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Got Maps? Ten Questions with Michael Capobianco

By Chloé Margulis
Staff Writer

Michael Capobianco is in his last year in the Environmental Sustainability master’s degree Program. He has taken numerous online courses for fun through the University of West Florida to enrich himself in GIS.

Capobianco says his nerdiest confession is that he regularly browses the Help menu in arcMAP (the most popular GIS software), because it acts as a sort of encyclopedia for the program as well as providing general information about GIS.

He is currently learning Python, the scripting language used in GIS, and he wishes to incorporate GIS into his career. As his master’s Capstone Project, Capobianco is utilizing GIS to develop a solar heating plan for the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton.

Ten Odd
Photo by Krista Capobianco

Please describe your Master’s Capstone Project.

For my master’s Capstone Project I am working on developing an alternative energy proposal for the Shinnecock Indian Nation of Southampton. I am specifically focusing on solar heating. I have been down to the reservation a few times to visit their museum as well as the Wikun Village, which is a recreation of what life was like for the Shinnecock in the past. I am heading down to the reservation this week to meet with more tribal members and continue my research.

Why did you choose to work with the Shinnecock Indians?

I’ve always had a keen interest in Native American topics, so being that the Shinnecock are the closest tribe geographically, I’ve spent time at their museum and annual powwow. They also drew up a climate change adaptation plan which really appealed to me and my interests. I’ve grown to admire their culture and the effort they put into educating people about themselves. I think it is important for non-Natives to remember that Native Americans are still here and not historical relics or mascots.

Once you finish your project, do you plan on putting your Capstone Project into action?

I would love to. Part of my project focuses on the economic impacts of implementing alternative energy systems on the reservations, which will explore funding. If the funding is there, and more importantly, the Shinnecock want to pursue the plan, I would love to see it in action.

What made you interested in GIS, mapping, and cartography?

I have always loved geography, which led to an interest in mapping and cartography. From a young age, I was enamored by maps. I still regularly get lost on Google Maps, checking out different parts of the world. I was not aware of GIS until I started the master’s program in Environmental Sustainability here at Post. In the two years since I was first introduced to it, I have grown fond of its power and capabilities, as well as its ability to allow us to visualize what would normally just be bland data.

Did you always know you would go into this field?

No. I started college late and majored in history. Halfway through my bachelor’s, I decided I wanted to add some natural science courses. The one in particular that led me to this field was called “Geology of National Parks.” I decided that I wanted to get into a field that blended hard, natural science with public policy, which is exactly what this program does.

What do you plan on doing with your future? Where do you see yourself working?

The future is both exciting and scary. The environmental field is growing, which is great. I’m not a 9-5’er by any stretch of the imagination, so I hope to piece together a career. My perfect career would blend teaching at an adjunct level, working/researching in the field to some degree, and devoting some hours to an environmental non-profit.

Eventually, I’d love to get out to the Pacific Northwest and do research on the Cascadia Subduction Zone and its implications for the coast… maybe for a PhD.

What was your favorite class?

I am really loving the class I am currently taking with Professor Kennelly, GIS Applications. We’re learning about remote sensing and processing digital images in GIS. The project that I’m most looking forward to is one coming up in a few weeks. Our task is to identify and report on an open access GIS software package. I’m excited about it because while ArcMap is really beautiful and diverse, it is also extremely expensive at $100 per year. So, I think it’s really important to find open access GIS software and I admire Professor Kennelly’s intuitive thought on including this project in the course.

Do you think GIS could have prevented the last Ice Age?

Assuming technology and populations were the same as today, I think that GIS would have been helpful in planning for the movement of continental ice sheets and glaciers. This would have helped in relocating at-risk populations to areas not impacted by the ice. For these same reasons, I think GIS is crucial in planning for climate change related events, such as rising sea levels and storm surge vulnerability in areas (like Long Island) impacted by stronger tropical storms.

If you had a chance to live anywhere for four months to pursue your passion for mapping, where would you go?

If my project with the Shinnecock is successful, I’d like to take it and apply it to bigger tribal areas, like the Pine Ridge Reservation (Oglala Sioux Tribe) or Rosebud Indian Reservation (Rosebud Sioux Tribe), both in South Dakota.

If you had a time machine, which explorer would you want to go back in time to meet?

Well, this is a loaded question. I’d meet Columbus and keep him in Europe. I’d convince him to go home to Genoa and tell him tales of the Taino and other Arawak people, who would go on to survive and thrive in the Americas as a direct result of him staying home.

What would the ideal environmental action hero be?

I think the hero would be a woman, preferably of color. She would not only do things like encourage recycling and energy efficiency, but she would also teach children to read, learn, and research on their own. She would teach them to rely on the scientific method for answers and teach them the importance of respecting all living things.

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