Earlier this month I attended ForestSAT hosted at the University of Maryland. This was my first international conference, as a PhD student this represented an important step in my academic trajectory and my development as a researcher. I spent my days and nights living and breathing research, filling my days attending talks given by experts in remote sensing of forest environments from across the globe. Everyone was keen to share their projects, and everyone was equally eager to hear what others were doing.
It was an amazing conference, and yet I couldn't help but feel that there was a missed opportunity.
I grew up in a small city in southern Ontario. It was a blue collar kind of place and I am from a blue collar kind of family. My father is a sheet metal worker and my mother is a homemaker. The realm of possibilities for what I would be when I grew up matched the scope of my experiences and encounters growing up. That is to say, what I thought I could be was pretty limited. And to be honest not much of it sounded very appealing to me.
I came into remote sensing kind of unintentionally. My path in undergrad was circuitous, and my path to undergrad was as well. But at the end of it all, I left Trent University with a Joint Honours BSc in Geography and Biology and a Minor in International Development Studies. During my time at Trent University I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant to Steven Franklin, who became my undergraduate thesis supervisor and mentor. Steven Franklin does remote sensing. I looked at a Landsat time series to identify forest changes for my undergraduate thesis.
It seems silly to say now, but growing up I had no idea that this was a thing! I knew NASA existed from movies and TV shows. I knew they went to space. But what they did, what they collected, and what was done with that data never entered my mind as a kid. I never fathomed that what NASA did was somehow related to jobs in the real world. But I wish I knew this was something in the realm of possibility. I wish someone had told me.
I wish someone had told me?
I wish someone had told me! I wish that I had someone come to my school and talk to me about their work doing exactly that! Barring me inventing a time machine, it is too late for that now. But now I have the opportunity to be that person who goes to schools. I get to share my enthusiasm and inspire future generations.
And that brings us back to ForestSAT. While at this conference I recognized the palpable passion in each expert for their work and an enormous missed opportunity to engage with the community that was hosting us. I wanted to go from the conference to the classroom, and bring others with me. Conference2Classroom was borne from that feeling. Conferences bring together so many experts who are there to share their work, our mission is to enable them to share it with students in the classroom.