Gov. Mike Parson tours UMSL’s new Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab

by | May 1, 2024

The state-of-the-art facility was built with the help of $1.1 million in funding from the MoExcels Workforce Initiative, one of the signature programs Parson has championed as governor.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson speaks to UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Geospatial Collaborative Director Reda Amer and others in the Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab in Benton Hall

Missouri Governor Mike Parson speaks to UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Geospatial Collaborative Director Reda Amer and others on Tuesday afternoon during a visit to the Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab in Benton Hall. (Photos by Derik Holtmann)

Missouri Governor Mike Parson and his wife, First Lady Teresa Parson, visited the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus on Tuesday afternoon and took a tour of the newly renovated Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab.

Spot, the robot dog, was waiting to greet them as they arrived around 4:30 p.m., and Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and Geospatial Collaborative Director Reda Amer showed them around the space on the fourth floor of Benton Hall.

First Lady Teresa Parson interacts with Spot, the robot dog, in Benton Hall

First Lady Teresa Parson interacts with Spot, the robot dog, shortly after arriving to tour the newly renovated lab space on the fourth floor of Benton Hall.

The Parsons dropped in to observe a class of students working in the GIS lab – which is equipped with 24 workstations featuring the latest geographic information systems software – and also stepped next door into the virtual reality lab. There, Amer pointed out some of the technology tools on hand, including an interactive table, VR headsets and a drone that can be deployed to gather geospatial data.

“It’s great to be here, and it’s great to see all the new stuff and the renovations you’re doing,” Parson said as he spoke to a room filled with UMSL administrators and members of the Chancellor’s Council in the virtual reality lab. “It’s all been first-class.”

The state-of-the-art facility was built with the help of $1.1 million in funding from the MoExcels Workforce Initiative, one of Parson’s signature programs that he’s championed during his tenure as governor.

“UMSL is absolutely grateful to Governor Parson for his continued support of higher education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and across the entire University of Missouri System and the state,” Sobolik said during her remarks.

The MoExcels initiative also helped provide funding for the renovation and expansion of UMSL’s Nursing Simulation Laboratories, which was completed in three phases and has helped increase the university’s capacity to train and graduate pre-licensure BSN students as it works to address the nursing shortage in the state.

UMSL also received $1.5 million in MoExcels funding to assist with renovation of existing classrooms and offices in the Kathy J. Weinman Child Advocacy Centre, which provides high-quality, trauma-focused services to youth and families in the St. Louis region.

Geospatial Collaborative Director Reda Amer talks to Gov. Mike Parson about the drone in the Virtual Reality Lab

Geospatial Collaborative Director Reda Amer (at left) talks to Gov. Mike Parson (at right) and first Lady Teresa Parson about the drone in the Virtual Reality Lab.

Parson has also been instrumental in directing funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to UMSL to support the execution of UMSL’s Campus Master Plan. The Transform UMSL initiative includes more than $110 million in public and private investments to reimagine and redefine the campus footprint, preparing it to meet the needs and enhance the experience of future students.

The Geospatial Advanced Technology Lab fits with aims of that initiative and coincides with the growth of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s presence in St. Louis.

“This is all about building the important geospatial workforce in this ecosystem in St. Louis,” Sobolik said. “We have a $1.7 billion NGA expansion here in St. Louis, so we are making sure that we’re developing the workforce for the NGA, their expansion, the supporting businesses, and that growing geospatial ecosystem.”

In 2021, Sobolik joined then-NGA Director Vice Admiral Robert D. Sharp in signing an educational partnership agreement to build a geospatial talent pipeline that supports student learning from kindergarten through college and beyond. As part of the agreement, UMSL faculty and staff are working collaboratively with NGA professionals to develop academic courses and programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that will provide students the knowledge and skills needed for careers in geospatial intelligence.

Sharp, who retired from his leadership position at NGA in 2022, has since assumed a role as a research fellow at UMSL’s Geospatial Collaborative and is helping lead the development of that talent pipeline.

Mike Parson sits at a table signing books while surrounded by Reggie Hill, Reda Amer, Robert Sharp, Kristin Sobolik, Blake Sutter and Matt Prsha

Gov. Mike Parson (seated) signed copies of his new book and posed for pictures with (from left) Reggie Hill, Reda Amer, Robert Sharp, Chancellor Kristin Sobolik, Blake Sutter and Matt Prsha.

Parson stressed not to lose sight of the real purpose of the state’s investment: creating opportunities for students.

“When we brought NGA here, when we got that done, that’s a whole new ballgame for expansion and for education and for these kids to be able to learn,” Parson said. “Kids that work in places like that, those are good paying jobs.

“As I look at the students in there, I don’t know if they know how lucky they are or not, but they’re going to be pretty lucky when they get done and when they go in the workforce because I guarantee people are going to have a job for them. I’m just so thankful NGA is here and what it is going to mean for the future of our state.”

Parson concluded his visit to UMSL by talking about and signing copies of his recently released biography, “No Turnin’ Back,” written with author Jim Jones. Proceeds from the book are going to the Moving Missouri Forward Foundation, a nonprofit that supports Jobs for America’s Graduates–Missouri, children with special needs, and other programs focused on children across Missouri.

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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