UConn Online Remote Sensing Graduate Certificate, Stu Babin headshot

“There’s always so much changing and so much to learn. If you’re already used to doing some remote sensing data collection or processing a certain way, by pursuing the grad certificate, it’s only going to enhance what you already know. Or maybe it’s going to give you the opportunity to learn the ‘why’ behind what you do. I feel like the entire curriculum has reinforced my appreciation for remote sensing, as a whole.” —  Stuart (Stu) Babin, Remote Sensing & Geospatial Data Analytics Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Spring 2023

You Can Never Know It All

Stuart (Stu) Babin is the epitome of the lifelong learner. As a Hydrographer and Remote Sensing Scientist with over 22 years of experience in the field, he brought a depth and breadth of expertise to his studies at the University of Connecticut (UConn). As he completes the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analytics Online Graduate Certificate from UConn, Stu feels uniquely situated as a specialist in remote sensing, prepared to continue his learning, and responsible to share his knowledge by mentoring others in his field.

Stu’s journey in remote sensing began more than two decades ago as a Navy Petty Officer, where he specialized in radar surveillance and navigation. After leaving the Navy in 1996, Stu moved into the field of Hydrography. As he explains, “Hydrography is like the civilian equivalent of what I was doing in the Navy with adding more types of technology and data collection. Of course, in Hydrography, you’re not tracking an enemy on radar per se, as much as collecting data for mapping purposes.”

Lifelong learner in a radically changing field

After ten years of developing his skills in Hydrography, Stu began to feel like he wasn’t fully understanding the theory behind the data he was collecting. So, in his early 30s, he returned to school for his undergraduate degree, earning his Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Geography from Nicholls State University in 2013 – while simultaneously juggling the demands of his career and family. More recently, when his employer, Morris P. Hebert, Inc., became involved in UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) technology, Stu again decided to dive in and learn more by pursuing advanced certifications – for the benefit of himself as well as his employer. “In this rapidly advancing field, I felt like my company would have an advantage if someone would pursue an advanced degree and specialized certification.”

UConn a natural fit with huge advantages

After researching programs online, Stu found UConn’s Remote Sensing & Geospatial Data Analytics Online Graduate Certificate program the most attractive – and a natural fit. The uniqueness of UConn’s program set it apart from the rest: “A lot of other schools focus primarily on GIS (Geographic Information System), and not so much on the remote sensing and high-resolution data analysis, and really to me, that’s where the future is headed. Remote Sensing is everywhere, from lidar technology in new cellular phones and vehicles... You’re going to see and hear more about it.”

The online platform (Husky CT/Blackboard) was ideal for Stu, enabling him the flexibility to pursue his studies at his own time and pace. He began the 12-credit, 4 course program in fall 2021, and after taking one class each semester, Stu is now graduating in spring 2023. This flexibility made the challenge less daunting. “If you have a full-time job and a family, I don’t think that it’s too much to handle, especially if you approach it as I did, one class per semester.” Laughing, he adds, “Of course, I don’t watch much TV, but I enjoy the challenging workload – I think it’s fun. I’m going to miss grad school when it’s all over. I know that for sure.”

Stu also appreciated the flexibility to tailor the program to his specific interests through the choice of elective courses. This choice in specialization enabled him to deepen his understanding and streamline his work-flow processes.

Real-life applications

As a professional in the field, the opportunity to use existing projects or data that he was already working on was an impactful feature of the program. “I can take a project from work, and I can expand upon that dataset. That’s been really insightful.” For instance, Stu explains that he learned a lot about satellite imagery, which was new to him, and he was able to apply some of these methods and processing to a project he is managing on the Louisiana barrier islands. “Most of my experience has been with remote sensors that might be towed behind a vessel, attached to a drone, or maybe attached to a tripod base, not outer space remote sensing. I’ve been able to download raw images from satellites, which may have been taken last week, then process that data, and then use it on my existing projects. So, now I have a full spectrum of knowledge on more remote sensing platforms...from outer space, land, water, and beneath.”

World-class experts, engaged in cutting-edge research

Stu was very impressed by the expertise and cutting-edge research of his professors. “They are all good teachers and very knowledgeable of the subject matter. Not only do they teach, but they’re also very active in remote sensing research. And I think that’s the key. There’s some great lab work that’s being done at UConn. A lot of the coursework data examples were taken from existing research projects in the Storrs lab. So it’s very relevant.”

While he brought a lot of knowledge to the table, Stu found his courses very valuable to his learning. “It’s always a new learning experience every day in the remote sensing field. You never can know it all. There is an enormous amount of information, especially in the imaging processing class that I didn’t know, such as cloud removal in satellite imagery.” He was especially impressed to learn that his professor, Dr. Zhe Zhu, is the lead researcher and developer of this technology.

One surprising discovery for Stu was an increased awareness of how applicable learning is across different technologies. “Even though you have a certain methodology that you may do, for example underwater acoustics vs. UAS, it is still applicable. The systems are not the same, but everything is relatable: the software packages, the way the data is processed, the way you interpret the data, and a lot of the data workflows are very similar.”

Establishing relationships behind the scenes

Stu values a collaborative, sharing learning environment. He especially enjoyed participating in the online discussions with his peers. Recognizing what you put into the course determines what you get out of it, he consistently took the initiative to engage. “I take it upon myself when I’m taking a class to reach out to other students. Or sometimes they get a whim of me from a discussion post and understand that I have a lot of experience, and they’ll send me questions. And so I establish that relationship behind the scenes. I really like that part. If you’re taking an online class and if you don’t engage, then all you have is online lectures and your assignments, which can feel very isolated.”

Stu also appreciated the relationships forged with faculty. “Professors are very friendly and down to earth if you need to reach them. A couple times I had to schedule some Zoom meetings to get them to explain some advanced coursework. They’re very welcoming and accommodating.” Motivated to learn deeply, Stu’s relationships were further enhanced by his strong work ethic. “I try to go the extra mile. Maybe I’ll do some additional research and share some sources from some other papers I found. Or go a little bit overboard on some spreadsheets or charts with some of the analysis that’s required. I know that they appreciate when you’re not just trying to make the grade, and you really want to learn. I feel like that’s the way grad school is supposed to be.”

There’s always so much to learn

With technology rapidly advancing, Stu hopes he will never stop learning. “There’s always so much changing and so much to learn. If you’re already used to doing some remote sensing data collection or processing a certain way, by pursuing the grad certificate, it’s only going to enhance what you already know. Or maybe it’s going to give you the opportunity to learn the ‘why’ behind what you do. I feel like the entire curriculum has reinforced my appreciation for remote sensing, as a whole.”

Stu is now preparing for his next step: taking the credentialling exam this summer for ASPRS (American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing) Certified Mapping Scientist – Remote Sensing. Stu believes that his courses at UConn have given him an edge in preparing for the exam. “I feel like I’ve been studying for the exam the last two years, so I just need to spend a couple months studying specific things I’m not as familiar with.”

Recently appointed Vice President of ASPRS, Gulf South Region, Stu believes his expertise carries with it a responsibility to the field. “The problem with remote sensing is it has become so popular and it’s the latest buzz in high tech with drones, etc. So, they have a lot of people out there collecting data and they don’t really know what they’re doing. And that’s a big problem.... I think that those who have been in the field for a long time have a responsibility to not only mentor new ones, but to also share that knowledge with others who are currently in the field and can use some nudging towards standards of practice.”