SIUE Geography Alumni Profile Questions
1. What is the name and location of your employer?
- I work for the Madison County Planning & Development Department, which is located in downtown Edwardsville in the County Administration Building.
2. What is your job title and what type of work do you do?
- My title is Sustainability Coordinator and in this role, I oversee sustainability initiatives within Madison County and partner with other organizations to promote sustainability in the St. Louis Region. My typical day includes answering questions from the public about recycling, reviewing environmental grant applications from local municipal and township governments within Madison County, and working on developing ways for our residents and businesses to be more sustainable every day. I also attend meetings throughout the region so I can collaborate on regional sustainability projects.
3. Why did you decide to earn a degree in geography?
- I have always been curious about the world around me. When I took my first geography course, I started to see how the discipline really is more about the perspective in which we approach a topic, rather than mastery of the topic itself. It made me think critically about why the world around me looks and feels the way it does. As a result, I was able to choose the topic of most interest to me as I studied the why and how of its locational characteristics.
4. What did you like best about being a student in the Department of Geography?
- I enjoyed my time in the Geography Department because of the small class sizes and the course offerings. I was able to explore my interests in human geography and even take courses from other departments for my Master’s degree. Most importantly, I was encouraged to dream big and make a difference; because of the department’s faculty, I feel that I have done just that.
5. If you had an internship in college, what was the name and location of the employer? How long did your internship last? Was it paid or unpaid? What did you find useful about having an internship?
- During graduate school, I worked as a paid intern for the City of Edwardsville’s Planning and Zoning Department. This internship was very influential and is ultimately the reason I have worked in the planning field for the last 10 years. Prior to the internship, I wasn’t sure what city planning was, but when I started, I quickly realized that planners shape our communities. The decisions we make now about placement of buildings and subdivision design will affect how we interact with each other and our community decades from now. Gaining experience in the planning field while helping the Director and Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning was invaluable. I had the opportunity to present to public bodies such as the Planning Commission, and I also reviewed and approved permits for fences and swimming pools, as well as other commercial developments. I also learned a great deal about working with the public from my internship at Edwardsville.
6. Have you had geography-related employment prior to your current job? If so, what was the name and location of your employer and what was your job title?
- I have always been employed as a public sector planner, which I consider a geography-related job. After my internship with the City of Edwardsville, I worked for the City of Belleville as Land Use Planner and over the course of six years, worked my way up to Director of Economic Development, Planning, and Zoning for the City of Belleville. I served in that role for three years. My background in geography gives me an advantage in my line of work because it taught me how to understand the way our physical and social environments are connected, which is vital when creating policy that regulates our built and natural environments.
- Additionally, I’ve been lucky enough to teach geography at both Southwestern Illinois College and Lindenwood University-Belleville. At both schools, I taught World Regional Geography courses. It was very rewarding to work with students who at the beginning of the semester didn’t have an interest in other places or other cultures, but by the end of the semester were curious to learn more.
7. What year did you graduate and what was your minor or Area of Specialization? If you had a double major, what was your other major?
- I graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography and an Area of Specialization in human geography. In 2006, I graduated with a Master of Science degree in Geography.
8. What have you found most useful about having a geography degree?
- A geography degree both fed my curiosity about my surroundings and made it even more insatiable. It inspired me to teach the subject and to travel around the world so I could personally experience how other people live. It has also provided me the best framework for my career that I can imagine. The perspective I have now when analyzing any given situation related to urban planning is a direct result of the questions I learned to ask while studying geography at SIUE.
9. What kinds of skills did you learn in the Department of Geography that you have found useful to get your current job and/or that you use in your current job?
- The most useful skill I learned in Geography was how to connect seemingly disparate subjects. In my career, I’ve often had to manage economic development projects that on the surface seem great, but when thought about critically, affect wildlife habitat, air quality, or existing jobs in another industry. Approaching and evaluating development proposals in this way has helped me succeed. My geography courses also taught me to be detail oriented while maintaining a holistic approach. I often find myself thinking about public policy issues on a community-wide scale, but put myself in the shoes of a property owner to think through every detail of a process I’m proposing.
10 What do you wish you had learned in college or specifically in the Department of Geography prior to getting your current job?
- I wish that I had developed both graphic design skills and financial analysis skills while in college. Because I didn’t set out to be a planner, I didn’t know I would have a need for these skills. However, I feel that having at least a basic understanding with programs such as InDesign, Illustrator, or even Sketch Up would give me a competitive edge in developing a polished written plan. Likewise, being able to ‘talk the talk’ with real estate professionals and bankers earlier in my career would have instilled more confidence in the beginning of my career.
11. What advice would you give a current or prospective geography student?
- Ask questions, find a mentor, job shadow as many different professions as you can, and dream big. Take advantage of every travel opportunity that comes your way. Explore all of what geography has to offer, because it really is applicable to nearly every career.