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  • Frank Romo

GIS Summer Camp Sparks Innovation & Geospatial Exploration in Detroit, Michigan

Updated: Feb 2

Recap of the 3-Day GIS Pathways Summer Camp

Students gather as they explore Google My Maps.

About the GIS Pathways

The 3rd Annual GIS & Drone Summer Camp was a great success! Students enjoyed the immersive learning experiences led by industry professionals and local educators. The summer camp is part of the GIS Pathways Program that is organized by RomoGIS Enterprises, OHM-Advisors, and the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The professional GIS Pathways program trains 9-12th grade students in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and drone technologies. Throughout the school year, students learn how to make digital maps, fly drones and perform geo-spatial analysis.

The Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men and their Academy of Geographic Information Systems is a nationally recognized NAF school. NAF is a national education non-profit that brings schools and businesses together to better prepare students of all backgrounds. Since 1980, NAF has led a movement for immersive, career-focused teaching and work-based learning and supports high school students’ efforts to be future ready.

The primary goal of the GIS Summer Camp is to equip students with essential skills and knowledge to become future leaders in the tech industry.

The annual summer camp is an opportunity to provide further insight into mapping technologies while having lots of fun with students and partners from the Detroit community. The summer camp took place between June 20 and June 22, 2023 at the Detroit International Academy (A big thank you to them for hosting us!). At the camp, students embarked on an engaging journey to explore the world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through various interactive activities, lightning talks, and Q&A sessions. The primary goal of the GIS Summer Camp is to equip students with essential skills and knowledge to become future leaders in the tech industry.

In Their Own Words

Meet our Students: Xylon Holmes, Ashton Colson, DeAnthony Neal, David Lockhart, and Steve Jones| Fredrick Douglass Academy for Young Men | Detroit, MI

Day 1 - GIS Foundations

Foundations of GIS & Drone Technologies

Creating Print & Interactive Maps:Frank Romo and the RomoGIS team kicked off the camp with a creative mental mapping exercise where students designed hand-drawn maps of their communities. The goal of this exercise was to broaden students' understanding of GIS and leverage local knowledge to learn more about geography, urban planning, and GIS. After creating print maps, the students then learned how to use publicly available data and digital tools to create online maps of their neighborhood.

Students used both ArcGIS Online and Google My Maps to build interactive community maps to help strengthen their understanding of GIS. With expert guidance from Frank Romo of RomoGIS and  Mike Cousins  of OHM Advisors, some students were able to create their very first online map. During this time, advanced students showcased their skills by mapping local businesses, bus routes and other key landmarks in Detroit. Students then placed these maps in their digital portfolios and shared them with their friends, family members, and classmates.

This image shows students navigate the ArcGIS Field Maps app.

Students examine and reassemble a propeller on a drone after it took a crash into the fence.

Flying Drones: Ray Lillibridge, Mike Cousins, & Chad Segrist introduced drones as powerful tools for data collection and visualization during the drone showcase. The showcase included hands-on learning and presentations about how to capture high-resolution imagery using drone technology. The drone showcase helped students gain a deeper understanding of the variety of tools used in this emerging industry. The showcase ended with students piloting their own drones and capturing aerial imagery on the school playground. The most exciting outcome of this activity was witnessing the growth of students' confidence and leadership skills. Watching students share their knowledge with one another and troubleshoot problems together was an inspiring sight.

Watching students share their knowledge with one another and troubleshoot problems together was an inspiring sight.

This image shows students gathering to learn about a new drone.

Day 2 - Skills Development

Mentorship & Professional Development

Empowering the Next Generation: The camp fostered a sense of curiosity, innovation, and responsibility among participants by motivating students to think creatively and explore the limitless possibilities of geospatial technology. We are proud to say that for the third year in a row the FDA GIS & Drone Summer Camp has connected students in Detroit to greater opportunities for education and entrepreneurship. The interdisciplinary focus of the GIS Summer Camp exposes students to a variety of new topics, tools and technologies. Kendrick Faison, CEO and President of SpatialGIS, shared insights into using GIS for entrepreneurship and energized our students with impactful career advice. In another presentation, Trey Scott of OHM Advisors shared his experiences using GIS for community development in Detroit. These two sessions uplifted our students and sparked their entrepreneurial spirit to use GIS as a pathway for new career possibilities.

The camp fostered a sense of curiosity, innovation, and responsibility among participants by motivating students to think creatively.

Kendrick Faison shares inspirational advice with students with students on entrepreneurship.

Geo-caching Event/Digital Scavenger Hunt: On Day 2, students participated in a geo-caching event, also known as a digital scavenger hunt. During the investigative event, students learned how to collect spatial data using mobile devices and leverage GPS technology to create online maps. Using ArcGIS Field Maps, students immersed themselves in data collection scenarios that took them all across the school yard searching for datapoints. This fun and educational event helped students gain a comprehensive understanding of the data collection process and its role in developing GIS applications.

Students show off their findings & celebrate after finding hidden gems during the geo-caching event.

Field Work with Survey Tools: To further enhance their practical skills, students engaged in competitive field tasks setting up survey equipment. First, Matthew Czaja of Seiler Instrument & Manufacturing Company helped students become more familiar with these tools and explained how to properly set up the instruments. Then, students raced one another to see who could accurately setup the survey equipment the fastest and with the most precision. This exciting and competitive experience expanded students' understanding of the physical and digital tools used to create GIS applications. After a few races it was clear that students were having a great time using this new technology outside the classroom.

Students race to the survey tools to see who can finish first.

Mobile LiDAR & 360 Imagery Units: Additionally, the City of Detroit gave a presentation on the Department of Innovation and Technology's (DoIT) Mobile LiDAR & 360 Imagery vehicles. After the presentation, students had a first-hand opportunity to inspect all of the tech and hardware on the two city vehicles. Some of our seniors were inspired by this demonstration and asked how they could get involved using GIS with local government.

The City of Detroit answers questions about mobile data collection.

Day 3 - Student Showcase

Showcasing Students' Achievements & Impact

Presentations and Celebrations: The camp culminated with a student showcase where students confidently shared their GIS projects in front of a group of over 30 people. The showcase served as a platform for students to demonstrate their achievements and inspire others to learn more about GIS. In one presentation, a student described his ArcGIS Online map showing crime and hospital locations in Detroit. In a another presentation, students shared their newly created Google My Maps application displaying restaurants and shops in Downtown Detroit. Overall, it was a very proud day as we watched students speak publicly and share their experiences with attendees including their peers, family, and professionals from NAF and The Ballmer Group.

Upper classmen present their helpful Google My Map tool of the new school location

During the closing ceremony, students articulated powerful stories about their journey through high school and the impact that the GIS Pathways program has had along the way. As students shared their stories, the resounding response was that teachers like Chad Segrist, Dean Lawrence Davis, and Principal Dr. Willie L. White II have made Frederick Douglass Academy a welcoming and supportive ecosystem where students can thrive. Students' reflections highlighted the knowledge, skills, and friendships they gained over the past few years and moved everyone in attendance with their stories and authenticity. To celebrate the accomplishments of the students, an awards ceremony presented each student with a GIS Summer Camp certificate of completion followed by a delicious meal shared with the community.

Mr. Segrist proudly presents a student with their certificate

The strong leadership modeled for and expected of the students fostered the sense of empowerment and responsibility that we attempt to instill at the Frederick Douglass Academy.

Students pose together after they all receive their certificate

The FDA GIS Summer Camp in Detroit challenged and empowered students to become leaders on both a personal and professional level. The interactive nature of the camp, ignited student's passion for geospatial technology and equipped them with practical hard and soft skills. Through the camp students acquired some of the technical expertise, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills needed for success in the geospatial industry. The strong leadership modeled for and expected of the students fostered the sense of empowerment and responsibility that we attempt to instill at the Frederick Douglass Academy.

Looking Ahead

The impact of the FDA GIS Summer Camp extends beyond the camp dates. The camp gave students in Detroit the opportunity to learn about the power of GIS and practice these skills first-hand at no-cost. We hope the GIS Summer Camp continues to inspire and empower students in the future to become the next generation of tech leaders in Detroit. The skills and knowledge gained from this transformative experience will undoubtedly empower students in their future classes, jobs and professional interactions. In fact, this summer our students have continued their leadership by volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club to teach middle school students about drone technology. These young men's willingness to give back to the community exemplifies what the FDA GIS Program is about - providing greater access and opportunity through tech education. We are very thankful for all the student leaders who made this summer camp a great experience for all those involved. Thank you, because this would not be possible without your input, leadership and courage.

This student teaches his dad how to fly a drone for the first time!

The success of the FDA GIS Summer Camp was made possible by the dedication and support of the instructors, industry partners, volunteers and the GIS Pathways Advisory Board. A big thank you to all parties involved for bringing their time, treasure and talents to our students at Frederick Douglass Academy. We are very grateful to all of our educational and industry partners who continue to support our students such as our partners at NAF and The Ballmer Group. And last but not least, we are very thankful for all of the family and friends that were in attendance and who actively support our students every day.

Students pose with the Ballmer Group's Executive Director of SE Michigan after a successful time networking!

As we look ahead to the upcoming school year, we are eager to provide greater opportunities for students to engage in advanced training, industry collaborations, and local projects. We fully anticipate providing additional educational cohorts and summer camps through 2024 and are open to any and all collaborations and partnerships. If you would like to get involved or learn more about the program please contact Frank Romo at or email

Students smile with most of their supporters during the GIS Summer Camp, including NAF and The Ballmer Group professionals, the lead instructors, and Principal Dr. White

Thank You Industry Partners: Ballmer Group , Chad Segrist, City of Detroit, Detroit Public Schools Community District, Eastern Michigan University, NAF, OHM Advisors, RomoGIS, Seiler Instrument & Mfg. Co. Inc., SpatialGIS

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