If you’re already in the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) community and you don’t know about the GEOINT 2023 Symposium taking place May 21-24 in St. Louis, we’re happy to send out a rescue party to wherever you are trapped without comms gear…

But – if – like most in the community – you already know all about it but you personally are still on the fence due to scheduling or other reasons, here are a bunch of good reasons to reshuffle the calendar to make it happen for you.

First, the basics: the GEOINGT Symposium is organized and run by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), the nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to promoting the geospatial intelligence tradecraft and the larger GEOINT community. The Symposium happens once a year, and draws more than 4,000 professionals for four days of in-person interaction with the best that government, industry, and academia have to offer.

This year’s Symposium theme – From Maps to Metaverse – traces how the GEOINT mission has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two decades, and points to how it will expand in size and influence over the next 20.

MeriTalk caught up with USGIF’s CEO Ronda Schrenk to hear first-hand why community members owe it themselves to head to St. Louis next month and join in the Symposium. Here are some of the best reasons why you need to make plans.

USGIF’s CEO Ronda Schrenk
USGIF’s CEO Ronda Schrenk

MeriTalk: Ronda, what should people expect to get at the Symposium that they can’t get anywhere else?

Schrenk: There are three big components for everyone. The first is in-person learning – we are going to have speakers from the very top of the intelligence community. The Director of National Intelligence, the Honorable Avril Haines will be there to speak on Wednesday morning. We will have a homegrown National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency imagery analyst who is now the CIO of the Department of Defense, the Honorable John Sherman. We will have speakers from academia and from every level of government. That’s learning – it gives you an opportunity to hear from the speakers and what’s important to them.

And they won’t be presenting something that you could have read weeks before, or that they’ve presented at another conference. We are going to hear what’s on their minds, specifically for the GEOINT Symposium, and hear it first-hand.

MeriTalk: What’s the second part of the equation?

Schrenk: That’s the learning from our exhibit floor, which has been sold out for months. With much credit to our team, there’s a waiting list for exhibitors to get in. Expect to see the top technology offerings, analytic capabilities, and collection capabilities, along with some very important new imaging technologies from start-ups.  It’s learning, learning, learning.

MeriTalk: And the third?

Schrenk: It’s the in-person networking. We do not offer a hybrid component or virtual component to the Symposium. We want people to come in person and get to know each other, and join 4,000 people from all over the globe, and from the major categories of government, private sector, and academia. The opportunities to make relationships in person is something that just can’t be done with email, even for people within the same agencies. At the last Symposium, for instance, I was introducing NGA people to other NGA people – maybe one worked in Denver, and the other in St. Louis, and they had never met each other.

This is the only place you can do that, you can’t do that on your Zoom screen. You need to get your physical body to this event.

And finally, another essential ingredient is fun. It’s important to whistle while you work. Don’t get me wrong – these are long days, but it’s fun to step away from your desk and your computer for a few days, interact in person, and learn.

MeriTalk: The value of in-person events and networking – the feel and the touch – especially after the pandemic years, just can’t be talked about enough. What’s going to go wow on the exhibit floor?

Schrenk: The short answer is that every year there is something that really grabs my attention. Last year, there was a real UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] on the floor, that we were allowed to touch and crawl under. We’ve seen some collection equipment, last year Maxar brought a ground satellite station. You can see them in pictures, but the experience of getting up close is amazing.

MeriTalk: The exhibitor list is huge, who are a few that we should be checking out?

Schrenk: I can’t play favorites of course, but if you put Maxar, Planet Federal, BlackSky, Capella Space, HawkEye 360, Ursa, and Pixxel on your list, you won’t be disappointed.

MeriTalk: What if I’m still on the fence?

Schrenk: Check out our GEOINT Symposium Sneak Peek breakfast on April 25 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Trajectory Event Center in Herndon, Va.  Mark Munsell, Deputy Director of Data and Digital Innovation at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, will be talking about some of those themes and previewing some of the messaging we expect from Federal agency leaders. It’s free to attend, and a great chance to network with people in the community who you’ll see more of at the Symposium.

MeriTalk: We’re very proud to partner with USGIF on the Symposium – and know we’ve got a great research report launching soon. Why is this type of research beneficial to attendees, and what can attendees learn from this type of partnership?

Schrenk: Understanding the needs and the impressions of the GEOINT community is so important. Our research provides clarity on the community’s thinking, and lets the members know what’s really happening so that they can understand and find each other, and create partnerships based both of knowledge but also the familiarity that only events like the Symposium can really create. The sum of our capabilities is greater than those of the parts, and that’s what creating partnerships is all about.

MeriTalk: The GEOINT Symposium is such a unique event, and so much goes into making it happen. How does all of that work look from your personal perspective?

Schrenk: I’m blessed! If you asked me what I think about getting to be the CEO of USGIF, I could have never imagined this. I’m the first female to ever have this position. When I began my job – my career in GEOINT – there wasn’t a USGIF. Just about every day, I thank my lucky prepared stars that I get to do this.

Just like in the old movie, meet us in St. Louis – in this case at the Symposium, not at the fairgrounds!

MeriTalk: What about USGIF things happening after the Symposium, what can sustain the momentum?

Schrenk: I’m glad you asked – also in the works is a three-part breakfast series on the theme of Women as Leaders.

The first one is in July, and we will have facilitators – university instructors that run a women’s program at American University – so that we can offer a truly interactive seminar.  I have attended one event with these instructors, and as we did introductions around the room, the people attending were so impressive in my eyes that I was touched with a flash of “imposters syndrome” wondering why I was here, and it turned out that we all had that feeling. Men have that too, and we need to learn how to feel comfortable with these topics, so the event is for men and women.  I just I fell so in love with what they were doing that I felt like I had to bring it to the intelligence community.

And in November, we are gearing up for GEOGala 2023, that’s USGIF’s annual black-tie event. It’s a really great night of celebration and networking for the GEOINT community, and where we gather to recognize the Lundahl-Finnie Lifetime Achievement Award Winner.  Keep November 30 free for that.

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MeriTalk Staff