A Conversation with USGIF CEO Keith Masback
In the past year, USGIF has introduced the concept of the GEOINT Revolution through speaking engagements, in the pages of trajectory magazine, and at Foundation events. Now it is the GEOINT 2016 theme. How does the Symposium help further the GEOINT Revolution?
Most people are immersed in their day jobs. The bulk of GEOINT professionals—whether working in national security, homeland security, critical infrastructure, or emergency management—are head down in the day-to-day, the demands of their respective roles, and the relentless pinging of their inbox. The Symposium is an annual opportunity to take a step away from the daily churn and focus on the future of the tradecraft and community.
The GEOINT 2016 program is a dynamic microcosm of the GEOINT Revolution. At a macro level, GEOINT Symposium content continues to evolve as our field rapidly advances. As a thought leader, USGIF cannot lag behind the changes and instead must be out in front of them, leading the discussion.
Among the exciting speakers this year are Phil Gilbert of IBM, who is breaking ground in the emergent concept of design thinking, and Parag Khanna, who just completed his third book, Connectography—a uniquely powerful look at the world through a set of very different lenses. And, of course, we continue our longstanding practice of hosting senior leaders from across the GEOINT Community.
One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to peruse the Symposium registration list as it grows day by day. It always tells a compelling tale. Registrants include leadership from industry, academia, and government at all levels, citizens of nearly 30 countries, and more than 200 GEOINT professionals from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) alone. USGIF’s partnership with NGA has never been stronger and our reach has never been broader.
Building on past successes and learning from participant feedback, we’ve tightened up our professional development offerings to 60 hours of accredited training and education. We continue our very popular and incredibly important Young Professionals Golden Ticket Program. We will once again host a local high school, and this year we’ve added a program for elementary school students using National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Map.
How has the GEOINT Revolution affected USGIF and its mission?
The current posture of the GEOINT Community makes the founders of USGIF appear rather prescient because they specifically decided 12 years ago to create the Foundation as a 501(c)(3) educational, nonprofit professional organization. If USGIF hadn’t been created 12 years ago there would certainly be a screaming demand for it right now. There’s much credit to be given to those who originally conceived of USGIF. There are plenty of trade and lobbying organizations, and many of them do great work, but as I like to say with respect to USGIF’s unique mandate: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” A philanthropic higher calling underpins USGIF. So here we sit, perfectly placed to be a convening authority for the community, to provide thought leadership, to support academic programs, and to create professional development programs such as Universal GEOINT Certification. As the field of GEOINT quickly broadens, as this revolution takes hold, we’re remaining focused, making sure students are graduating with the skill sets that will be required, that emerging technologies are being explored, and that professionals will be able to demonstrate proficiency through certifications. GEOINT professionals will need to continually learn and grow to be properly positioned during the course of the GEOINT Revolution.
The educational component is the value proposition of USGIF. It’s astounding to come to work every day and look at the things we’re doing and realize since 2008 alone—throughout The Great Recession, sequestration, and decreased government spending—USGIF has more than doubled in size in terms of its Organizational Membership. We are now nearly 270 organizations strong. Since we recently re-launched our Individual Membership offering, we’ve gained more than 1,240 individual members. Our membership represents not only our core constituents from defense, intelligence, and homeland security, but is expanding across almost every sector of the economy.
What are some examples of how USGIF is meeting its educational mandate?
There are nearly 650 people out there who have earned USGIF GEOINT Certificates from one of our 14 accredited college and university programs. In 2016, USGIF will have awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to students studying the geospatial sciences, remote sensing, or related fields. We’re really starting to see the return on these investments. Our certificate holders and scholarship winners are working in industry, in government at all levels—local, state, federal—and in the military. Each time we come across another person whose life the Foundation has touched it makes us recognize the responsibility we have to redouble our efforts and continue pushing to expand our programs and reach more people.
Take, for example, Dr. Matt Rice, who earned his Ph.D. with the help of USGIF scholarship funds and now teaches in the geography and geoinformation science department at George Mason University—a USGIF-accredited school. Just think of all the students he’s going to influence over the course of his career as an academician.
Joel Max, who earned a USGIF scholarship in 2015 and participated in our Young Professional Golden Ticket Program at GEOINT 2015, is now an emergency management coordinator for Larimer County, Colo. Megan Miller, who earned a 2014 USGIF scholarship, later interned in NGA’s Basic and Applied Research Office. Her Ph.D. dissertation is focused on developing comprehensive low-cost airborne LiDAR system calibration algorithms to detect small biases between the positioning and measurements units.
In March, I spoke in Baltimore at TUgis, Maryland’s GIS conference hosted by Towson University. After my presentation, a young lady named Andrea walked up to me and pulled a USGIF coin out of her pocket. She’d saved the coin I presented to her for participating in the student poster exhibits at USGIF’s GEOINT Community Week five years ago as a high school student. She’s soon to graduate from Towson with a geosciences degree. If that doesn’t get you excited about what we do then I don’t know what does.
In addition to education, how is USGIF’s burgeoning Universal GEOINT Certification Program furthering the organization’s mission?
GEOINT 2016 marks an important milestone for the Foundation as we formally launch our Universal GEOINT Certification Program. Achieving any of our three certifications—GIS and Analysis Tools, Remote Sensing and Imagery Analysis, or Geospatial Data Management—is a remarkable achievement in its own right. Obtaining all three of them and then meeting the additional requirements for a Universal GEOINT Professional designation will be a truly distinguishing credential for any professional in the GEOINT Community.
The community needs certification opportunities as part of the continued professionalization of the field. This tradecraft has sufficiently matured to the point where the value of a professional certification at this level is now a critically important differentiator. Further, USGIF’s unprecedented joint efforts with NGA to recognize functional equivalence between the three USGIF professional certifications and four of NGA’s certifications have allowed us to create an ecosystem that is transparent and transportable for the benefit of the GEOINT Community in its broadest context.
What other programs does USGIF offer throughout the year?
Beyond the GEOINT Symposium, USGIF hosts multiple programs large and small. There’s GEOINT Community Week in the fall, annually providing an opportunity to look at myriad topics in depth, and also including our black tie GEOGala. Our workshop series produces a new event approximately every quarter, including recent workshops on data analytics and small satellites. These workshops create venues for the community to come together in the pursuit of solving new challenges. On the second Tuesday of every other month, we host GEOINTeraction Tuesday in Northern Virginia, which features a senior leader from a U.S. government agency, offering a regular education and networking opportunity. Weekly, USGIF’s many working groups and committees host meetings at our headquarters in Herndon, Va. Many of them are also here at the Symposium hosting meetings and panel discussions.
Some GEOINT 2016 attendees might still think the Symposium is all USGIF does, but in fact we move at a very rapid pace, churning out programs and events all year round. The bottom line is that everything we do is about living up to the vision of USGIF’s founders: Build the Community, Advance the Tradecraft, Accelerate Innovation.