century, and deleted ones that weren’t yet in existence. The next step was to use geo coding to take the information from the census, including age, race, occupation, where people were from and whether or not they could read and write to the addresses listed on the map.

“Since I live in the area, I’ve learned a lot about how Harrisburg used to be,” Stolyarov said. “As we work on different decades, we can’t predict the future, but we can try to see what Harrisburg might look like years from now.”

Pettegrew said the collaboration has taken the focus of Messiah College’s history department and put the emphasis on the technology offered at Harrisburg University.

“The partnership allows a project like this to unfold in real time,” Pettegrew said. “It’s been great for our students to see collaboration at work, and to see how a partnership with another university can really expand upon what we do by ourselves.”

The “Digital Harrisburg” project is just one of many options students at Harrisburg University have when it comes to hands-on projects.

Courtney Koch is working with the City of Harrisburg Fire Department to map fire calls from the past five years as a means of tracking injuries and property damage. Ben Gladis is helping Lower Allen Township officials produce Geographical Information System recommendations. Katie Piatt is building a spatial analysis model with The Nature Conservancy to find locations for urban green infrastructure within Philadelphia.

One of the most distinguishing features of Harrisburg University’s geospatial technology program is that students can list these experiences on their resumes when it comes time to find employment.

“The thing that usually tells me I’m doing a good job as an educator is seeing students establish careers,” Sarvis said. “They’re gaining professional references that they otherwise wouldn’t have. It shows a much greater depth to their experience, and that’s a great thing to be able to offer them.”