UW-Madison Master’s Program Focuses on Data and Drones for Environmental Issues

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has established a new master’s degree program on using drones and satellites to solve environmental problems.

Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI), an option within the Nelson Institute’s Environmental Conservation M.S. program, will integrate Earth observation technologies and “big data” analytics with professional leadership. The 15-month program combines hands-on, in-person training with distance learning, according to the university.

“Individuals and organizations now have access to unprecedented amounts of data and world-class geospatial tools and cloud computing resources,” comments Annemarie Schneider, an associate professor of environmental studies and EOI chair. “At the same time, some of the most pressing environmental and sustainability challenges remain unsolved and unanswered. We need to train a new group of professionals with the skills to tie all this together.”

Schneider says graduates of the EOI program will know how to synthesize big data in creative ways, bring together the right information with the right questions to solve problems and communicate their outcomes to decision-makers.

The program will focus on three major components: remote sensing and integrated technology, modeling and analysis, and innovative leadership and strategic thinking.

According to UW-Madison, Schneider envisions these skills being put to use for applications such as monitoring sea ice as the climate changes, conducting wildlife surveys and tracking poachers, mapping floods, and monitoring environmental conditions for public health.

Janet Silbernagel, the Nelson Institute’s director of professional programs, says EOI students will learn how to integrate and synthesize Earth-observing technologies; interpret vast amounts of data; and gain leadership skills to help organizations and agencies respond to environmental change at local, regional and global scales.

“With the explosion of new technologies in Earth observation and big data, our goal is less to teach students every technology, but rather to build student capacity to identify and integrate these different technologies toward solutions for the environmental challenges we face today,” says Silbernagel.

The university says the program is designed for early- to mid-career professionals from around the world who aspire to become project or program managers or senior analysts (or positions of similar rank).

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