Please tell us about yourself

Nelson Institute graduate student, Deepika Guruprasad recently received the  Graduate Student Summer Fieldwork Award, from the UW-Madison Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS). This $3,000 award will support Guruprasad’s fieldwork in India along the Nethravathi River basin.

Environmental Observation and Informatics Program Coordinator, Sarah Graves, along with program chair, Annemarie Schneider, wrote Guruprasad’s recommendation letter for this award and are thrilled to see Guruprasad’s work supported by a UW-Madison IRIS award.

“Deepika’s fieldwork will directly support her independent project in protecting the biodiverse Western Ghats in India,” said Graves. “Deepika is a uniquely qualified student to receive this award. Her background is in electrical engineering with years of experience as a software engineer. Deepika also has a passion for environmental conservation and was a volunteer for a large research project in the Western Ghats, the same area she will work. The EOI program and her independent project are combining her technical background with her interest and passion for conservation fieldwork.”

For 31-year-old Deepika Guruprasad, this project took her on a journey more than 8000 miles away from Wisconsin to India.

Pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI), her course is a 15-month programme that combines hands-on, in-person training with distance learning. It’s an option under the Master’s in Environment Conservation programme which integrates cross-cutting Earth observation, technologies and big data analytics.

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Tell us about the program

Earlier in the course, Deepika, who was previously a software developer, got to sharpen and specialise her tech skills in this field. This included specialist knowledge in digital image analysis and interpretation, geospatial data science, programming (R, Python, ENVI, Javascript) and the policy and ethics of using observational data for environmental problem solving.

Like the MS in Environment Conservation, the EOI programme also culminates with an 8-12 week applied conservation project. This saw Deepika fly to Karnataka, India, to work with NGO Wildlife First to map land use in the Nethravathi watershed and quantify forest loss and habitat fragmentation due to infrastructure developments like roads, railway lines, powerlines and so forth.

What did you do as part of practical work?

She visited the area to understand the growing cycles and visual cues of various plantation crops, obtained GPS locations of various land uses, acquired GIS and satellite imagery datasets, conducting analyses using data collected and producing maps and reports to communicate results. It was a solo effort mostly, though her advisors were always ready to lend guidance and support.

As part of her final project in the Nelson Institute Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) program, this award will allow Guruprasad to travel to India to gather on-the-ground data which she will use with satellite imagery to map land use of the River basin. Working with her project supervisor, Niren Jain, a volunteer with Wildlife First and a Nelson Institute alum, Guruprasad will use the land use data to help determine how proposed roads and other linear intrusions will impact the water basin.

“I’m thankful for this award, which will allow me to study the linear intrusions proposed,” Guruprasad said. “There are so many things you can do with satellite imagery. It provides you with a lens that allows you to so much of what the eye cannot. By developing these maps of the region I will be able to compare the impacts on the area before and after.”

In fact, Guruprasad has been studying remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) as a part of the Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI) Master’s program. This 15-month program combines hands-on, in-person training with distance learning to educate individuals with diverse professional and educational backgrounds on the three pillars; remote sensing and integrated technology, modeling and analysis, and innovative leadership.

Environmental Observation and Informatics Program Coordinator, Sarah Graves, along with program chair, Annemarie Schneider, wrote Guruprasad’s recommendation letter for this award and are thrilled to see Guruprasad’s work supported by a UW-Madison IRIS award.

“The applied project helped me gain first-hand experience of designing an applied research project focused on geospatial analyses. I also got the opportunity to conduct field work and meet people, which was invaluable to the project,” Deepika explained.

“This experience has enriched me personally and the skills I have learnt during the course of project development implementation will benefit me in applying these skills in my professional career.”

How will this program add value to your career?

The Institute maintains close links with alumni and industry figures in a variety of conservation organisations. This allows them to identify leadership opportunities and match the specific interests and skill sets of their students to organisational and agency needs at local, regional and global scales, setting students on the path to professional success.

So far, Nelson Institute students have completed their MS project with partner organisations such as Conservation International, the Amazon Conservation Association, International Crane Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Smithsonian Institution Gabon, US Fish and Wildlife Service Pathways Program, US National Park Service Pathways Program and more.

Another Institute feature that gives students access to accomplished professionals is the Summer Conservation Institute. In this nine-credit curriculum, leading practitioners are invited to the UW-Madison campus to participate in leadership seminars and advanced-level courses in conservation planning and land use policy.

A sample of past Summer Conservation Institute guests include Dr Lilian Pintea (Vice President of Conservation Science, the Jane Goodall Institute), Dr Michael Dombeck (former Chief, US Forest Service), D Rebecca Smith, (Director, Upper Mississippi River Program, The Nature Conservancy) and Dr Anne Savage (Conservation Director, Animals, Science, Environment, Walt Disney’s Parks and Resorts).

Had Deepika decided to pursue their graduate studies elsewhere, they would have missed out on these unique opportunities. In any event, Deepika could not find any Indian university offering a Master’s like Nelson Institute’s, and it’s usually in developed countries where organisations that fund conservation projects are based.

The “opportunity to interact with faculty and students from different backgrounds and home countries is unique in the US,” Deepika explains.