published Monday, May 21st, 2012

Helping Red Bank students map their future

Randy Hale, owner of North River Geographic Systems, Inc., listens to a class presentation on Friday, May 4, 2012, about a project concerning an earthquake-prone region of India that he helped teach during a mapping systems class at Red Bank High School.
Randy Hale, owner of North River Geographic Systems, Inc., listens to a class presentation on Friday, May 4, 2012, about a project concerning an earthquake-prone region of India that he helped teach during a mapping systems class at Red Bank High School.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.
  • Excellence in education: Randy Hale
    Randy Hale is a finalist for the community award for the first ever Excellence in Public Education Awards for Greater Hamilton County.

ABOUT THE WINNER

* Age: 40

* Education: Geology degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

* Years volunteering: Three

* Personal: Hale has spent his whole life in Chattanooga. He graduated from Brainerd High School.

QUOTE ABOUT HALE

“He’s a very nice person. His biggest problem is he doesn’t know how to say no. But don’t quote me on that, because I don’t want him to ever say no.” Leah Keith-Houle, Red Bank science teacher whose class Hale volunteers with

FUN FACT

Over the past two decades, Hale has worked on a variety of mapping projects. One of his proudest accomplishments was helping identify and clean up pollution sources in the Conasauga River Watershed.

Randy Hale and a class of Red Bank High Schoolers helped save lives this semester.

Hale has volunteered a couple weeks a semester for three years in an advanced science class. This year, he led the students on a project to map Padang, Indonesia, a city particularly prone to natural disasters.

“There’s going to be a tsunami there. It’s not if, it’s when,” he said.

So his group of about 20 juniors and seniors spent three weeks mapping out 3,000 to 4,000 roads and buildings, invaluable information for first-responders when devastation strikes.

That real-world application helped several of the students get excited about the science behind the work.

“Randy has influenced me to do bigger and better things for my community and world,” said Taralyn Wiley, one of Hale’s students, when nominating him for the Community Support Excellence in Education award. “We now feel we have accomplished something that will benefit everyone in Padang.”

Teaching the students is a time-intensive commitment, especially considering Hale runs his own one-man consulting firm. But the mapping specialist is passionate about his work, and happy to share the experience with the next generation of mappers.

“That’s the hope, to get at least one kid a semester into it,” he said. “Hopefully in college they’ll see some kind of need for it.”

Hale first jumped at the opportunity to help out in the classroom in 2010 when his friend and Red Bank science teacher Leah Keith-Houle asked him for assistance.

Since then, Hale hasn’t looked back. He’s led a class project every semester since and helped the school connect with a company that donated $30,000 worth of mapping software.

“Randy does so much for us,” Keith-Houle said. “He’s helped me do things that I didn’t think would be possible.”

Several of her students said that through the project they feel like they’re doing more to help the world than their peers.

“It’s not just normal work,” Keith-Houle said. “It’s above and beyond what they think and what I think normal high school students do.”

Some of that work includes mapping moon craters — a project that earned the school fourth place in a national NASA competition.

Some of the students have gotten so excited about mapping they’ve voluntarily work on projects outside of school.

Hale regularly runs across mapping work done by students outside class. One class had a student who was passionate about basketball. Hale showed him how to map the community and soon enough every basketball court and other sports areas in the county had been entered into an online database that feeds websites like MapQuest.

Hale loves seeing students latch on to a profession that’s been his passion since graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in geology. When he got out of school, Hale took a mapping job with the Tennessee Valley Authority where he worked for 16 years before retiring from the agency to start his own firm.

In his years as a global information systems professional, he’s helped forestry departments figure out what trees to cut. He’s helped map locations where coyotes have appeared to help avoid future problems. And he’s helped uncover pollution in watersheds.

“Anything that needs a spatial location assigned to it,” he said. “It’s a needed function.”

He’s happy to use his expertise to fill another needed function. With school budgets getting tighter and tighter, he knows Red Bank appreciates his time.

“Teachers are at their wits end trying to get things done,” he said. “They need help.”

Contact Carey O’Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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