Joshua Turner

With 15 years of experience as a geospatial analyst for the U.S. Air Force, Joshua Turner has more first-hand knowledge than the average graduate student. He aims to pair his military background with a master’s degree in GIS to promote smart development decisions that will enable people to “take better care of ourselves and our planet.”

Turner is the 2018 recipient of USGIF’s Ken Miller Scholarship for Advanced Remote Sensing Applications, which is offered in partnership with Riverside Research and provides $10,000 annually to one master’s degree student.

Turner has been a GEOINT practitioner for his entire career, though his work hasn’t always been classified as such. He started out as an imagery intelligence analyst examining video from remotely piloted aircraft and learning advanced synthetic aperture radar and multi-spectral analysis methods. He became one of the Air Force’s first MASINT mission supervisors and oversaw the development of change detection, multi-color view, and other imaging products. 

His introduction to GEOINT as a field of its own came nearly a decade into his Air Force tenure. 

“It revolved around basic route studies, considerations of choke points or lateral concerns, that kind of thing,” Turner said. “Back then, I saw [GEOINT] as a pairing tool. It seemed fairly nominal.” 

In 2011, he enrolled in a Community Geospatial Analysis course at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency—a three-month program to train practitioners on analysis strategies from raster to terrain studies and beyond. It was there that Turner first realized the range of capabilities enabled by GEOINT.

“I realized throughout the course that GIS has a multitude of applications beyond the accessory to imagery analysis I had been previously exposed to,” he said. “I was only starting to recognize the vast utility of geospatial tools and how they could be applied through different missions. I continuously coordinate with my leadership to integrate these geospatial processes to enhance our current projects.

Turner went on to work in national imagery exploitation cells and as a targeting analyst, using geospatial data to study adversarial movements, track routes, and conduct pattern of life reports. 

Now, Turner is contemplating his future. He will be eligible to retire from the Air Force in four years and plans to do so, though he admits “this could change.” In fall 2017, he returned to academia part-time to pursue a master’s degree in geospatial information sciences and technology from North Carolina State University (NCSU). He is currently expected to graduate in the fall of 2020, but is looking for ways to increase his course load. 

“I know how important GIS work is and how it can be used in so many different applications, I’m just trying to find the one that truly calls to me,” Turner said.

So far, he’s been drawn to urban development. For 10 weeks this summer, Turner participated in NASA’s DEVELOP program as a team member working with Groundwork RVA, an urban conservationist group in Richmond, Va. His team analyzed the effects of city infrastructure on land surface temperature since 1993, finding a direct correlation between land use choices and rising heat patterns. The project’s scope outlived the DEVELOP program’s 10-week terms, so Turner has continued his efforts with Groundwork RVA as a volunteer. He plans to incorporate this work into his thesis at NCSU.

In addition to a full-time career and his studies, Turner is a self-described family man with a wife and two children—one-year-old daughter Madelyn and three-year-old son Julian, who is autistic. Turner is applying to be an advocate for Autism Speaks, and hopes to promote awareness of autism and its peripheral social issues through local government officials. 

“One of the main reasons I’m doing [GIS work] is because I want to leave a better world for my children,” he said. “GIS is the best way for me to provide quantifiable information to influence change across a large spectrum of problems. I’m still trying to find a specific niche that will allow me to do that.”

Headline Image: A section of the object-based land-classification of Richmond, Va., for 2016 processed by Turner during his summer 2018 internship with the NASA DEVELOP program.

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Posted by Andrew Foerch