Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Clayton Nass - United State Geological Survey

Name: Clayton Nass
Major & Minor: International Geography
UWEC Standing and Expected Graduation Date: Graduated December 2012

Interests and Hobbies: Exploring the World, Politics, Engineering, Golf, and the Green Bay Packers

Internship Employer: United States Geological Survey Boise, ID
Length of Employment: Summer internship during the summer of 2012

Basics: Was your internship paid or unpaid? Did you register for credits? Why or Why not? Did you create the internship or was it advertised? Where did you hear about it? My internship at the USGS was paid, and funded through grant money. I was employed as a student contractor for the federal government. I did now register for credits; because I was unaware that was an option even for paid interns. The internship was advertised, although I was made well aware of this opening thanks to a current USGS employee.

What were your specific job responsibilities?
I worked on a number of projects during my time at the USGS that ranged from the most raw form of data entry imaginable, to feature classification using ENVI. The majority of my time was spent performing many tasks for the SageSTEP research project.

My first task on this project was to download aerial imagery of 14 control sites spread across the western half of the United States. Then using the Example based feature classification function in ENVI I identified individual polygons within the TIFF file as either: juniper trees, pine trees, aspen trees, small/large shrubs, water, bare ground, and grassland. Maps were then generated using this data in order to display changes that occur on a landscape because of wildfire. This was an arduous process but produced some valuable maps.

The second portion of this research involved a differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) analysis to determine the severity of each extensive treatment fire at each of the 14 sites. The steps in this process were:
1.   Download cloudless Landsat imagery for days pre and post fire, for each of the 14 sites
2.   Run dNBR tool in Arc
3.   Digitize fire perimeter using pre-existing shapefile and dNBR imagery
4.   Run tool to create standardized dNBR and classify using MTBS points.

End Product:

Figure 1. Classified dNBR: The lightest green and darkest red represent 2 separate but severe risk levels. Areas of more moderate color are at the normal severity factor.

What do you think gave you to edge to get the internship?
I was told that the GIS skills that I had acquired at UWEC were paramount in my hiring process. It also helps to have someone on the inside that can vouch for your services. 

Was it a valuable experience? It was absolutely a valuable experience. I learned a variety of new tools that I had never before even heard of (Circuit-Scape, XTools) and improved on many GIS skills that I had minimal experience with (Python Scripting, Feature Classification). Having an internship also provides some extremely valuable on the job experience, something that cannot be taught in a classroom or a lab. On my first day I was handed 3 pages of paper and was told: “Here’s what you will be doing, if you have questions ask. Just let me know when you’re done with each step.” That forces one to learn on the fly and under pressure. Not only did that benefit my GIS abilities, but also improved my problem solving and responsibility.
How did the logistics work for you? Did you have to move?
I did have to move to Boise, ID for the summer. Luckily I was able to stay with my family which made the transition extremely easy. The two 1800 mile drives got a little long but I had good company on each road trip which made it all good. I would actually recommend that any potential interns look for jobs in which they CAN relocate. The love of experiencing new places should be inherent in every geographers psyche.
What advice can you give to those who are looking for an internship?
Just go out there and give er. It may be difficult to find something at first but as soon as you land that job you will realize how absolutely well prepared you are for it, and there should be nothing to fear. The geography department at UWEC has prepared you well, get out and prove it to the world.

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