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Outstanding senior solves natural resources' puzzles

Rebecca Templeton sees her work in geospatial information systems as a puzzle.

You gather data across a set area—it could be the type of coverage, elevation, temperature or more—and put it together in such a way that it becomes a tool. You can analyze how water might move through a landscape, for example, or the amount of habitat that’s available for a certain species.

Templeton, a senior majoring in natural resource management and sustainability, is among a select group of students at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources named an Outstanding Senior by her peers. She and the others will be honored among this year’s graduates.

She came to UGA from nearby Oconee County with a bit of Warnell experience already—her brother graduated ahead of her with a degree in forestry. In high school, Templeton worked in a lab on campus and came in as an ecology major because of this experience. But she soon realized that she wanted to work in the management side of natural resources. She switched to Warnell and, when her brother introduced her to the school’s GIS program, she knew she had found a match.

One of the most fun aspects of the major, she says, is working with drones to gather the information.

“The part I find really helpful to me is the fact that you get a visual output. So, you have all this data and you go to a program like ArcGIS. You can change the colors and make it into something people can understand very easily,” she says. “I know for myself, if there’s a concept I don’t quite understand, if it’s something that has to do with a map and you can change the colors, it makes a lot more sense and it’s a lot easier for people to interpret.”

Depending on the type of data you need, she says, you can adjust your toolbox. For example, aerial photos can become the basis for a surface model or an elevation map. This, in turn, can be used to understand erosion in a particular area, or how water moves through it. She’s also stitched aerial images together to analyze habitat—for example, determining places where a certain species may exist, or where the conditions are right for them to thrive.

An Honors student, Templeton was able to apply her GIS skills for a recent project involving the State Botanical Garden. This spring, she’s been using images to create an elevation map of the gardens, then mapping where streams would be. Using special software, she is able to place barriers on the streams to analyze different outcomes to help with erosion.

She sees the technology as a powerful tool that benefits a variety of natural resource managers. After graduation, she hopes to land a GIS tech position in either the public or private sector.

“I think of it as a puzzle; there’s definitely more than likely one way to get the kind of information you’re looking for. You just have to figure out how to piece it together, which is something I find really cool about it,” Adds Templeton. “And then, at the end, you have a finished product to show for the work you’ve done, not just a list of numbers that might not mean something to everyone. The visual display can help identify something that’s going on.”

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