GIS Student Workers: Mapping Out Their Future

By Sabrina Carroll

Elm Staff Writer


The term GIS Lab is constantly thrown around, but few can really explain what it means. From crime analysis to environmental mapping to virtual world development, the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Lab does it all.

Starting with the basics, Geographic Information Systems is a way of mapping data digitally, according to the Washington College website. The main goal of the GIS Lab is to provide technical support for research programs and coursework within the WC community.

Additionally, the lab analyzes data and provides customer service for externally funded projects. GIS Program Coordinator Stewart Bruce gave some specific examples of jobs. “We do maps for faculty books and work on administrative uses of GIS for the campus such as mapping lights, doing building evacuation plans, modeling the campus in 3D, and analysis projects for advancement and admissions,” he said. Other areas of work include photo/video editing and highway safety mapping.

The jobs are split into two divisions: a crime division and a non-crime division. The crime division works on jobs for places such as the Maryland State Police and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. The non-crime division works on jobs like mapping and planning.

Student workers within the crime division work on similar jobs from week to week, and those jobs are usually funded by grants. The non-crime division tackles a variety of smaller projects that are funded by grants or people. There are a few positions held by students, GIS junior apprentice being the beginning position up to the journeyman leader, which is the most experienced position.

Junior Stephen McFall has worked in the GIS Lab since the summer before his freshman year. “I am a GIS journeyman leader and my main focus is in the 3D virtual world creation, though I have worked on a few mapping projects,” he said. “I am on the team that is currently heading the 3D department with the use of Unreal Engine 4, a very popular gaming software to create high quality games in 3D space. One of the projects I worked on was the creation of all of the campus dorms which were uploaded to our website where people can virtually tour the dorms.”

Senior Olivia Hughes is also a journeyman leader, saying ,“I am a non-crime funded student and work on any projects that come through the Lab. I am currently working on a map for Dr. Andrew Oros’s book. I really like my position because it gives me the opportunity to help out the younger students and enhance their skills so they can be in my position in a few years.”

Geographic Information Systems student workers spend hours on the computer analyzing data and creating maps.
Geographic Information Systems student workers spend hours on the computer analyzing data and creating maps.

Sophomore Daniel Benton is also a part of the non-crime division. “This means that I do not work with any crime data and that what I am working on can change from one week to another,” he said.

There are both benefits and drawbacks to working in the GIS Lab. “Our students learn how to think and analyze problems while looking for solutions, which is an excellent thing for them to learn,” said Bruce, “They also gain valuable experience that looks great on their resumes for future employment opportunities. We also pay very well. As students gain experience, they get promoted just like in the real world.”

McFall noted the real world experience as a huge part of the pros of working for the Lab. He also cited the pay and the diversity of projects as other benefits, while Hughes included scheduling as an advantage as well. “It is incredibly flexible because everyone is very understanding that we are students first and classwork is first priority,” she said.

Regarding the less glamorous parts of the program, McFall said, “The only con that comes to my mind is that the lab is a 15 minute walk from campus.”

Hughes said having to dress up may be seen as a drawback by some. “I’m sure that some students would say that dressing up in business attire is a con of the lab, but I think that it helps us to become young professionals and prepares us for the next steps in our careers.”

Benton struggled to find disadvantages with working in the Lab. “The only real drawback I have seen is that it can take away some of your free time, but you are getting paid to work, so really you aren’t losing anything but rather gaining money,” he said.

Considering working for the lab? Although Bruce tends to hire more underclassmen, he occasionally makes exceptions. “I recently hired a senior, which I rarely do these days, but she came in over the summer and learned our software as a volunteer. That kind of commitment makes me want to hire a student,” he said. “We are also always looking for students who are very good at web page design, programming, video editing, Photoshop, and outstanding writers. One of our workers a few years back actually won the Sophie Kerr prize, so you understand the quality level I like to hire.”

If you are looking for work on campus and have some of the skills Bruce listed, the GIS Lab might be the perfect place for you.

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