Just over three years ago, Mike Camponovo joined the geography department to fill the newly created position of GIS outreach coordinator. It’s been a whirlwind for him ever since.
“My vision was that the GIS outreach coordinator would not just support geospatial instruction, research, and publication within the department, but also actively create moments to demonstrate the vitality and saliency of Geography and GIS to wider stakeholder communities,” said Derek Alderman, former department head, to explain the need for the GIS outreach coordinator position. “We defined an inclusive conception of community that included schools and other universities, public agencies, private companies, networks of industry professionals, and especially groups historically marginalized and ignored by the academy.”
Not only does Camponovo provide geospatial-themed outreach and promotion across the state, he is excelling as an instructor in the classroom and computer labs. Camponovo teaches Geography 311 – Geovisualization and Geographic Information Science. The 311 course is now in such high demand that a third lab section has been added this semester to accommodate 20 additional students. Camponovo’s vision for the course is to provide real-world training for students to prepare them to succeed in subsequent geospatial coursework, excel at internships, graduate school, or eventual employment. He has been so successful in designing and implementing the courses that he has twice received the department’s annual Undergraduate Teaching Award as voted on by students.
In describing him before the latest awards ceremony, one of Camponovo’s students said, “Michael’s door is always open. No matter how many projects he has going on, he cuts out time to help students, even if they are not in his courses. He wants to help all students excel in their college career and is constantly sharing opportunities, giving advice, and advocating for interesting programs within geography.”
Camponovo’s impact on students, however, does not end in the lab. He tirelessly seeks out internships for the students through his wide and growing network of geospatial professionals. In his new position on the board of directors of the Tennessee Geographic Information Council, he uses the position to heighten the visibility of the department’s GIS program and the strength of its students. Over the past two years, many of his undergraduate students have completed internships with organizations that include the East Tennessee Development District, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Knoxville-Knox County Planning, Atlantic, and MAXAR.
In 2016, Joshua Kenna, associate professor of Social Science Education, created a summer course, Contemporary Social Studies. Partnering with Camponovo, the course introduces his pre-service teaching students to incorporating geospatial tools effectively in their classrooms. Kenna wants students to understand the myriad of ways they can use geospatial technologies in the teaching of secondary social studies.
“Michael was kind enough to give us his time and allow us to use the computer lab in Burchfiel,” Kenna said. “He is showing my pre-service teachers that these tools are more than toys used to hook and motivate secondary students. Rather, they can be used to teach relevant content and explore authentic inquiries. The primary goal of the course has always been to produce an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit among my students who are willing to take risks and explore and utilize new tools. Michael Camponovo has been a vital component to achieving that goal.”
In 2016, Clay Burns, Introduction to GIS teacher at Central Magnet High School in Murfreesboro, attended the Tennessee Geographic Alliance’s Geospatial Academy, where he first met Camponovo.
“I caught the geospatial bug when I attended the Geospatial Academy and was inspired to approach my administration to allow me to start teaching the Introduction to GIS technical course at my school,” said Burns. “I am now in my third year teaching it and have students working paid internships for geospatial companies, minoring in GIS at various colleges, and even joining UT’s geography department this fall and in 2020. This would have never been possible without the inspiration and support that Mike provides on a regular basis.”
All of this has been accomplished while Camponovo expands the outreach mission of his position though innovative programs such as the ever-popular Augmented Reality Sandbox. Over the course of the past year, Camponovo partnered with the UT Department of Mechanical Engineering to have some of their students design a new sandbox that is lighter and more portable than his first design. With Camponovo overseeing the project, six students designed and fabricated a much more functional learning tool. Then, he provided training to a team of AmeriCorps members this summer on the ins-and-outs of hosting the sandbox. This will allow the AmeriCorps members to achieve their mission of educational outreach to underserved communities while introducing their audiences to geospatial technologies and geographic concepts.
Camponovo does not rest during the summer when his teaching duties are over. This past summer, he partnered with the Tennessee Geographic Alliance and Jefferson Middle School Teacher, Brian Smith, to implement a four-day Geospatial Academy for Tennessee middle and high school teachers, as well as two, two-day Introduction to GIS workshops, funded by ESRI, for Tennessee K-12 teachers in partnership with Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Funding for this Geospatial Academy were generously provided by the David Ralston enrichment fund.
Between these workshops, he contributed significantly to the MEGA:BITESS Academy (Medical Entomology & Geospatial Analyses: Bringing Innovation to Teacher Education & Surveillance Studies). This is a three-year project funded by the USDA led by Rebecca Trout Fryxell, UT associate professor of medical and veterinary entomology. A partnership between the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, the Department of Geography, and the Tennessee Geographic Alliance, the MEGA:BITESS Academy is designed to create an integrated medical entomology and geospatial analysis (MEGA) Academy for East Tennessee educators (grades 6-12) by engaging them in learning medical entomology and geographic information sciences for classroom implementation while simultaneously developing a community-driven mosquito surveillance and education program. During the course of the three-year grant, more than 45 teachers will be trained in entomology and geospatial sciences. They will actively engage their students in coursework and fieldwork gathering, identifying, and georeferencing target species. One outcome will be student-created, media-based awareness materials that will be shared with at-risk communities through local health departments.
“Michael Camponovo excels in teaching our introductory to geographic information systems,” said Ron Kalafsky, professor and head of the UT geography department. “He takes it a step further with his valuable outreach efforts among K-12 communities across Tennessee.”