RIT student combines interest in remote sensing with passion for globe-trotting

David Kelbe, a second-year imaging science major, relaxes in Mount Aspiring National Park in New Zealand.

David Kelbe wants to build cameras, climb mountains and have great adventures in faraway places.

The second-year imaging science major has an unquenchable wanderlust. A year ago, Kelbe was studying at University of Dunedin in New Zealand. Now, he’s planning a trip to South Africa with the help of the staff in RIT’s Study Abroad office, where he works part-time.

Dubbed “a natural kiwi” last year by his friends in New Zealand, Kelbe quickly graduated from sightseeing road trips to off-trail excursions and alpine mountaineering. During his time there, he doubled as a photo correspondent for Glimpse, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the National Geographic Society. He was one of only 12 students picked as a correspondent from among thousands of applicants.

Glimpse provides a forum for young people to share international experiences and gave Kelbe an excuse to explore the culture and quirkiness of New Zealand. He documented the time he spent fishing with a descendant of a Maori chief, hanging out with a traditional sheep farmer, and trying to keep up with senior citizens competing in a 24-hour orienteering race. He even wrote a food critique of McDonald’s Kiwiburger, which he liked. (Kelbe’s photo essays can be viewed at the Glimpse website)

Photography is a passion for Kelbe, who says he would one day like to design cameras. His interest in remote sensing led him to volunteer at University of Dunedin analyzing satellite images of the glaciers he “skied on during the weekends.” His analysis contributed to the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space project, an international effort to monitor glaciers.

“Working on the project did open my eyes up to the fact that there are opportunities everywhere,” Kelbe says.

Back at RIT, Kelbe began thinking about where to go next and discovered an opportunity to study at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 2010. The spring semester there starts before RIT’s winter quarter ends, giving Kelbe a few months to travel around before starting classes.

“I would really like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and then couch surf my way down to Cape Town. Couch surfing is a worldwide network connecting travelers with members of the local community who offer free accommodation and advice,” he explains. “South Africa is really beautiful and I’d love to see as much as possible.”

Kelbe looks forward to contributing photo essays again to Glimpse whether as a paid correspondent or a volunteer.

“I really believe in Glimpse’s mission of helping young Americans experience real life abroad, and I look forward to helping them out with that in whatever way I can,” he says.

Part of the reason Kelbe picked South Africa was the chance to work on a remote-sensing project at Kruger National Park involving RIT professor Jan van Aardt, director of the Laboratory for Imaging Algorithms and Systems in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. During his stay, Kelbe will work with van Aardt and his colleagues to do research and gather data for his senior project, which he will start at RIT this summer.

“Even though imaging science is a small, specialized and unique major here at RIT, I was able to find similar fields of study in Dunedin, New Zealand, and now in Cape Town, South Africa,” Kelbe says. “For a guy who loves to travel, that’s reassuring!”


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