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Alumni of Carleton’s GIS Lab have been incredibly successful in many disciplines. This page is a small collection of career advice, information, and passion about GIS from past lab assistants. Highlights from the 15 GIS Lab alum are in the first video, followed by conversations with the individual alum ordered by graduation year. These conversations are compiled for the 2020 GIS Day event.

Click a name to see full conversation with the person.

How do GIS Lab alumni use GIS after Carleton? (0:00 – 3:34)

with Zifeng (Eric) Wang, 2018 (0:11), Helen Schuda, 2020 (0:41), Michael Martin, 2009 (1:13), Blake Nicholson, 2009 (1:36), Diana Chan, 2009 (2:01), Mallika Jayaraman, 2013 (2:31), Kathy Dooley, 2015 (3:12).

Why learn GIS? (3:35 – 7:11)

with Ryan Noe, 2012 (3:40), Lydia Hanson, 2018 (3:52), Travis Drake, 2010 (4:11), Grace Newman, 2015 (4:28), Thu Nguyen, 2019 (4:45), Audrey Lothspeich, 2017 (5:03), Dylan Linet, 2010 (5:27), Chris Nootenboom, 2016 (5:52). And non-GIS Lab alum Liza Davis, 2016 (6:31).

Diana Chan ’09

Diana graduated in 2009 with a BA in Biology and a concentration in Environment and Technical Studies. She was the Natural Resource Manager for the Heiltsuk First Nation in 2020.

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Michael Martin ’09

Michael graduated in 2009 with a BA in Political Science/International Relations. He is the Founder and CEO of Rapid SOS.

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Blake Nicholson ’09

Blake graduated in 2009 with a BA in Economics with a concentration in Environmental and Technology Studies. He was a Solar Developer with Ecos Energy in 2020.

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Travis Drake ’10

Travis graduated in 2010 with a BA in Geology. He was a Post-Doctoral Researcher at ETH Zurich, Switzerland in 2020.

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Travis helped map the Arb at Carleton with GPS

I was introduced to the GIS lab through Tsegaye Nega, from whom I took an ENTS course. I had already had some GIS experience from summer internships and jobs outside of Carleton. I can’t remember all of the projects in the GIS lab, but I remember working on making more accurate maps of the arboretum using a new (at the time) TRIMBLE GPS system.

GIS is critical to studying the biogeochemistry of rivers

There are many opportunities for GIS in academic research. I study the C biogeochemistry of rivers and given the inherent geospatial nature of my work, there are always uses for GIS. I can’t think of many jobs within the Earth Sciences that couldn’t make use of GIS.

I have made many map figures for publications, calculated the catchment boundaries using DEMs, calculated the proportion of different land-uses within a catchment, calculated buffer areas adjacent to inland waters.

Travis recommends GIS for future Earth Scientists

I would whole-heartedly recommend learning GIS! It is extremely useful in so many occupations and fields. Many research institutes have a resident GIS expert, which from the outside, looks like a fantastic job. They get to collaborate on various projects and make beautiful maps. GIS is also highly rewarding and visual activity, which isn’t always the case in science.

I wish I had taken graduate level GIS courses but I couldn’t fit it in my schedule! I definitely see a potential for it and wish I could have
substituted it for some of my less important courses (in retrospect). I didn’t take any further GIS training and it wasn’t required for my work, but I have taught myself quite a bit long the way via YouTube videos and online How-Tos! 

Dylan Linet ’10

Dylan graduated in 2010 with a BA in Geology. He was a freelance developer who used GIS in a plethora of personal and professional projects. Most recently, he used his experience in GIS to develop a mountain bike course in northern Minnesota.

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Ryan Noe ’12

Ryan graduated in 2012 with a BA in Environmental Studies. He was a Senior Scientist at the Natural Capital Project in the University of Minnesota in 2020.

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 The problem solving skills from Environmental Studies have stuck with Ryan throughout his education

I first encountered GIS in an environmental justice class and while I had no idea what was going on, was definitely interested in learning more. I took ENTS 120 and worked in the GIS lab mapping research projects in the arb.

I remember running the same model over and over again for my comps and not understanding why it was failing. After days of failing I finally asked Wei-Hsin for help and she spotted the problem in 5 minutes. I’ve also been surprised at how skills that were so mysterious and overwhelming in ENTS 120 have come back to me years later.

I got a M.S. in Natural Resources Science and Management with a concentration Geospatial Analysis at the University of Minnesota. The cool thing about the program, and GIS courses generally, is course work was spread between departments like computer science, geography, and forestry. You get to develop a very interdisciplinary skill.

GIS can lead to interesting projects and collaborations

Having even basic GIS skills is a huge asset in lab I work at in a policy school. Graduate students with GIS skills are always in demand and get to work really interesting projects. GIS projects include a wide range of activities such as making simple static maps, coding, web development, and spatial analysis.

GIS is a technical skill that can set you apart in a wide range of fields. Even if you don’t specialize in it, I found it useful for getting my foot in the door for jobs or collaborations. Maps are a great communication tool that not many people can make.

Ryan uses GIS to map and model environmental benefits, threats, and social attributes

I use it in almost all of my research to map and model environmental benefits, threats, and social attributes. A sample of projects includes:

  • Assessing the benefits in the state’s conservation portfolio
  • Mapping climate change projections, and the impacts to
    ecosystems and people
  • Modeling land use change in supply chains
  • Quantifying ecosystem services of agricultural landscapes.
  • Mapping survey results
  • Modeling water quality changes.


Mallika Jayaraman ’13

Mallika graduated in 2013 with a BA in Environmental Studies. She was a Senior Consultant at Guidehouse in 2020.

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Kathy Dooley ’15

Kathy Dooley graduated in 2015 with a BA in Environmental Studies. She worked for Destination SPACE in 2020 and was also a contractor with the US Geological Survey.

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Kathy took GIS classes and applied it to her Comps.

My first experience with GIS at Carleton was in ENTS 120, Intro to GIS. I liked the course enough to take Remote Sensing and Landscape Ecology the next semester. Later, I asked Tsegaye if I could work in the GIS lab, and I started working with Wei-Hsin in the Goodsell basement. Tsegaye also got me an internship at the University of Minnesota one summer. That was my first time working with raster data for a real application – modeling nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, which I indirectly applied to my Comps the next year.

Kathy has found jobs by reaching out to her GIS connections

Since graduating from Carleton, I have had a variety of jobs and internships that use GIS for different environmental applications. I’ve used it to model agricultural best practices, estimate wildland fire risk, analyze indicators of thunderstorm development, and identify areas for wetland restoration. Formal coursework/training was not the primary factor in getting these jobs/internships – it was personal connections from Carleton. So if you’re interested in getting a GIS job after college, tell your professors and reach out to alumni! Odds are they know someone who might have an opportunity for you.

One way GIS has helped me in a non-GIS job is through my work in aerospace education. I had a GIS internship through NASA, and my advisor had an interest in education. He and I and two colleagues started Destination SPACE, a non-profit where students learn about satellites and remote sensing through building sensors, launching weather balloons, and working with real satellites. My background in spatial data, particularly satellite data, was essential for developing lesson plans and teaching students about aerospace and remote sensing.

GIS is very powerful and data centered

GIS is everywhere – instead of sharing what opportunities there are for GIS, it is hard to think of anything that can’t use GIS! My work has been primarily centered around environmental data, so when I think of the future of GIS I often think of modeling the impacts and response to climate change. In addition to predicting sea-level rise, wildland fire risk, and hurricanes, we can use it to predict climate’s impact on crop production, human migration, economic trends, and endless other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Carleton students don’t necessarily need to take additional coursework or training to get a job in GIS, even if they’ve only taken ENTS 120. But, understanding the basics of working with spatial data is helpful for all sorts of careers. I’d especially recommend learning GIS beyond ArcGIS. Learning Python, R, statistics, JavaScript, SQL, etc. can open up so many more opportunities.

Grace Newman ’15

Grace graduated in 2015 with a BA in Mathematics. She worked as a Software Engineer at Google in 2020.

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Chris Nootenboom ’16

Chris graduated in 2016 with a BA in Biology and Environmental Studies. He was a Researcher at the Natural Capital Project in the University of Minnesota in 2020.

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Audrey Lothspeich ’17

Audrey graduated in 2017 with a BA in Biology. At the time of the recording in 2020, she was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Remote Sensing.

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Lydia Hanson ’18

Lydia graduated in 2018 with a BA in Chemistry and a Biochemistry minor. At the time of the recording in 2020, she was a medical student at the University of Virginia.

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Zifeng “Eric” Wang ’18

Eric graduated in 2018 with a BA in Environmental Studies and minors in Political Economy and East Asian Studies. He was working with GIS at a nonprofit in 2020.

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Thu Nguyen ’19

Thu graduated in 2019 with a BA in Environmental Studies and Dance. She worked at an engineering consulting firm in 2020.

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 Thu built an architectural database at Carleton

I took Intro to GIS my sophomore year with Tsegaye Nega and fell in love with it. I really enjoyed this new concept (to me at least) or thinking of the world and problems in a spatial manner, and spatial analytics and statistics made sense to me in a way that no other technology or science really did. After taking the course, I pestered Wei-Hsin for a few months for a job in the lab and was very excited when I was offered a position for my junior and senior years.

In the GIS lab, I worked on building a database of architectural points that a professor had visited. I remember this project so vividly because I spent two terms painstakingly looking up buildings and address and georeferencing them into ArcGIS. It was pretty tedious data entry, but I enjoyed looking at all the buildings and developing my database and georeferencing skills. Database entry is also highly marketable in the workforce, so I got a slight edge because of it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Thu’s role at her engineering firm

I currently work in an engineering consulting firm, and I was just transferred to accounting due to the pandemic. However, I was working as a project inspector and receiving training towards a Professional Engineer certificate. The work I did was based around construction engineering, and a lot of engineers I was working with used GIS and other geospatial technologies to develop plans with clients to visualize results and materials in order to provide more accurate assessments for developing work and pay orders.

A geospatial mindset really comes in handy with pinpointing data in accounting. Even though we don’t work out in the field, we get tens of thousands of lines of data to be sorted and sent to the correct departments every day, and most of the time there is no meta data attached other than a time, date, and name. Our job is to make sure the correct data goes to the correct department for each branch, so by working backwards and associating each name with a branch, we are able to make sure that each line of data gets sent to the correct location and is processed correctly.

GIS’ interdisciplinary nature has helped Thu be adaptable


I would definitely recommend GIS, GIS opens new doors and possibilities for statistical analysis and thinking that you don’t find in other disciplines. It’s extremely interdisciplinary and can lead to many different professions and careers in so many fields as well as tie in interests from other fields. I myself am looking into various Master’s programs to start in the next couple of years, and I’ve looked at everything form Education Policy, to Landscape Architecture to Geography. GIS can really lead anywhere you want to take it!

Helen Schuda ’20

Helen graduated in 2020 with a BA in Economics. She was a Community and Mobility Planning Analyst for Kimley-Horn in 2020.

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