Alumni Stories—Luke Spaete
MS, Forest Ecology and Management, 2009
Current job/field: Research Associate
Employer: Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory, Idaho State University
Luke Spaete is a research associate in the areas of remote sensing and GIS analysis at the Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory at Idaho State University.
My job hunting was pretty minimal. Around the time I was finishing my thesis, I knew I was going to be moving to Boise, Idaho. I contacted Assistant Professor Mike Falkowski, who had recently completed his PhD at the University of Idaho. He gave me several job-search suggestions, including a research lab in Boise, the Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory (BCAL). I contacted the head of BCAL, my current employer (Dr. Nancy Glenn), and inquired about positions on her research team. She seemed interested and said to contact her when I arrived in Boise. I arrived on a Sunday, went to talk to her on Monday, and started on Wednesday! I was extremely fortunate.
My education at Michigan Tech was invaluable. The fundamentals I gained through the core remote-sensing classes helped me to establish a solid understanding of imagery, imagery collection, and image analysis. Being exposed to a spatial technology also helped me to develop “spatial thinking,” the ability to look at a research question and understand how it can be applied through the use of remote-sensing technology. I rely on these skills on a day-to-day basis. My new lab, BCAL, is also a distance-learning center for Idaho State University. The teaching experience I gained by helping Dr. Ann Mclean teach the lab section of her Geographic Information Systems (GIS) classes has allowed me to be a guest lecturer for several classes here, as well as help students when they come to me with questions. The classes I took that were not directly related to remote sensing have also proven useful. Wetland plant identification in the wetlands course taught by Dr. Rod Chimner has helped me to identify rangeland plant species; linear regression, taught by Dr. Robert Froese, has helped me analyze the data I collect; restoration ecology, taught by Dr. Chris Webster, Dr. Rod Chimner, and Dr. Casey Huckins, has helped me to better understand landscapes and how the use of land is a driver of the current process. You get the idea . . .
The new thing in my field is Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). To horribly simplify the technology, LiDAR relies on a laser beam and the speed of light to capture 3-D information about the earth’s surface. BCAL uses LiDAR data for many research applications. While I didn’t work with LiDAR data at Michigan Tech when I was there, I learned about it and was able to pick up the technology rather quickly.
Take full advantage of the classes offered by the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science. The breadth of knowledge available to you not only in forestry, but also in ecology, GIS, and remote sensing, will help you in the future. I wish I would’ve taken more classes. The harder the class, the better.