The national security career pipeline has a problem: the federal government and its defense contractor suppliers want more qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds to establish careers that contribute to achieving national security goals, but finding these candidates proves challenging. The cost of receiving a master’s-level education in the United States has skyrocketed in recent decades, proving to be a barrier to entry for many future researchers and scientists in geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) and other high-demand STEM fields.
Scholarships and grants provide opportunities for self-funded students to obtain educational opportunities. One such student is Alexia Hernandez, a master’s student at the University of Maryland (UMD) in the field of Geospatial Information Sciences (GIS). Her work includes participation in a 2021 National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) climate change project, which she accessed through her school’s lab. She is also currently working on an Open-Source intelligence (OSINT) research project via the NGA’s Tearline Initiative.
An ambitious student, Alexia began learning about GEOINT via open-source programs online and has been inspired by her older sister’s career in and commitment to national security. “I wanted to learn every single skill so that I could bring these skills to a federal or defense space,” Alexia said. With a bachelor’s degree in criminology, which included courses in GIS, Alexia regularly puts her problem-solving skills to work by learning about problems and iterating solutions.
Alexia’s parents, who come from El Salvador, arrived in the United States, as Alexia said, “with nothing but determination to provide my sisters and I with the opportunity to pursue our dreams. Their desire for me to both strive for my aspirations and select a profession I'm passionate about propelled me to persistently engage in learning geospatial technology. While my achievements belong to me individually, I also view them as shared accomplishments with my parents. Their inspiration, encouragement, and emphasis on a strong work ethic have played a significant role. Thanks to their influence, I take pride in being a Salvadoran American contributing to the geospatial field.”
Alexia is an entirely self-funded student, and the Ken Miller Scholarship represents a contribution towards her dreams and goals. She learned about the scholarship while she was an undergraduate student. This award helps her with the cost of rent, books, a laptop, and goes towards tuition. Because the GIS and GEOINT fields advance rapidly, it’s vital that Alexia has the tools she needs to continue her education.
“We’re delighted to see the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) award the Ken Miller Scholarship to Ms. Hernandez,” said Dr. Steven Omick, President & CEO of Riverside Research. “Her commitment to defense and intelligence can inspire industry professionals at any level.”
Alexia understands that global climate change is concern for everyone – and that it impacts national security. She’s committed to exploring preventative measures and solutions for climate change challenges, such as coastal flooding, using remote sensors.
For the student who “always knew I would enter defense or intelligence… environmental degradation is a main interest. Most people may not realize it is a national security issue. GIS can be used to help our government and organizations by responding with humanitarian aid.”
Additionally, Alexia has some guidance for other students who want to explore this career path, and she strives to mentor and serve as a role model for more students hoping to enter the field. “Sharing my experiences, insights, and knowledge with them is a significant objective, as I believe in fostering the growth and development of future professionals in this field,” she said.
While this is just one scholarship award, it’s clear that Alexia will empower more young people to do something about climate change and other national security issues through research and science by pursuing this field.
Alexia is scheduled to graduate from UMD in 2024.
Riverside Research is proud to sponsor the Ken Miller Scholarship for Advanced Remote Sensing Operations via the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. We were thrilled to welcome Josh Turner, another Ken Miller Scholarship recipient, to work for us earlier this year.