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Geography Department Acquires Drones for Advanced Projects

By Lydia McGee
On February 15, 2018

The Phantom 4 DJI drone can be programmed to follow a set flight path.
Photo Courtesy of Cinema5D


Concord University’s geography department has acquired two Phantom 4 DJI drones for use in upper level geography courses.
According to Dr. Thomas Saladyga, associate professor of geography, students will have ample opportunity to use the drones, especially in Geography 412, advanced methods in geospatial analysis, which will be offered in the spring. The students enrolled in these classes will have the opportunity to practice maneuvering with smaller drones so that they will be able to operate the Phantom 4s for data collection. “You’re not just limited to what the state flies,” Saladyga states. “You can collect it whenever you want for your particular study area.”
“Drones [have] been integrated into higher education over the last few years, and so we wanted to capitalize on that and make sure our students are up-to-date with different technologies and analyses they could do so they can add it to their resumes,” says Dr. Saladyga. “We have an emphasis in our major called geospatial science and so they’ll be used in at least three of our courses, heavily used in our geography 412, and that’s essentially what the course will be, analyzing aerial imagery taken by the drones. It’s not just taking cool photos or videos, it’s analyzing the imagery whether it’s for analyzing reflective properties of different land cover, forest versus field that sort of thing, and making what are called digital terrain models from the imagery, so skills that they can transfer into careers.”
“For 412 [the drones] would be the primary tool of data collection,” he states. “[The students] would be collecting the data and analyzing the data and they’d likely be presenting the data.” Students can program these Phantom 4 drones to fly a specific flight path, and the drones also support other attachments such as infrared imagery, according to Saladyga. “If people are interested in archaeology, drones are also used for that to identify burial grounds…based on the analysis of the imagery.”
Previously, Concord offered a cartography and CIS emphasis in the geography department, but “that terminology is antiquated to begin with,” says Saladyga. “Our geospatial science emphasis is basically something I retooled that started this last fall, so this coincides with a revamped curriculum. The last time it was updated was the turn of the century. It was created then because geographic information systems were kind of new and by the late nineties [they were] being integrated into higher education so previous faculty members started that concentration, but then it hadn’t been touched for sixteen years so it needed to be updated. And it brings us more on par with what other institutions are doing.”
At this time, at least six students have declared the concentration under the new title, and at least twice will finish out the program from previous semesters under the new name and requirements. In the future, Dr. Saladyga states, the department hopes to develop a minor that students from other disciplines, such as biology, will be able to pick up to complement their courses. “Ideally, people in computer science would find use for this in terms of the development side as well, so like software development, web based mapping, all kinds of stuff like that. It’s a whole other realm of opportunities for students that I hope to see in the future,” says Saladyga.
Dr. Saladyga stated that he ultimately hopes that the surrounding area, including county governments and policy agencies, will recognize that Concord students practice with these technologies and will take advantage of the structure of classes to address issues or projects that need to be completed in the community. 
“My geography 411 class this semester is working on a trail planning project,” Saladyga states. “They’re developing…a path that would connect Athens to the larger Mercer and Summers county trail network. So they’re using GIS as part of that to model potential paths. I took my students to the county commission meeting a couple weeks ago, and they’re really excited to have Concord involved but also people who have access to these technologies and that are learning these skills that they can use basically to help the larger community,” says Saladyga. “Summers county doesn’t really have the infrastructure or the personnel to do a lot of these things, so taking advantage of courses like this and faculty and so forth that can offer services, that’s a goal [of ours].”
Dr. Saladyga’s classes in the fall plan to reach out to Pipestem and other local agencies to offer help with any data collection or analysis they might want conducted. 


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