Two recent Geography & GIS alumni visited the department (virtually) this past spring to share their academic and early career experiences and advice with our current undergraduate majors.
Samuel James (BS, ’19; ESES and geography & GIS, 2019) began his undergraduate studies in the architecture program but transferred to the
earth,society, and environmental sustainability (ESES) major during his second year and discovered geography & GIS through an introductory GIS course.
“I was initially kind of nervous because at that point I was not a confident coder, but I immediately fell in love with visualizing data and extracting meaningful data from it. After that, I decided to double-major,” said James.
He encouraged current GGIS and CS+GGIS majors to look beyond the term “GIS” while searching job and internship postings. “A lot of jobs that utilize geospatial data techniques might not have “GIS” in the job title or description. If you’re really looking to apply geospatial thinking or location intelligence, I recommend thinking more broadly and find coding or programming positions,” said James.
James interned with the Village of Mahomet in Summer 2018 through the 2019-20 academic year, helping map their storm sewer network and track land parcel transactions. He made personal and professional connections there that ultimately led to a job with Champaign-based internet service provider Pavlov Media right after graduation. He also started an independent GIS consulting business.
“Pavlov is not directly focused on GIS but it is integral to their operations. While there, I worked with municipal governments, railroad authorities, and departments of transportation to create plans and layouts to permit fiber optic infrastructure. I used a lot of applications and processes that I first learned during my time as geography & GIS major.”
James left Pavlov Media earlier this summer to begin working as a Solutions Engineer with GISInc, a company that manages GIS functions for utilities, airports, public works, and many other location-based entities.
“I really liked the campus and made a lot of great friendships in Champaign so it made sense to stay here and start my career. Building strong relationships with people on campus and in the community helped me grow personally and professionally as I transitioned from school to full-time work and when I began consulting.”
Jackie Shon, a senior also double majoring in GGIS and ESES, gained valuable insights from Sam’s talk and Q&A session. “Samuel's career conversation aligned with a lot of my own interests in GIS. After hearing about his career experience, and what he wished he had learned more about as an undergraduate, I signed up for GEOG 489: Programming for GIS. I'm glad I took the course because it built my confidence with coding and showed me how powerful GIS can be with some added computer science knowledge,” said Shon.
Adam Camp (BS, ’19; geography & GIS, political science) applied directly to four Big Ten undergraduate geography programs and ultimately chose UIUC for its emphasis on student research. During his career conversation, he encouraged students to connect with faculty members and apply for Roepke scholarships to assist them with data collection and research. Like James, Camp gained valuable internship experience as an undergraduate but warned students that the onboarding process for certain geospatial jobs can be quite involved.
“Apply early, especially if you are thinking about entering the Intelligence Community or the National Geospatial Agency (NGA) within the Department of Defense. The internship program is an awesome foot in the door but the process of obtaining a clearance can take months,” said Camp. He completed his NGA internship in St. Louis and was hired full-time after graduation.
“The rigorous coursework offered by the department of Geography & GIS equips students for any entry-level work in the field but there’s always room to improve your skill set on the job. I was just selected by NGA to obtain a master's degree and am excited to fine-tune my programming and GIS skills to return as a Geospatial Analyst.”
Jackie Shon is considering public sector and community-focused career options and appreciated Adam’s talk as well. “Adam inspired me to apply for a local government internship over the summer and I had a great learning experience.”