Deliver Benefits to the Public

Forest Service partners with University of Montana to prepare students for careers in high tech industries

The Northern Region and the University of Montana teamed up to create a program that helps prepare college students for careers in the high tech industry. This spring, three students are graduating with skills they developed in part through an agreement between the Northern Region and the university.

Map of the US showing areas of coverage for the OpenSIMPPLLE program “When we asked local tech companies what they look for in applicants, collaborative project development, work on open-source software and Java programming skills were at the top of the list. This agreement with the Forest Service allows the students to develop all of these,” said Dr. Douglas Raiford, university program leader. “From the beginning, we knew this was going to be a great addition to our computer science curriculum.”

The Forest Service also benefits from the agreement. The software the students maintain, OpenSIMPPLLE, is the primary vegetation analysis model the Northern Region uses to support forest plan revisions, including those for Nez Perce Clearwater, Flathead, Lewis and Clark Helena and Custer Gallatin national forests.

Last summer, students Gregory McMann and Michael Kinsey updated the software to include a fire spreading algorithm developed by RMRS researcher Dr. Robert Keane. “I was impressed with how quickly these students built this into the model,” said Keane. “This is an excellent step in the right direction,” he added.

“I’m still pulling together my resume,” said Gregory McMann, one of the graduating seniors working on the project, “and my work on OpenSIMPPLLE for the Forest Service is definitely one of the things I’m going to highlight. I’m optimistic it will make me look very competitive.”

The OpenSIMPPLLE model is available for download through the University of Montana website.