Alumni Profiles

Testimonials from Geography and Geographic Information Science Alumni

Photograph of Summers Cleary '16 and '18

As an undergraduate, I interned with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Recreation Natural Heritage Division in my last semester of undergrad, working with the Conservation Lands GIS Planner to edit, update and maintain a state-wide database. This provided the project for my capstone – updating park and natural area boundaries and incorporating these edits into the database.

During the MSGA program, I was hired as a Preserve Technician with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage Division, working for the Northern Region Stewardship Manager at Crows Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County. This gave me the opportunity to put my education into direct application – designing trail maps for the preserve, creating all cartographic works for the preserve, and conducting data analysis and data dissemination to the rest of DCR Natural Heritage.

My MSGA capstone was focused within Crow’s Nest and used data from annual breeding bird surveys to conduct a species distribution analysis of breeding habitat within the preserve. This capstone highlighted potential areas where a certain bird species could breed within the preserve and the environmental factors that drive breeding site selection.

UMW prepared me in multiple capacities: research and technical writing capabilities, professional cartographic design and display, GIS analysis, and research expertise. These have gotten me to where I am now – working with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation at Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, where I am in charge of all GIS data creation, geospatial analysis, and cartographic design.

~ Summers Cleary, BA ’16, MSGA ’18

Kait Brogan '18I found out about NOAA Corps in my Remote Sensing course at UMW. My education in Biology and Geography helped me to be a strong candidate for the Corps. I conducted undergraduate research in both the Biology and Geography programs, so having those experiences and working closely with my advisors really opened my eyes to the possibilities in the field of Ecology/ Biogeography. My professors really helped by pushing me to be the best student I could be and aided me to reach my potential.

During my senior year I had an internship with The Nature Conservancy working with NOAA Corps multi beam bathymetry data, USGS sediment data, and TNC benthic invertebrate species. I analyzed and manipulated data sets to characterize habitat structures and map species distribution by comparing the topography of the sea floor to where species reside and why that is important to understand.

I am now a Commissioned Officer in the NOAA Corps.  I am assigned on the NOAA Ship Rainier, a hydrographic vessel.  RAINIER collects multi beam sonar data to map the seafloor and update nautical charts. Our work is a continuation of my studies at UMW. In 2019, Rainier moved to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where we are conducting research on coral reefs, fish populations, invasive species, sea floor mapping, ocean acidification, ecosystem integrity, and much more.

The UMW Geography program was a huge influence on me and helped me get to where I am now. I cannot thank the faculty enough for their passion and enthusiasm for teaching.

~ Kait Brogan, ’18

Phil Devine '16In addition to providing thorough courses on human/physical geography and GIS, UMW’s Geography department really sets their students up for success by providing opportunities to perform research independently or with faculty. This research serves as an outlet for students to learn how to apply traditional geographic concepts learned in class to solve interesting spatial problems in creative ways. The opportunities I had with the plantations team, where we collected qualitative spatial data by conducting and transcribing interviews, and the experience I had with my sacred spaces project in Dr. Finlayson’s class, where we researched a method to visualize qualitative survey response data in GIS, enhanced my education by developing spatial reasoning and creative problem solving skills.

In my career with the federal government, I often rely on these skills as I work with different types of spatial data – the data and the software might be a little different from what I learned at UMW, but the core geographic principles and methods of spatial problem solving UMW teaches are completely transferable. In truth, it is impossible to teach every GIS tool available that a student may or may not use in their career, but with a strong foundation in geographic concepts and GIS fundamentals, a student can easily transition their base knowledge into more specific and specialized spatial programs as needed. UMW Geography does a very good job teaching these core geographic principles, and research opportunities cement them.

UMW Geography also gave me the opportunity to work for the department as a GIS Lab Aide. I gained experience generating custom maps for professors. As a GIS lab aide, I also would sometimes assist Intro to GIS students on their labs, and this helped me learn to communicate complex GIS concepts in an approachable way.

I completed my GIS certificate capstone at the USGS with Dr. DeWitt, and this was a great experience that involved image interpretation to create a spatial dataset of alluvial diamond mines in Central African Republic in support of an ongoing research initiative. It was a great experience to contribute to a real-world project.

UMW Geography has completely shaped my career, and I am very grateful for all the professors who went above and beyond to enhance their students’ educations.

~ Phil Devine, ’16

Jon SteenbergI was drawn to UMW upon learning about their highly respected Geography Department. Within my first few days at the University, Professor Gallagher sat down with me and we laid out my path for success. I wanted my focus to be Geographic Information Science (GIS), but little did I realize that majoring in Geography at UMW would immerse me in ALL things Earth, its atmosphere, and its population! I found myself learning about climate change with Professor Nicholas, experiencing a virtual road trip through the states with Professor Bowen, and understanding ocean currents and glacial striations with Professor Gallagher.

My understanding of GIS began with Professor Hanna, where we learned the framework of GIS and the basics of operating the relevant software. Professor Rizzo guided me through all things GIS, which included a pivotal moment that led me to where I am today. The Geography Department at UMW is second to none at setting up their students with internships and job opportunities. I had two different internships as a GIS Analyst in my last two years of college. The latter internship led to an extremely rewarding full-time job that enabled me to progress my career.

I founded my own company in March of 2018. I currently support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Real Estate Division with their data analytics, reports, and visualizations. I have been lucky enough to experience consistent growth in my first two years of operation. I have hired two additional employees, and one is a recent graduate of the UMW Geography Department!

The UMW Geography Department gives each student the time, attention, and care that they require to succeed in the real world. There is a proven track record that speaks for itself!

~ Jonathan Steenberg, ’14

I decided I wanted to work in global public health on a faculty-led trip to Guatemala. My geography education at UMW included the opportunity to work closely with professors, and once I had decided what I was interested in, those professors who were mentoring and teaching me provided every avenue possible to help me develop my passion. I was able to take independent studies and readings courses tailored to my interests in international development and global public health. I wrote my senior seminar paper on women’s health in Nunavut and look at the disparities for an indigenous population in Canada. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a “traditional” path in the department; what mattered was that I had found an area of geography I was passionate about and excelled in.

Because of the strong mentoring relationships and academic rigor of classwork I experienced in the department, continuing for my Master of Public Health was an easy decision. I was well-prepared for coursework in grad school, and I was able to gain a strong understanding of what I was looking for in the field of international development. It took some interesting steps to get to the right job, but my major helped me understand how to be a global citizen of the world and how to appreciate and understand communities and cultures which play a critical role in successful global health projects.

~ Meagan (Holbrook) Kishman, ’13