CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 7/24/23: College students in a summer internship program at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) are developing new skills in geographic information system (GIS) learning while tackling ways to map Illinois streamflow more accurately to inform soil conservation efforts. This on-the-job training will better prepare students for future studies and their careers, according to Ryan Meekma, ISWS geospatial scientist and academic professional on the project team.
“It’s a crash course in GIS and hydrology from people who use GIS on a daily basis,” he said. The internship is provided through the ISWS Coordinated Hazard Assessment and Mapping Program (CHAMP), in which staff assess and research flood hazards, identify high-risk areas, and revise floodplain maps to keep them current.
The seven students are developing a highly efficient process to produce new stream centerlines in the Kaskaskia watershed using Lidar data and digital elevation models and mapping flow networks. This project is important because hydrologists can use these high-resolution elevation data that are much more precise than what they have used in the past.
At the start, the students needed to be brought up to speed on how to use GIS tools, particularly because they are a diverse group from various disciplines. They include, Tan Su, U. of I. graduate student in geographic information science, Steven Kretz, undergraduate in geographic information systems at Illinois State University, Saheb Gabadia, U. of I. graduate student in information management, Aditya Prasad Khedkar, U. of I. graduate with a master’s degree in information management, Sarah Hanrahan and David Bassey, both U. of I. undergraduate students in sustainable design, and Sunav Dahal, U. of I. graduate student in civil engineering.
“Our interns have all had different amounts of experience using GIS software but have quickly learned to use it at a high level, including working with high resolution large datasets, running computer-intensive geoprocessing tools, and troubleshooting when our Lidar data disagrees with reality,” said Atticus Zavelle, ISWS GIS hydrologist, who is directing the internship.
As a team and individually, they are processing stream centerlines for 4 medium-sized river basins and 209 smaller tributary systems. Focusing on the task is important to achieve this goal because each intern is responsible for 30 units over the summer, or one to two per day.
Sarah Hanrahan, from Rolling Meadows, and a senior at the U. of I. studying sustainable design, agreed that the time constraints are challenging.
“It’s a lot to get done in a short timeframe,” she said. “We’re always looking for creative ways to work more effectively with the time we have.”
Hanrahan said she has had some experience with GIS work, but most of her training has been through the internship in the past two months.
“This internship is really interesting,” Hanrahan said. “It’s not just someone teaching you and showing you the ropes every step of the way. We do receive help, but this is real-world work that we can do ourselves. The best way to learn is to get a task and figure out how to solve it.”
The internship has given Hanrahan ideas about what to focus on for her senior-year capstone project. She is especially interested in sustainable design at the regional level where water science is extremely important. After graduation, she says the internship will open doors for her in her career choice.
At summer’s end, the data will be provided to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which is funding the project. For the interns, the final product is not just a homework assignment to be completed, but is a project with a set deadline and expected deliverables, Meekma said.
ISWS scientists are also interested in the results, said Zaville.
“The deliverables produced by this internship are incredibly exciting for the Water Survey because so many of our researchers use flow network data in their research,” he said. “I don’t think I have mentioned this project to a colleague without seeing their eyes light up and ask if the data will be available for them to use.”
The CHAMP summer internship project is expected to continue in the summers of 2024 and 2025. CHAMP scientific specialists Samikshya Pantha and Nazmul Huda are also involved in the project in the role of preparing digital materials and advising students in their use of GIS.
Media contacts: Ryan Meekma, 217-244-6627, firstname.lastname@example.org; Atticus Zavelle, 217-300-0669, email@example.com