Aaron Wesley: Paying it Forward

USGIF GEOINT Certificate leads to career in data science and disaster relief


Aaron Wesley has long been captivated by geography, and in particular its applications for disaster response and recovery. He is currently a data scientist with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) Analysis Directorate, where he combines his interests with on-the-job expertise.

Wesley received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Knox College in 2004, and later returned to school at the University of Missouri-Columbia to obtain his master’s degree. In 2014, Wesley earned a degree in geography with a certificate in GIS, along with a USGIF GEOINT Certificate. Students who graduate from USGIF-accredited academic programs and meet certain criteria are eligible to receive a USGIF GEOINT Certificate, highlighting their level of preparedness to enter the GEOINT Community workforce.

Between degrees, Wesley completed an internship with U.S. Pacific Command’s Center for Excellence in Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Response. He also worked with AmeriCorps as an emergency responder. While working for Americorps and responding to Hurricane Ike in 2008, Wesley discovered NGA’s mission and the GEOINT tradecraft as he received situational awareness reports from the agency.

Wesley 21 SM

Aaron Wesley

“I experienced first hand how [NGA] insight provided decisional advantage to emergency responders,” Wesley said.

After completing his master’s degree, Wesley became the first external candidate hired by NGA under its new data scientist work role within its Analysis Directorate.

“My goal is to help various DoD elements, Combatant Commands, and Intelligence Community components gain situational awareness of unfolding humanitarian crises using ‘big spatial data’ technologies,” Wesley said.

Wesley and his colleagues were recently recognized as winners of Esri’s Unclassified App Challenge. Open to academia, government, and industry, the challenge was to produce and demonstrate an interactive product for humanitarian assistance/disaster relief solely on Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform. His team produced an app focused on the April earthquake in Ecuador. Their multi-module web application featured statistics on the population affected by the disaster, an emergency vehicle routing tool, a real-time picture of disaster relief operations, and earthquake aftershock updates. The winning app was showcased in the Esri booth at USGIF’s GEOINT 2016 Symposium in May.

“As a result of the app challenge, I would say it brought Esri and NGA to a closer relationship, and the showcase of our capabilities showed how the Intelligence Community uses their [ArcGIS] capabilities,” Wesley said.

In addition to his work as a data scientist, Wesley volunteers as an NGA Ambassador—part of the agency’s human development directorate—and pays it forward by speaking with college students about the science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) talent needed at NGA.

“I speak with college students at university visits and industry events about how their majors apply to the NGA mission, as well as how geospatial science plays a role in national security,” Wesley said.

Wesley said his experience at the University of Missouri, coupled with his USGIF GEOINT Certificate, prepared him well for a career in the GEOINT Community.

“The USGIF GEOINT Certificate helped launch my career,” Wesley said. “I took a blend of spatial science and imagery science course work through the GEOINT certificate, and that blend of courses helped prepare me for the position I’m in now at NGA. Anyone interested in the spatial sciences at a federal agency or elsewhere should seriously look into certificate programs at USGIF-accredited schools.”

Photo Credit: CallisonRTKL.com 


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