SAFE Student Spotlight: Luke Wertis '17 '23

Luke Wertis '17 '23
Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund Recipient: Spring 2023

Project: "Earth Systems Cloud Computing Workshop"

Wertis received a Spring 2023 Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) grant to attend multiple earth systems cloud computing workshops in Asheville. The funding helped pay for his transportation, accommodation, and food costs while attending the week-long sessions.

According to Wertis, the workshops helped him develop better data science methods to support his graduate research. "Without this funding, I would not have been able to take advantage of this opportunity, which I believe was a massive benefit to not only myself but also my research team, as I was able to pass on many of my new skills to them," Wertis explained.

Wertis graduated from Appalachian State with his bachelor's degree in applied physics in 2017. In 2021, he returned to Appalachian to pursue his master's degree in geography. His master's research explored machine learning approaches for studying extreme heat and heat-health-related outcomes and was advised by Dr. Maggie Sugg, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning.

"I have spent the past year and a half doing research with a focus on data curation and management. One of my biggest tasks is creating new datasets that take components from one or many other sources of data and turn them into an analysis-ready dataset. When dealing with multiple sets of large health data, there is normally a lot of processing time spent on reading in and performing over data that is not needed. From this class, I learned new methods that drastically improved the speed and performance of these tasks," Wertis explained.

He continued, "For example, there is a dataset that is used by many people within my research group, this dataset contains millions of hospital entries for 15 years across North Carolina. Every person in the group has different goals in mind when using this data, meaning that each time someone wants to extract specific types of hospital visits, they have to perform this over the whole data set. This process typically took 45-60 minutes to create a new data set that matched your needs. With some of the skills I learned in the class, I was able to get this process down to under 10 minutes.

Wertis graduated from Appalachian with his master's degree in geography in 2023 and is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland.


About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

About the Department of Geography and Planning
The Department of Geography and Planning promotes the understanding of the spatial dimensions of human behavior within the physical and cultural systems of the earth, and the role of planning in achieving improvement in those systems. The department offers degrees in geography and in community and regional planning. Learn more at

About the Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Department of Physics and Astronomy’s curriculum has an applied nature that includes a core of fundamental physics courses and laboratory experiences. The department prepares graduates for a variety of scientific, teaching or engineering professions, as well as future educational endeavors. Learn more at

Written by Lauren Gibbs
February 6, 2024

Luke Wertis '17 '23
Published: Feb 6, 2024 8:25am