2006 May 11

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Editor's Introduction

This week I cover last week's ASPRS annual conference by interviewing three key players: Jim Plasker, the organization's executive director; Kari Craun, its new president; and Mike Renslow, the chair of its exam development committee. All three were enthusiastic about the conference and told me of very interesting developments.


Interview with Jim Plasker

Last week, I attended the ASPRS Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada. This week, I discussed it with Jim Plasker, the organization's executive director. We covered the following topics:


Plasker confirmed my impression that the meeting was a success, in terms of overall attendance ("between 1,325 and 1,350"), exhibit hall traffic, and organizational business. While attendance was lower than at last year's meeting in Baltimore because the location was not conducive to government "walk-ins," it nevertheless exceeded expectations. "In fact," he told me, "embarrassingly, we ran out of final programs because we had not printed enough." The exhibit hall also exceeded the organization's budget and plans. "I heard nothing but positive feedback from the exhibitors in terms of traffic and quality of traffic."


LiDAR appeared in the titles of 16 out of 130 technical presentations. "It is still relatively new," Plasker says, "and a lot of people are learning and growing with that discipline. There were a lot of papers and exhibitors on that topic and there is a lot of committee work going on in that area, developing standards and guidelines."


Besides Microsoft's acquisition of Vexcel, I asked Plasker, were there any other major announcements at the conference? "I'm not sure that anything would match that," he told me. "The search community and the big players — the Googles, the Yahoos, and the Microsofts — are constantly watching out to see where the other one is going and the question in my mind is 'Where is the next shoe going to drop?' I have not heard any rumors, but logic says that this may be the first of several [similar announcements]. I think it is a very powerful statement that is being made and certainly a potential huge infusion of resources into a community that has for so long depended upon the government in many ways for sale of its goods and services."

What about Microsoft's choice of making the announcement at the ASPRS meeting? "There are many organizations that compete in the GIS arena and even in the broader mapping arena. However, we own the image niche and we feel that Microsoft's announcement confirms that. There wasn't any other logical place where to make it, unless they were not going to do it at a conference at all."


At the board and committee meetings that took place in conjunction with the Reno conference, two of the biggest topics were the future of Landsat — "both the gap-filler immediate future and the long-term future," says Plasker — and the licensure of photogrammetrists. Regarding the former, in addition to a hot topics session, there were business meetings with "key players," including representatives of the White House group that is working on the long-term issues and the NASA program executive for the Landsat 8 data continuity mission. Additionally, Plasker told me, "We have initiated discussions with MAPPS [on this issue and] we've already written several letters together on that subject to the key decision-makers in the White House."


ASPRS has been working with various states on the issue of licensure. Most recently, Oregon successfully concluded its legislative process on this and is now in the grandfathering period, which will last until the end of 2007. "Our folks in the Columbia River Region were key players in working amongst all the constituencies and stakeholders to bring that forward and it ran smoothly through the whole process," says Plasker. "We think that's because we had a tremendous amount of interdisciplinary cooperation and communication as the process was moving forward. There are other states that are actively examining their options, such as Alaska and Washington."

Photogrammetric Examination

For several years, ASPRS has been working to develop "an adequate photogrammetric examination," says Plasker. "In the last several years, we've been working with the Colonial States Board for Land Surveyor Registration and have been developing what now amounts to about 260 out of a target 300 exam items. This will allow us to prepare examinations on an as needed basis, working with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which administers exams twice a year, in April and October."

Additionally, ASPRS is working "with other key players in the community, including NCEES," says Plasker, to ensure that, once enough states are interested, they will be able to take this item bank and administer it as their own. "That's critical strategically, for two reasons: to ensure that there is a fair and reasonable access to the profession by up-and-coming professionals and to maintain ease of mobility from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. That's especially important for photogrammetrists because there's hardly a photogrammetric firm that's operating in just a single state. So, the ability to easily move and obtain licensure in multiple jurisdictions is critical for the photogrammetric community." To this end, in Reno a group met to review the exam items and make sure that they would accurately determine whether someone is minimally competent to practice photogrammetry. This summer or next fall a panel will take a trial exam and the results will be used to establish a cut score.

Professional Services

The Professional Practice Division, according to Plasker, agreed "to work with others in the community to help define what is and what is not a professional service as it relates to the qualifications-based selection process and the licensing of professionals by states." This would be very helpful "to the federal agencies and the federal contracting officers who are expected to execute contracts in that area, as well as to the community that is seeking work from those agencies."


Membership has also been a focus for the organization. After a decade-long decline at the rate of one or two percent per year, Plasker told me, ASPRS increased its membership in both 2004 and 2005. "We will maintain our focus on that." Additionally, "The sense is that there is a younger crowd coming. Some of it is coming with these additional technologies, like LiDAR."


Another big change for ASPRS, Plasker points out, is the fact that it installed its fourth female officer in a row, so that now all four elected positions are occupied by women. "It is a huge milestone, not only in our organization, but also for the community as a whole," says Plasker. "It took us 71 years to elect the first three women and since then we've elected four in a row. Clearly, the four women we have are outstanding in the field, have all the credentials to lead, have been leading for some time in other positions, and make a huge statement as role models for a large portion of our community."


Do you have any plans for joint meetings with other organizations? "We partner quite often with other organizations in a selective manner. For example, for our conference this fall, in San Antonio, we are partnering for the third time in this series with MAPPS. Our fall 2007 conference is going to be in Ottawa and we are partnering on that one with the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) and the Canadian Remote Sensing Society (CRSS), along with, we expect, some of the federal agencies involved with GEOSS. We partner only where it appears to make good sense — both programmatically as well as financially. In the meantime, we work quite often behind the scenes on a wide variety of issues with folks like the Association of American Geographers (AAG), the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), and the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) — for example with regards to workforce development issues. On the licensure issues we've worked with ACSM and other groups."

Awards And Scholarships

Plasker points proudly to another area of achievement for ASPRS: funding for awards and scholarships. "About two years ago, we took our foundation, which was established back in 1979, back under our wing. We have since grown it from about $60,000 for awards and scholarships to more than $320,000. In the meantime, the Colwell Fellowship, our newest one, which honors one of the pioneers in remote sensing, this year was $2,000 and it has already received enough donations that next year it will be $4,000. Jack Dangermond gave a very nice donation to complete the endowment of the ESRI Award for Best Scientific Paper in GIS. So, now two of our awards are fully endowed and all the rest of everything we give, that are not pass-through awards for somebody, have an overall endowment level of better than 50 percent."

As "another fabulous example of cooperation with other organizations" Plasker cites the KODAK International Educational Literature Award (KIELA), financially sponsored by Kodak. "This year, as they have for the past several years, ESRI again provided a complete set of their ESRI Press Library Collection; John Wiley & Sons has provided selected titles from their catalog; GITA and the AAG have given all of their conference proceedings. This year's winner was the Institute of Geography at the National University of Mexico. So, that has turned into a very positive, multi-organizational outreach to the non-U.S. community and we've had some excellent winners over the years — last year it was Brazil, it was Nigeria the year before, South Africa and Sri Lanka before that. So, we've had some very good contributions from these other organizations and we are pretty proud of that."

Interview with Kari Craun

I also discussed the ASPRS conference and future activities of the organization with its new president, Kari J. Craun, who is the chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Mid-Continent Mapping Center in Rolla, Missouri.

Craun was very positive about the Reno conference: "I think it was very successful — we had good attendance and really excellent technical sessions. A very large number of abstracts were submitted for this conference and resulted in a very good technical program. We also had a very nice and well-attended social event at the National Automobile Museum, in downtown in Reno."

What did you think of Microsoft's announcement that it had purchased Vexcel? "It was quite interesting and I think it represents the fact that our industry is very dynamic right now. There are many companies coming together or taking new directions and new ones being formed. Microsoft, and previously Google Earth, are much different kinds of players than we typically see in our industry. They are changing the public's perspective of remote sensing and satellite imagery and particularly how they are able to use that kind of technology over the Internet. We are seeing a lot more widespread use of remotely sensed data with the emergence of [companies] that are serving the data over the Web in a way that a much more general public type of user can access."

"That led to my theme in my plenary session presidential address," Craun continued, "which was about diversity within ASPRS and our whole industry. Part of that has to do with us getting more use of the information that has previously been somewhat restricted to a more professional crowd of users and now is getting a lot more general public use. However, I think what ASPRS really brings to the table, from the technology side of things, is our inclusion of private, government, and academic sectors in the leadership in this technology. We are somewhat unique in that we have good representation from all of those sectors and when we get together we get different perspectives depending on where our members come from. We provide a neutral forum for all of these sectors to get together and talk about public policy issues, where the technology is going, certification, what is happening in education that is supporting our industry, etc. So, all of the different aspects of what ASPRS does are made stronger by the fact that we have representation from all of those different sectors."

"We have a lot of other diversity within the organization. We have many international members and a relationship with the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS). We need to keep an open mind with regard to membership and maintain that diversity, because with increasing globalization not just of our technology but of the economy as a whole, that is going to be important for the future of ASPRS and the future of our industry. We need to make sure that we have representation from all sectors and all parts of this industry, so that we can be leaders."

What is ASPRS' position on Landsat? "We've been very outspoken in supporting Landsat data continuity. We had many sessions during this meeting [to discuss] what's currently happening and what needs to happen. A Landsat 8, if you will, freeflier mission would hopefully provide data in the near term, while the overall goal really is to get a program that provides continuous coverage for Landsat-type data."

What about licensure and certification? "Something that's really exciting that we discussed in the educational arena during this meeting is a change in our certification policy. For many years ASPRS has done professional certification and probably the most well-known is the certified photogrammetrist program. We also have remote sensing and mapping scientist certifications, as well as a technologist certification. Now, as a result of a proposal from a particular university, we have begun to discuss the possibility of pre-certifying students who are in programs leading to a degree in, for example, photogrammetry or mapping science. This would allow them to take the certification exam and then their certification would be contingent on getting their years of professional experience after they graduate. We think that will be very popular with students across the country, because it will allow them to get that exam out of the way while they are still in exam-taking mode and not have to worry about it several years after they graduate. They can go ahead and get their professional experience and then get certified once they have it."

What are some other significant activities in the works? "We are looking at forming a taskforce to refine some documents that we have related to procurement of professional services that are getting a bit out of date. We've invited MAPPS to participate with us in that revision and we'll be inviting ACSM as well."

"At the conference, we had an imagery and disaster response workshop, which included representatives from federal agencies and from the private sector to do a 'lessons learned' review as a follow-on to a session we had had in January. This time we included private sector companies, particularly airborne data providers that we had not included in that January meeting. Ultimately, what we want to come out of this is a set of recommendations of logistical and technical improvements that can be made in providing imagery on both pre- and post-disaster. We would publish those recommendations in PE&RS (Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing) Journal and potentially make some recommendations to decision makers regarding things that the entire community feels can be improved in future disaster situations."

"We are also working on a manual of GIS. Dr. Marguerite Madden, [ASPRS' new President-Elect] will be the editor and she is looking to publish it in 2007, around the time of our annual conference. She has made a lot of progress and has many authors involved. I think it will be a very valuable resource for people in the GIS community."

What about future conferences? "Our fall conference in San Antonio, in cooperation with MAPPS, is part of a series that we started a few years ago on digital surface modeling and feature extraction. At the same time as the conference, we will also issue an update to our DEM manual. Our next annual conference will be at the Marriot in Tampa, Florida. The call for papers is out and we hope for a lot of response."

Interview with Mike Renslow

Licensure and, in particular, the development of a new photogrammetric examination, was a big topic at the ASPRS conference. I discussed it with Mike Renslow, who is heading the effort. He has been a photogrammetrist for about 40 years.

"There's a need for a process to be in place for people without prior practice," he told me. The profession is regulated by the states, through their legislative process, and each one does it differently. Most states, Renslow explains, have a survey law and now they are adding photogrammetry to it. The latest change was in Oregon, where a new law went into effect on January 1. The last part of Oregon's law deals with inclusions and exclusions: for example, a police officer sketching the scene of an accident or a geologist sketching some mineral deposits are not covered, but a city public works department employee mapping the locations of manholes is covered.

Most states require aspiring photogrammetrists to take the Fundamentals of Land Surveying (FLS) exam and then pass a photogrammetry test plus a test on boundary law. Two years ago, the Colonial States Board of Land Surveyor Registration (CSBLSR), as part of their process with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), decided to address photogrammetry, so it added some photogrammetry questions to its exam. They had some aid from Mark Meade from Photo Science, who helped them with their initial outline. In 2004 ASPRS got involved. At a meeting, Renslow told me, "we were able to write 60 questions in one day."

A little more than a year ago, the Professional Practice Division of ASPRS established the licensure development exam committee, chaired by Renslow. "We follow the NCEES guidelines and rules very carefully all the way through the exam process," he says. "The NCEES has not accepted responsibility for the exam but will help to administer it. The CSBLSR will own it."

What did you do in Reno? "Each question has to be signed off by six other people. On April 30 in Reno we conducted a Professional Activities, Knowledge, and Skills (PAKS) review. We had a dozen people validate our matrix. It was a very good, rigorous, all-day meeting. We mostly had industry professionals in there, people who run companies and know a lot about photogrammetry. They actually re-wrote the outline. They gave us the piece we needed to move forward. Then, on May 1, the exam group reorganized the questions according to the PAKS committee's outline. That took five people all day. Then yet another group reviewed the questions."

How far did you get? "Prior to the meeting in Reno we had written 203 questions. We ended up writing 60 more. We need 300 items and are getting very close. Our goal is to have three exams of 100 questions each."

What's the next step in this process? "This summer we will figure out the 'cut score' — in other words, the minimum score to pass the exam. We will call about 12 other people who are minimally technically competent, meaning that with their current knowledge and skills they could practice without doing harm to the public. They will be people who have responsibility for project management and design and have about 10 to 12 years of experience. They will have one day to take 200 questions."

Then what will happen? "Overnight, a psychometrician on our staff will work with us on the cut score. For each exam question we must determine whether it is something that a photogrammetrist should know and what percentage of all photogrammetrists currently know the answer. We will turn over all the accepted items to NCEES at Clemson University. Our goal is to have two exams ready by this October and to have more than 300 questions for three exams completed by spring."

Who pays for this? "The psychometrician position is funded by the CSBLSR. The ASPRS pays $2,000 out of its yearly budget toward this effort, plus the cost of our meetings."

How will you keep the exam up to date? "Every year NCEES will review how well people did on the exam. ASPRS and NCEES will meet once a year to update it."

How is adoption of the exam by states proceeding? "Only five states have adopted the model law thus far: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Oregon. Some states have told NCEES: as soon as you have an exam, we will implement the model law and use the new exam."

New ASPRS Officers

At the ASPRS annual conference in Reno the membership elected new board members and officers:

  1. President

    Mrs. Kari J. Craun

  2. President-Elect

    Dr. Marguerite M. Madden

  3. Vice President

    Ms. Kass Green

  4. Immediate Past President

    Ms. Karen L. Schuckman

  5. Executive Committee

    1. Mr. Paul D. Brooks
    2. Mr. Allen E. Cook
    3. Mr. Terry A. Curtis
    4. Mr. Lawrence R. Handley
  6. Treasurer

    Dr. Donald T. Lauer

  7. Board Members

    1. Mr. Chris Aldridge
    2. Ms. Lorraine B. Amenda
    3. Mr. Eric J. Andelin
    4. Dr. Marvin E. Bauer
    5. Mr. Lloyd H. Blackburn
    6. Ms. Terry Ann Coleman
    7. Dr. Jackson Cothren
    8. Mr. Gary R. Florence
    9. Mr. Edwin Freeborn
    10. Mr. David D. Greenlee
    11. Dr. James D. Hipple
    12. Mr. Brian J. Huberty
    13. Mr. Michael L. Hut
    14. Ms. Claire Kiedrowski
    15. Mr. David W. Kreighbaum
    16. Dr. Thomas R. Loveland
    17. Prof. Clifford Mugnier
    18. Dr. Charles E. Olson, Jr.
    19. Mr. Daniel J. Paulsen, C.P.

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