Social Impact Internships: Cameron Dougal (’25)
My name is Cameron Dougal, and I’m a second-year student studying Urban Science and Planning with Computer Science (11-6). My host was the City of Phoenix Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, a new group formed to deal with the rapidly approaching implications of rising temperatures in an already famously hot and dry region. I was tasked with boiling down a massive collection of publically-available 3D point cloud data into a usable map of the city’s tree canopy.
It was interesting to gain context about why the department wanted this data: to understand the return on investment of past and future tree planting across the city and identify areas where trees have been removed. They had hired external researchers to create one-time reports on tree canopy coverage before, but results from different groups varied greatly. By designing a processing flow that is reproducible with data sets from past and future years, my work has ensured that the change in tree canopy coverage can actually be compared effectively.
I was able to utilize a lot of my mapping and data analysis skills from previous classes and professional experiences, but learned a lot about working with LIDAR data, coding in R, and working with massive datasets. I also discovered some blind spots in my skillset that I want to work to resolve, such as raster data analysis using GIS applications. Through this work, I discovered that this kind of technical work within government could be an interesting path to pursue, perhaps working towards the management of this kind of work instead of the actual (sometimes frustrating) data analysis work.
I’ve also learned how difficult it is for governments to track large, long-term changes like the tree canopy over time. There are many dimensions to wrangling this data, from data storage and processing constraints, to access to clean data and even asking the right questions to direct the analysis of the data that is available. These are all challenges that I hope I can address in the future.