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Aha! Moments with NEURISA

What was your 'Aha!' moment? Do you recall that moment when you realized that a geospatial career was for you? 

Our NEURISA presidents met with Jack Dangermond of Esri and learned of Jack's 'Aha' moment.  After sharing Jodie, Jay, and Pam's 'Aha' moments, they realized how important it was for us to share how we navigated our careers so that others could learn about the many different career paths available to them.  It's not all map making! With this in mind, NEURISA hosted a GeoLunch Roundtable discussion at NEURISA Day 2020 and shared what got us to where we are in our careers.  Following up on this we are now hosting regular 'Aha!' moments so that everyone could gain from our collective experiences. 

If you want to learn more about Jack Dangermond's 'Aha!' moment please watch this clip from our YouTube channel here:


Now it's your turn! If you would like to share your 'Aha!' moment, please fill out this survey: https://arcg.is/zGf4q.

Curious to read more moments? Check out the Featured "Aha!" Moments and the Gallery below!

Featured "Aha!" Moments

Meet Jennie Byron, NEURISA President and AEC Senior Solution Engineer at Esri.

What was your "Aha" moment?

Jennie's "Aha" moment began in Nova Scotia, Canada. After completing my geology degree at Acadia University, I was introduced to a GIS program at the Centre of Geographic Sciences. It was there that I learned the value of combining geology and GIS to better understand how the world forms and how it changes over time."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
GIS has provided me with incredible opportunities to map below the earth's surface, experience working on interesting projects, travel the world, and meet wonderful people along the way.



Meet Jodie Gosselin, NEURISA Immediate Past-President and Director of Geospatial Technologies at Dawood Engineering.

What was your "Aha" moment?

Jodie's "Aha" moment began with a spontaneous cross country road trip that led her to explore a degree in geography. In her words: "I was fascinated by the interrelationship between the physical and human environments and how that changed from region to region. Having previously considered a degree in computer science, GIS was a logical fit once I was introduced."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
This "Aha" moment defined her college major which ultimately started her on this career path.



Meet Lynn Carlson, GISP, Principal/GIS Manager at Compass Cartographic, NEURISA At-Large Board Member & NEURISA Associate Marketing/Social Media Coordinator.

What was your "Aha" moment?
In 1988, working in my very first real job as an Environmental Scientist for the RI Department of Environmental Management, my supervisor attended a ¬Ĺ day workshop on a new technology called GIS. She recognized the value it could provide, and offered me the opportunity to attend a class at URI. Watching the outline of the state, surface waters and town boundaries draw on the computer screen was magic, and I was hooked! I’d always been fascinated by maps; seeing layers of information appear, having the ability to manipulate them (Intersect!), and use the results to answer questions (at the time as simple as “how many miles of rivers were in each municipality?”) was so compelling. Once the class was over, I took every possible chance there was to work with the technology. Within a couple of years, GIS had started to take off as a must-have tool for all types of environmental work, and I was able to transition my position and work with it full time. I’ve never looked back!

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
My Aha moment was the catalyst for my entire career!



Meet Sarah Baker, Planning & GIS Associate.

What was your "Aha" moment?
My academic background is in geology but I spent a lot of time as a child digging on archaeology sites. When I began a thesis project in bedrock geology I was thrilled to learn that there was an overlap with my interest in archaeology. Studying a rock source that was used by some of the first inhabitants in North America to make tools was fascinating and humbling. In my first job after graduating I realized the full potential of using LiDAR data to study our ever changing landscape while assisting in a hydrologic modeling project. These experiences helped me to realize how important interdisciplinary studies are, and how GIS is a vital tool for enabling collaboration and meaningful data analysis.

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
My geology thesis which included a large GIS component was my gateway into a GIS career. When I started using GIS I was using it to collect and analyze data about the environment, but now I use GIS to explore how people interact with their environment. I now work with a local transportation and planning agency, where I use my skills to help ensure that decisions made by local governments are data driven and equitable.

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
My



Meet Thad Dymkowski, NEURISA Board Member and Treasurer, and GIS Analyst for the town of South Windsor, Connecticut.

What was your "Aha" moment?
Long ago, in the days of command line GIS and digitizing pucks, I needed to take Geography as a gen. ed. requirement in the summer of my freshman year. I was a floundering physics major at the time, quickly realizing it was perhaps not my thing. I recall sitting in that Geog. 101 classroom learning that it wasn't all "memorize the states/countries" and capitols. During one of the classes, we watched an ESRI promo video. I was dumbfounded by what I saw on the screen - incredibly cool maps, graphics, and 3-D stuff. I saw how technology was being used and what folks were doing with the data. I stayed back to ask the prof. about this "G. I. S" thing we just saw. He showed me a few more things that popped my eyeballs out of their sockets. I changed my major the next day.

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
It clearly defined my career path. When I see the "latest and greatest" at conferences, it often reminds me of that first exposure to the technology. I still get that tingle of excitement as if seeing it for the first time. Nothing really surprises me any longer, as the capabilities are growing exponentially all the time, but I never know what direction it's going to turn in next. Also, as a university educator, I enjoy bringing new young people into the field. I love showing them the videos and examples, and seeing the wheels spin in their heads when they have their own "Aha" moments...


Meet Sarah Leidinger, GIS Analyst at Golder (a member of Williams Sale Partnership, or WSP), and a Master of Science candidate at Humboldt State University.

What was your "Aha" moment?
"I was sitting around a table in college with a few friends playing board games when I got to talking to one of them about this class he was taking called 'Intro to GIS'. This was the first time I had even heard about digital mapping and so, even though I just got the standard "GIS is like Google Earth but not..." spiel, I was hooked. From there, I was hired as a student to the Spatial Analysis Lab at The University of Vermont (UVM), added Geospatial Technologies as a minor to top off my undergraduate education, and the rest is history! GIS has been an integral part of my professional career and will continue to be as I return to get my MSc this Fall at Humboldt State University."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"It's been absolutely life-changing. My whole career has revolved around GIS ever since I started my very first job at the UVM Spatial Analysis Lab. I wouldn't have even known this was a career option if it hadn't been for that one night during college playing board games with friends."



Meet Jay Metzger, GIS Manager at the Rhode Island Department of Health and NEURISA Immediate Past President.

What was your "Aha" moment?
"I was first introduced to GIS when I was studying for my bachelor's at UMass Boston. I was studying environmental science in the College of Earth, Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences (EEOS), where my intentions were to be a science teacher. The first time that I heard the letters GIS together I was not sure what it was. Luckily I asked the question what is GIS? At that point I was able to take courses in GIS and my mind was officially blown."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"I went from thinking I would be a science teacher to realizing that GIS would be in my future. GIS has brought me to the point in my career where I have been fortunate to meet so many amazing colleagues at NEURISA, and to work with some amazing people at the Rhode Island Department of Health.
"



Meet Jessi Echevarria, a Technical Consulting Coordinator at ESRI Boston and NEURISA's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) sub-committee leader.

What was your "Aha" moment?
"I always wanted to study the movement of animals and why they make their seasonal migration and daily travel decisions. Specifically, whales; how do they plan out and move around during their days? The water column always intrigued me, and an animal that could travel all levels of that column intrigued me even more. I was in a conservation biology class in college, and I mentioned this interest to the professor which led to my introduction to GIS. It was the early 2000's and thankfully the software of the time was advanced just enough that my lack of programming skills did not hinder me from grasping onto the technology and really running with it."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"One word, drastically. GIS drastically altered my career path because now I work solely within the GIS field, crossing all sectors, not just focusing on wildlife biology. Not because of the lack of wanting, but because of the lack of opportunities. Studying whales is a love of mine, but academia can be very exclusionary and paid entry level career options are few and far between. The career field of GIS is the complete opposite. It is welcoming and expansive with numerous entry level options, a number of pathways for growth, and plenty of opportunities across a variety of sectors. I still go out on the whale watching boats every season, but GIS has allowed my career to expand in ways I couldn't grasp in college, and I am grateful for that conservation biology class giving me the first step towards this technology."




Meet Amanda Shoemaker, Peter O'Donnell, and Jay Guarneri, our April Mappy Hour contest winners.

Amanda Shoemaker: GIS Professional

What was your "Aha" moment?
"I completed an internship with my county's planning and zoning department that heavily used GIS. I decided I while doing it that this was what I wanted to do with my life. So I didn't know I wanted to be a GIS Analyst until I became one!"

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"I have worked with GIS in both the public and private sectors, and have performed many different GIS-related tasks while on the job."





Peter O'Donnell: GIS Consultant

What was your "Aha" moment?
"I originally was planning on working in bridal wear in New York City. I had taken a year off from my Bachelors at Dickinson College to intern in New York City at Carol Hannah and Leanne Marshall, both small-sized, in-house bridal couture houses. After graduating in December of 2019, I started applying to jobs and was going in for interviews by the end of February. By the end of March 2020, all the applications and interviews I had returned the same message, "We are no longer hiring." After  talking to my contacts and looking at the prospects of the industry I decided that a career change was needed. I went through my old jobs, internships, and coursework. What can I do with my skills and passions? I was scrolling through jobs on LinkedIn and saw a position posted for the City of Norwalk GIS Specialist Grade I. It was $29.84 an hour, almost $16 higher than every other position I had applied to since the lockdown began. Aha. An above-living wage and remote opportunity in a field I had experience in."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"Since my 'Aha' moment, March 2020, I've completed five GIS internships, completed two college-level GIS courses, completed over thirty-five Esri tutorials, consulted in GIS for six different organizations, and logged forty hours a week for nearly a year. I feel absolutely affirmed in my decision to pursue a GIS career."



Jay Guarneri: GIS Administrator

What was your "Aha" moment?
"When trying to get into graduate school, most of the programs I was interested in wanted me to have some GIS experience. So, I enrolled in a certificate program. I pretty quickly figured out not only was I pretty good at GIS, but also it was something that I enjoyed doing. I started including GIS Master's programs in my search, and ended up going to graduate school for that instead of fisheries. The rest is history."

How has your "Aha" moment affected your career path?
"I ended up in a much different form than it would have otherwise. There are still some times I miss my original career path, but I'm very happy where I am."












Meet Ryan Norton, GIS Specialist for the Town of Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Webmaster for NEURISA.

Click here to see how Ryan came to his GIS "Aha Moment."


The New England Chapter of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (NEURISA) is the professional association of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) practitioners in New England. NEURISA is a nonprofit 501(c)6 organization whose mission is to advance the effective and appropriate use of GIS and related information technologies to solve challenges throughout the region.

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