Testimonials from Geography and Geographic Information Science Alumni
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.
I 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.
In 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.
Jonathan Steenberg, ’14
I 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!
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.
Adam Hager, ’14
While I did not begin my undergraduate journey as a Geography major, it did not take me long to realize it was the right program for me after taking a Geography of Western North America course in spring of my sophomore year. I was quite interested in the intersection of places and people and once I discovered this was the heart of the geography discipline, I was ready to hit the ground running.
UMW’s Geography program offers a wide variety of courses that teach both hard and soft skill sets. I loved learning the fundamentals of GIS and pairing those technical skills with an understanding of complex topics like human migration, international development, and urban planning. Professors facilitated a wonderful learning environment from seminars and lectures to trips and out-of-the-classroom activities. I had the opportunity to travel throughout my studies. including trips to Guatemala as part of a research team and throughout the Mid-Atlantic in a Field Methods course with Dr. Bowen.
I took the Introduction to Planning course in the fall of my junior year which set a new trajectory for my academic coursework and my career. Internships with nearby planning offices – the George Washington Regional Commission and the Stafford County Department of Planning and Zoning – helped me get a better understanding of what a career in city planning would look like and gave me good reason to attend Georgetown University after graduation for a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning.
I formed great relationships with professors and peers in the Geography program and can see how my coursework and the skills I developed at UMW set me up for success. In my current role, I serve as a Transportation Planner with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization where I have the opportunity to shape transportation infrastructure and programming in Fredericksburg.
Amanda Waggoner, BA ’17, MSGA ’20
When I arrived at UMW, I walked onto the steps of Ball Circle self-conscious, afraid, and unsure of what to expect. I had received a scholarship within the Department of Music, and I had known that music was something I wanted to pursue, but I was not sure if that was entirely where my heart was set.
Before stepping foot onto campus, I signed up for classes haphazardly, not sure of the general education requirements and how I was going to fulfill them. I had signed up for a freshman seminar class entitled, “Race and Revolution” with Dr. Melina Patterson and was uncertain what it was about. Granted, I understood the overall gist of the class from its title but was unsure of how “race” and “revolution” interacted together. It did not take long before that class changed my entire career trajectory and made me realize that I was a geographer at heart.
After that class, I became a geography major. I was fascinated by the department’s GIS certification program and found an interest in using a mixed methodological approach in analyzing racial data through geospatial analysis. After graduation, I started the Master of Science in Geospatial Analysis (MSGA) program to deepen my studies in the discipline.
Midway through the MSGA program, I realized that I had a passion for research and wanted to become like my amazing mentors in the department. I began applying for PhD programs and I accepted an offer from the University at Buffalo’s Geography PhD program. Now, I am a first-year PhD student, and my program blends all my passions – urban cartography, music, and geospatial analysis – into my current research focus. I can confidently say that if I had never became a student in the geography department, I do not think I would have found my footing today. I owe my career development, my strengths as a researcher, and overall love for knowledge to the University of Mary Washington’s incredible faculty and classes in the Department of Geography.
Christina Rodriguez ’19
I have always been passionate about Geography and UMW helped me become a Geographer. I was a non-traditional student with a job and a family. The Professors in the Department cared about my success in the program. I don’t think you could ask for more resources and support in an academic program than what you will find in this Department.
My education has taken me places I never imagined. During my second semester at UMW, I earned a highly competitive paid Pathways Internship at the Office of Management and Budget in the Natural Resources Division. I worked on issues in Indian Country, and prepared for meetings with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the EPA. I spent a summer tracking Wildland Fire activity and spending, creating reports for leadership, and helped draft talking points for the President. My research abilities and quantitative skills were an asset at OMB, and I have UMW Geography to thank for those skills.
I recently accepted a position at the Rural Utilities Service Electric Program. My Geography education is well respected and I have been assigned to priority projects where I get to use my GIS skills to generate work products that make it possible for leadership to make data-driven decisions. My skills are highly praised and valued.
Since graduating from UMW, I earned an MA in Geography from Marshall University. I am now enrolled as a PhD student at George Mason University majoring in Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences. One day, I hope to teach Human Geography and GIS courses.
Jacqueline Nova ’13
My love of Geography has been cultivated since I was 8 years old by my mother, who after learning I was dyslexic, cultivated my intellectual strength of spatial analysis. She subscribed to National Geographic, my bedroom became plastered with maps, and I was forever the navigator on family outings. My formal education in Geography began as an undergrad at UMW with an intro to Human Geography class. I soon learned about GIS, which leverages the power of geography to inform, educate and illuminate spatial trends. I was hooked. Geography always seemed to explain the world in a way that I could easily comprehend. I love geography because it is universal – everything has a “where.” After graduation, I began a career as a GIS Analyst. Almost 8 years later, I am still happily employed in this sector and write geospatial policy for the federal government. I am currently working on a Masters in Information Technology to better deploy GIS Systems to different organizations. The bridge between my liberal arts background in geography and the technical experience I gained from my GIS Certification opened doors in the lucrative tech industry where thinking outside the box has benefited me greatly.
Besides what I learned in classes ranging from Spatial Statistics to Geopolitics, my favorite aspects of UMW’s Geography program was the community of people. Two of Geography labs were a frequent hangout spot for Geography students while completing schoolwork. Students were also encouraged to participate in faculty-led trips both internationally and domestically. The community of geography students helped everyone thrive. Older students regularly helped to understand concepts and theories, and enabled incoming classmates to find their grounding within the department. Late nights doing homework were always accompanied by some level of fun as some of us would gather to study or finish a project. On a faculty-led study abroad trip to South Africa, I met one of my life-long friends, Cassandra (Ratti) Pierandri. This community did not fade away once I joined the professional world. I networked with other UMW Geography alum to find jobs, help research projects, and go geocaching; in turn, as I have become more successful in my own career, I have supported recent graduates by providing internship opportunities. I would highly encourage anyone to study Geography at UMW.
John Bentley, BA ‘ 17, MSGA ‘18
My career in GIS was inspired by my course work in the Geography program. The varied opportunities that the Geography department provided influenced how I decided to pursue my professional career. It also made me realize how versatile the field of Geography was, and ultimately drove me to pursue GIS and the technical side of Geography.
During my years as an undergrad, the Geography department was instrumental in pushing my interests in GIS, and allowed me to incorporate environmental interests. My internship as a Regional Planner at the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization helped in establishing my knowledge of a basic workspace and how to convey GIS information to others. I acquired my current position as a Data Analyst for ENSCO rail in part because of my transportation and GIS experience, specifically from my internship and my time working at FAMPO during my Masters.
The MSGA program enabled me to expand my GIS knowledge. The capstone research project I completed was a true culmination of everything I learned from Geography at UMW. I focused on mountaintop removal of coal in West Virginia and how we can use Geospatial techniques to track, monitor the lifecycle, and examine the potential damage of these operations. The capstone thoroughly solidified my interest in combining GIS and environmental studies, which I hope to pursue in the future.
UMW’s Geography department and the professors were extremely influential, and I owe my current success in the field of GIS to them. I am extremely grateful for everything they did for me.
Sarah Bond, ’17
I enrolled at Mary Washington undecided on my major, but confident that I wanted to pursue a career in public service and advocacy for marginalized communities. In Dr. Rouhani’s Introduction to Human Geography class, we explored the concept of space as a social construct and that immediately resonated with me. Initially, I was intimidated by the technical courses in physical geography and GIS. When I learned about the Urban Studies minor, I found that it would provide the social context I was looking for in addition to the technical skills from the Geography degree. As a first-generation college student and student of color, it was difficult to find spaces in which I felt connected and truly represented. In courses such as Cities and Geographies of Children, I felt that I had finally found a space where I could explore the topics that mattered to me the most.
Upon graduation, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Urban Studies and Planning. I felt that my time as a Geography major well prepared me for both the curriculum and internship opportunities while in graduate school. After completing my graduate degree, I was hired as a regional transportation planner working with state, regional, and federal partners in Washington, DC. My current duties include using research, analysis, and GIS skills that I first developed at UMW, and tackling social issues such as equity and climate change. I am grateful for the skills that I acquired as a Geography major, and I will continue to advocate for more opportunities for students from marginalized communities to explore the different paths that a Geography degree can lead to.
Sequoi Phipps, ’16
Majoring in Geography at UMW was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I did not start my college career thinking I was going to study Human Geography, but once I took a course in the program, I knew it was for me. The exposure to how geography intersects with people, communities, development, and culture all fascinated me. I felt that every professor I had in the department truly desired to see me and my classmates succeed and wanted to offer the support we needed to propel us into the world.
I now work as the Associate Director of a non-profit that offers a training course to people all over the world to learn how to use sports to develop community programs for youth in their area. Our goal is to equip our students with knowledge and resources to serve their communities through sports programs and also offer mentorship to youth while growing their partnerships among organizations, churches, and businesses. We work towards providing them with information to make their programs sustainable through their own businesses and farms; not one alumni is financially dependent on our organization.
I firmly believe that the UMW Geography department equipped me to do what I am doing now, and taught me how to work and learn as an open-minded contributor to a global community. I also can confidently say that this department fervently upholds the UMW mission to be “a place where faculty, students, and staff share in the creation and fearless exploration of knowledge through freedom of inquiry, personal responsibility, and service.” From class lectures to group projects to studying abroad, I am so grateful for every experience I had studying Geography at UMW.
Taylor Ford ’16
I am currently working as a Recreation Specialist with the City of Falls Church. This role and career path were fostered while I was a Geography major at UMW. My path to Geography and Public Service began at my pre-orientation visit to Mary Washington. I was assigned to sit in on a Geography class with Dr. Bowen and was awestruck by her passion for the topic and her love for the global community. She relayed an understanding for the world I had not been exposed to before. I knew then Geography was the area of study for me. During my time at Mary Washington I was exposed to the world community from a unique perspective: it gave me the sense that our broad community can be made “smaller” and more personal by individuals and their actions. I take that to work with me every day.
At UMW, I learned that if you take the time to listen to those around you and make their experience just as important as your own experience or the next person you encounter, this great big world can be made smaller and more personal. My visit to Guatemala in my senior year solidified the importance of fostering this sense of community. I saw just how much difference the actions of a small group or a single person can be in bringing together people and how one small interaction can change a person’s life forever. My goal daily is to foster a sense of community and bring people together.
I work primarily with the youth of Falls Church and strive to instill in them a sense of community and an understanding of how one small action can change another’s life. I am where I am today because of the education and life skills I learned through the mentorship of the faculty in the Geography Department. They do an excellent job setting you up with an understanding of how to navigate post graduate life and encourage you to give back to your community.