Geography student receives Ashok K. Moza Foundation Scholarship

Nicholas Lacey, a first-year student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, received an Ashok K. Moza Foundation Scholarship.  Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nicholas Lacey stepped out of the helicopter and into a crowd of people who gathered in anticipation.

The helicopter carried building materials, but for the people of Haiti, who were still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, a devastating Category 5 storm, it was critical material to start rebuilding homes and lives.

Lacey, now a first-year student studying geography at Penn State, served five years in the Marine Corps as a geospatial analyst and took part in a U.S. humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2016.

There, he used his background in geospatial information science (GIS), leading a team to analyze damaged infrastructure and take inventory of damaged buildings, electric lines, roads and landing zones.

For Lacey, it was a chance to put his training in GIS to good use, but also an eye-opening experience.

“When my boss asked me if I wanted to take a break from my normal job and go help out on the ground, I jumped at the chance and it was truly eye-opening,” Lacey said. “When I saw all those people, thankful for materials and aid to build their lives again, it made me really appreciative of what I had.”

At Penn State, Lacey recently received the Ashok K. Moza Foundation Scholarship for his high academic standing and involvement in various campus activities and organizations. The scholarship goes to undergraduate students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who demonstrate academic excellence.

“I cannot fully express my gratitude. There are no words to describe how free I feel to just focus on my degree and prioritize my school work instead of having to worry about my financial stability,” Lacey said.

Before coming to Penn State, Lacey studied GIS for ten months in the Marine Corps and then served as a geospatial intelligence analyst. Lacey said he discovered his passion for geography in the marines and chose Penn State to continue his education in the field.

“GIS is basically a technical skill set with imagination driven initiative. You want to work underwater? You can do it. City planning, urban construction, cell towers, you name it. GIS is really diverse and provides you with the foundation to discover all different kinds of exploratory platforms,” Lacey said.

He used these skills in Haiti and again a year later in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, where he helped to assess damage to roads so the transportation grid could be repaired and aid moved across the island.

Lacey, who is minoring in security risk analysis, is currently the treasurer of PSUVO, Penn State’s Veterans Organization, and recently became the secretary of the Geospatial Information Science Coalition.

“College is different than the military. It’s difficult, but fulfilling,” Lacey said. “It’s really good to have perspective of the past five years in the military. College is a completely different beast, but you can still draw similarities and parallels between the skills you need to be successful in both of these environments.”

Nicholas Lacey served five years in the Marine Corps before coming to Penn State to further his education in geospatial information science.  Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated April 22, 2019