From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Wes Palmer: Geographic Information at its Best!

Apr 28, 2014 | Faculty Feature

Wes Palmer

Wes Palmer

Wes Palmer was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. In high school, Wes’s non-school hours were consumed by football, wrestling, and spring theater performances. His weekends and summers were spent off of Florida’s coast fishing for the many varieties of elusive saltwater sport fish. After high school, Wes was eager to be independent and going away to college afforded him that opportunity. He moved to Tallahassee, Florida to pursue his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at Florida State University. Wes said, “My parents made me a deal. If I got good grades, they would continue to support me, and if I let my grades slip, I was moving back home. As a freshmen, this was motivation enough to make school a top priority so that I could continue to enjoy the college experience. I specifically remember the moment that my motivation for learning changed ownership from my parents to myself. It was an undergraduate statistics course with a professor that was passionate about all things statistics. It was something about discovering that you could sample a relatively small portion of a population and then confidently describe the majority of individuals within that population. It was that spark that got me asking questions in class and staying after to discuss items further. Those concepts may seem simple now but at the time, it was the ‘ah-ha’ moment that fueled my thirst for knowledge. At the end of the course, my statistics professor gave me a button pin with a quote from singer/songwriter Frank Zappa that read ‘Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.’ It was a wonderful statistics pun that I still cherish today.” After graduation, Wes pursued the master’s degree in Geographic Information Science (GIS) at Florida State. He had always liked maps and navigation and was intrigued by the buzz surrounding this new field of study. Wes noted, “In our first GIS lab assignment, we measured the exact width of the state of Colorado in one click. This was another ‘ah-ha’ moment that got me hooked on the geospatial sciences. Measuring and mapping the earth’s landscape and its manmade contents was then and is still today fascinating to me.” During graduate school, Wes worked at the Florida Geographic Alliance (FGA), a center within the Florida Resource and Environmental Analysis Center (FREAC). His duties were to conduct workshops and develop educational materials pertaining to geography and GIS for K-12 students. At FREAC, Wes had access to expert cartographers, GIS analysts, and web programmers.  He would hang around their desks and ask if he could help with anything.  They would throw a few small projects his way which gave him the opportunity to ask more questions and learn new things. Wes commented that he gained almost as much hands on experience working with the experts at FREAC as he did throughout his graduate studies.

GPS Levee Mapping Project

Wes joined Louisiana Tech in the fall of 2008 and was immediately comforted by the warmth and family-like atmosphere. Wes serves as the Spatial Data Laboratory (SDL) Supervisor, GIS Instructor, and GIS Program Coordinator for the School of Forestry where he teaches GIS, GPS, and Remote Sensing courses. Wes manages the research and teaching activities of the Spatial Data Lab and is the academic advisor for 40+ GIS majors. He serves on the website committee for the College of Applied and Natural Sciences and helps manage the websites of five academic units. Being the only GIS faculty in the college, Wes supports the geospatial teaching and research interests of faculty and graduate students from across the college. Wes noted, “I have enjoyed the diversity of projects which have ranged from mapping healthy food availability in Washington D.C. to collecting high accuracy GPS data on the levees of north Louisiana.”

LiDAR Point Cloud of Wyly Tower

Wes believes that hands-on learning is the best way for students to grasp concepts related to the geospatial sciences. In all of his courses, the students are required to produce a map. This cements some of the basic map making principles into memory that will serve students in their future. Wes has written grants and secured funding to equip the Spatial Data lab with enough mapping grade GPS units so that every student will have access to a GPS. He believes that it is important for each student to gain first-hand experience rather than watching over the shoulder of their peers. Wes became a Trimble Certified Mapping and GIS Trainer so that his GPS course would also serve as a Trimble Certified Course. This way, his students receive a certificate from Trimble, one of the largest commercial GPS companies, as well as academic credit. This credential provides students with one more feather in their cap after graduation. For his remote sensing course, Wes gathers high resolution aerial photography and LiDAR data for students to use in their lab assignments. He secured funding to upgrade the computers in the lab so that the student experience, when processing and visualizing large geographic datasets, would be smooth, fast, and glitch free. In the B.S. in GIS degree program, Wes coordinates internships for his students. When asked about the internship opportunities, Wes commented, “An internship is not required in the curriculum, however I strongly encourage all of my advisees to pursue an internship to gain professional experience prior to entering the job market. I frequently reach out to my connections in the GIS community to locate internship sites for our students. I also assist in the job placement of our majors. Many folks in the GIS industry contact me looking to hire one of our graduates as our students have a reputation in the area for being well trained and ready to immediately get to work in GIS. Since I have been at Tech, the GIS program has experienced a near 100% job placement rate for our graduates within 3 months of graduation.”

Wes and Dvorah Palmer

Wes just recently married Dvorah Palmer who was from his home town and attended FSU with Wes. She is finishing her master’s degree at Tech in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Wes and Dvorah are expecting their first child in October. When not working, Wes enjoys a wide variety of hobbies and recreational activities including fishing, boating, mountain biking, CrossFit, and flying a drone. “We have a pontoon boat that we enjoy taking out to the surrounding lakes and do our best to fill the cooler with fish. My most regular hobby would be working out at CrossFit Ruston. Every day before work, I go to the 6:00am CrossFit class and for one hour, I get one heck of a workout. I have been going to CrossFit for about 6 months now and I am beating my own personal records almost monthly. Not only am I getting in great shape, but my morning workout gets my cognitive engine running early and I feel that I am more successful throughout the day.” Wes’s most recent recreational activity has been building and flying of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) also known as “drones.” He owns a radio controlled hexacoptor which has the capacity to carry an onboard camera. He has also engineered his own two axis gyro-stabilized gimbal for the steady capture of still images and video. “I am excited for the advancements of sUAS technology and the implications that it has for the remote sensing and GIS sectors. While I currently only fly for recreational purposes, there are many potential research avenues that my colleagues and I are looking into on how to apply this technology. The FAA will be releasing new rules for sUAS which will make it more accessible for researchers and industry to use this technology on a day to day basis. I think this will be a great opportunity for our students to learn to use a new tool for geographic data collection.”

Wes flying his small drone


Wes in CrossFit Training