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NMSU geography students selected to participate in elite NSF program this summer

LAS CRUCES - Three geography students at New Mexico State University have been selected to join an elite group of students from around the country to work on cutting-edge research on the human dimensions of environmental change as part of the Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) program this summer.



From left, Katrina Barney, Eric Garton and Alma Pacheco were selected to participate in the Human-Environment Regional Observatory program at Clark University in Worchester, Mass., this summer to sharpen their skills as scientists. Only 12 students in the country were chosen to be a part of the program this year. (Courtesy photo)

HERO is a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site program. Katrina Barney, Eric Garton and Alma Pacheco will travel to Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where they will spend eight weeks participating in one of three research tracks from June 7 to July 30.

"I am very excited to be selected to participate in this program," Garton said. "I wasn't sure what my odds were on getting in because I was told that 12 people were being selected out of the entire country, so needless to say, I was quite ecstatic when I heard the news."

The students will use a mix of methodological approaches, including Geographic Information Systems, high-resolution satellite imagery analysis, interviews, surveys, archival analysis, spatial univariate and multivariate statistics, and landscape ecology techniques as they work with university faculty on their research specific to cases in Massachusetts.

Garton and Pacheco will participate on the Massachusetts Forest Monitoring Project (MAFoMP) and Barney will work with faculty on a project about urban issues.

Pacheco said the project she and Garton are working on combines remote sensing and ancillary data with geographic information technologies to monitor and explain large-area forest cover and forest-cover change in Massachusetts.

The two will explore, alongside other HERO MAFoMP fellows, how much deforestation has occurred in the region in recent decades. The goal is to provide some of the first comprehensive, spatially explicit measurements of forest cover - and forest-cover change - for New England. These results will be used to inform future research on how New England timber harvesting influences landscape-level ecosystem structure and function.

The students will present their research results at the annual Association of American Geographers in Seattle, Wash., in 2011 as well as at other venues as opportunities arise.

"As a 2010 HERO fellow, I'm looking forward to meeting the HERO research faculty and working with them along with the other fellows who were accepted from around the country," Pacheco said.

Pacheco, a senior who plans to obtain a master's and doctorate in geography, plans to continue studying in her research areas of land-use change and sustainability science, as well as teach.

Garton said he started out as a history major and was on that path until he, by chance, took a cultural geography course and realized that was a better fit for him.

"Studying geography allowed me to gain a unique perspective of the world and at the same time has provided me with a certain set of skills that is essential for spatial analysis and research," he said.

Chris Brown, department head of geography, said he was very impressed with the initiative the students took in applying for these competitive spots.

"They're going to Clark, they're going to be working with the National Science Foundation and they are going to work with well-respected people," Brown said. "They should make a quantum leap in their understanding of technical tools, what science is, their understanding of the particular issues that are at the heart of what they're doing there. They should come back here more experienced, more motivated, with a stronger value for what they are doing."