Nation and World

Real world experience

GS student travels to Vietnam to help with demining effort

Cory Rahman and the JMU GIS team

SUMMARY: Cory Rahman ('16) spent a week in Vietnam collaborating with local teams to develop an ArcGIS Online survey tool to map cluster munition contamination.

What would take a JMU student to Vietnam in the middle of his senior year?  Cory Rahman (’16) got the opportunity to aid mine action organizations in Vietnam with using geographic information systems (GIS) technology in their processes for clearing explosive remnants of war (ERW) hazards in the country. This hands-on application of geography to a real-world application provided both a tremendous learning opportunity for Rahman, as well as important service to the Vietnamese people. His work on humanitarian GIS was made possible by JMU’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR) and JMU Geographic Science faculty through a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

As a result of the Vietnam War, the country is contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), including cluster munitions. Local and international organizations partner with the Vietnamese government to neutralize the effects of war and support post-conflict recovery and development by training local staff to clear these explosive hazards that are a threat to civilians. A key aspect to safely clearing villages and countryside of these explosive hazards is to have clearly mapped knowledge of the extent and degree of contamination.

Rahman and ISAT Professor Paul Rittenhouse spent a week in Vietnam with CISR’s associate director, Dr. Suzanne Fiederlein, collaborating with local teams to develop an ArcGIS Online survey tool to map cluster munition contamination.

“The beta tool we built was able to immediately help increase the efficiency and reliability of on-ground Cluster Munition Surveys,” explained Rahman. According to Rahman, the survey tool is intended to allow teams to cover and map large areas of potentially contaminated land in less time than the traditional method.            

“It was absolutely incredible,” Rahman said. “Not only did I get to experience a vibrant new culture, but I was able to use my skills to make a real difference.” Rahman credits his coursework at JMU with ArcGIS to the success of both the trip and the tool. “As a geographer, learning the ArcGIS Online environment was crucial,” said Rahman.

Rahman credits his success to his interdisciplinary education, relationships with his professors, and a very unique project with CISR that allowed him to make a professional contribution to the field.

“Paul Rittenhouse was one of my first professors in the GS major. He didn't just teach the lessons; he applied them in class and made them relevant to the real world,” said Rahman.

He also credits others. Professor Amy Goodall guided Rahman through his environmental conservation, sustainability, and development concentration, giving him “…a deep respect and greater understanding of our Earth.” Professor Zachary Bortolot opened up the world of geographic information science. “Even soaking in a fraction of his knowledge was enough to get me where I am today,” claims Rahman. He also credits Professor Ian Muehlenhaus for his expertise in the GIS field. “I still use the lessons he taught in Cartography and Web Mapping almost every single day.” 

Rahman views his experience as a guide for his peers. “I think the goal of every student should be to find a personal balance between enjoyment, altruism, and necessity,” said Rahman.

In the future, Rahman plans to continue following his goal of service and pragmatism. “Wherever I go, I'm going to make sure I make an impact.”

Rahman is employed with Booz Allen Hamilton and is currently supporting the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) with his team, the World-Wide Human Geography Data Working Group (WWHGD WG).

Photos courtesy of CISR

Published: Monday, February 6, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, January 29, 2018

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