St. Louis Initiative aims to educate, mentor St. Louis youth
USGIF hosted a breakfast June 7 at the GEOINT 2017 Symposium for about 20 government and industry leaders with an interest in building a professional development pipeline and GEOINT workforce in the greater St. Louis area.
The St. Louis Initiative, which USGIF launched in March, addresses the city’s innovation boom and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) soon-to-be-built new western campus in north St. Louis.
Developing a stronger GEOINT Community in St. Louis will take time and energy, said USGIF Vice President of Professional Development Dr. Darryl Murdock, who led the meeting and encouraged stakeholders to share their thoughts about the initiative.
“This is the first of many open conversations,” he said. “You all voted with your feet by showing up here.”
NGA’s new campus, called the Next NGA West (N2W), will be built on 99 acres and replace the existing facility that sits on 22 acres just four miles south. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to break ground in 2018, and NGA expects to move into the facility in 2022. The location is close to the St. Louis startup scene, incubators, universities, and industry counterparts. But NGA is already beginning to plan for its future workforce, starting with kindergarteners.
“We saw an opportunity to scale what we had going on for decades,” said Bill Caniano, NGA’s director of corporate communications, in reference to K-12 outreach. Among the agency’s K-12 goals: improve geographic literacy, introduce new ways of discovering STEM, and incorporate geospatial sciences into curriculum.
Stakeholders at the breakfast talked about ways to build trust in the community, such as setting up mentorships between GEOINT professionals and students, bringing guest speakers into classrooms, and working with local colleges and universities. They also said it will be important to focus well beyond the new campus, considering outreach opportunities throughout the city and county. The city of St. Louis is already supportive of the initiative’s goals; the next step is to build relationships with other community leaders such as council members and church leaders.
A handful of participants who have lived in St. Louis for more than 20 years said the initiative should focus on long-term relationship building. The consensus was that trust of the federal government has decreased in St. Louis, and thoughtful, long-term investment would be most effective. Whether children end up joining the GEOINT workforce, the initiative has the potential to provide them with new skills that would benefit the region in countless ways.
By the end of the meeting, participants were discussing the idea of forming a USGIF Working Group in St. Louis to continue the conversation. About half a dozen people volunteered to sit on a steering committee. Several people recounted seeing students in St. Louis excited about technology such as UAVs, and were enthusiastic about doing more to introduce kids to GEOINT.
“We all know exposure to science and technology at an early age creates a whole new set of thought patterns,” Murdock said.