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WVU forestry students are given access to state-of-the-art technology, developed by alumnus

New software donated to the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design – and created by one of its own alumni – will help forestry students cruise into their careers using the most up-to-date technology.

Cruise Control is a software program designed to aid foresters in data collection and processing for forest inventory.  Michael McWhorter, a 1986 forest resources management graduate, designed the software to assist his own employees at Landmark Forestry in 2000, but soon discovered the program could be beneficial for all timber cruising operations.

McWhorter donated 10 copies of the Cruise Control software, 10 licenses of OnPoint, a forestry inventory mapping program, and eight Panasonic handheld devices to the college worth just over $38,000. The software will be utilized in a variety of classes and summer forestry camps.  

“Exposing forestry students to the latest technology as related to their field of interest is paramount to having a well-rounded education, as well as being a little more workforce ready,” McWhorter said.  

Cruise Control is a mobile application that is run on a rugged handheld computer used in forest inventory data collection, also known as “cruising.”  Timber cruising is a way to estimate the amount of standing timber that a forest contains. 

A desktop application, OnPoint, allows students to upload the information collected in the field and manipulate the data and create a host of reports. OnPoint is a mapping application that is a tremendous tool to natural resources professionals, McWhorter said.  

“It allows users the ability to create tracts of interest and inventory grids in several manners.  The user can overlay these features onto either topographic maps or Ortho Imagery,” he said.  “The user can use the internal GPS to navigate to a point of interest or capture the spatial element of a particular point of interest.”

Students can see real time inventory results that will aid them in developing a good judgment of forest metrics. 

“This software will allow students to utilize the latest technology associated with forest inventory activities,” said Davis College Dean Daniel J. Robison. “We are grateful to Landmark and Mr. McWhorter for their generosity and their interest in ensuring our students are using the latest technology in the field.”

WVU Davis College Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for WVU Forests Jamie Schuler called the gift transformative. 

“This will greatly enhance our student’s inventory skills, provide better feedback during their cruising exercises, and be used throughout the curriculum,” Schuler said. “This gift will complement student field skills, allowing us to produce high-quality graduates.”

The inventory system the college used before was archaic and not user friendly, and it didn’t transfer well to what our graduates would use with industry, consultants or public agencies. Cruise Control will allow students to generate maps, sampling points, provide a platform for inventory entry, and generate professional data summary reports.

McWhorter began selling the software in 2003, with a second iteration sold in 2014. The software is utilized by private industry, state governments and academics institutions.

“Landmark Forestry has a vested interest in the forestry students produced by West Virginia University,” said McWhorter, who has also hired a number of WVU grads to work in his business. “I felt, after meeting with some of the Division of Forestry faculty, that the entire learning experience of forestry students would be enhanced with access to this software.”

These two applications use the basic science and math skills taught in forestry classes and merges those teachings with technology.  Employers will consider the exposure to a commercial forest inventory program a plus, McWhorter said.  

The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.

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