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Department of Geography

Ryan Schwarzkopf

SIUE Geography Alumni Profile Questions

9/12/18

1. What is the name and location of your employer?

  • United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), St. Louis, Missouri.

2. What is your job title and what type of work do you do? 

  • Geographer. The three main tasks that my branch deals with is river navigation, flood control, and environmental sustainability.

3. Why did you decide to earn a degree in geography?

  • Every summer for as long as I can remember my family would go on vacations throughout the country. My dad really thought it was important for my sister and I to see the world through our own eyes and learn about the different cultures, landscapes, etc. So from a very young age I was hooked on geography. But going into college I was still unsure on what I wanted to major in. I remember my first semester the class that stuck out to me and kept me interested the most was the Introduction to Earth Science course. Once completing that course there was no doubt what I wanted to major in.

4. What did you like best about being a student in the Department of Geography?

  • The wide variety of classes that you could take from physical to human to GIS. Also all of the teachers in the department that I had were extremely helpful and always willing to go out of their way to help no matter what.

5. If you had an internship in college, what was the name and location of the employer? 

  • The summer going into my junior year I was able to get a paid internship at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At this internship I was able to see how things that I was learning in my classes applied to real world problems. Going into my internship I was only just starting out in GIS so I was extremely new to it. But the coworkers I had were extremely helpful in going out of their way to teach me new things and answer any questions that I had. This really helped me in my knowledge of GIS going forward especially in the upper level GIS classes.

6. What have you found most useful about having a geography degree?

  • Gaining a better understanding and appreciation for the Earth that we live on and gaining knowledge in GIS which I have never heard of before SIUE.

7. 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?

  • A lot of different GIS skills from vector, raster, remote sensing, etc. have helped me at my job. Also learning python coding was extremely helpful and gave me a better understanding of how all the tools in GIS are used and executed.

8. What advice would you give a current or prospective geography student?

  • To not be afraid to ask questions and find a mentor because like I said before all of the professors in the department are super knowledgeable and will go out of their way to help you. You definitely get the feeling that they genuinely want you to succeed. Also to find what discipline of geography really interests you the most. I always got the feeling that people think geography is just a simple, basic high school subject and there are no careers in it after college. When in reality that is not the case at all! Almost everything is related back to geography. For instance I work at the Corps of Engineers and almost daily, engineers come to our Geospatial section with questions related from physical geography to GIS and many more!

9. What do you wish you had learned in college or specifically in the Department of Geography prior to getting your current job?

  • I honestly cannot really think of anything. SIUE and the Department of Geography prepared me extremely well for my current job. 

Matt Lesiecki

SIUE Geography Alumni Profile Questions

8/16/17

1. What is the name and location of your employer?

  • I currently work for the US Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, ID

2. What is your job title and what type of work do you do? 

  • I’m a Hydrologic Technician at the RMRS. My supervisor, Dr. Pete Robichaud, does most of his research concerning erosion mitigation and logging techniques in post-wildfire forest areas. Most of the data he collects is ultimately used to try to develop and validate models for post-fire erosion. So we spend much of our time traveling all over the west to different burned areas where they either have study sites already established, or to areas where we'll establish new ones. It's an awesome combination of field, lab, and desk work that has really allowed me to understand all the aspects of what real scientific research looks like.

3. Why did you decide to earn a degree in geography?

  • After starting in Engineering, I quickly realized that that program consisted mostly of math classes, which I was not too excited about. I had taken an intro to geology class with the geography department and really found it interesting, so I went on and too a basic meteorology class. I was amazed at how much of what I was learning seemed to be applicable to real life, and all the connections between different ideas and parts of life that I was being exposed to. I found it so fascinating how things like climate, physical geomorphology, cultural differences, etc., all came together to make our world what it is, and the impacts that it all has on everyday life. From then on, I was hooked to everything geography.

4. What did you like best about being a student in the Department of Geography?

  • Working with so many people that have the geographic mindset of bringing ideas together, identifying connections that exist everywhere in our world, and working to understand how and why things are the way they are.

5. If you had an internship in college, what was the name and location of the employer? 

  • I worked with Kerry Doyle surveying mine subsidence for basically all of my college career. It was a great position where I was able to see the interaction of history (coal mining), policy, geology, and modern attitudes of people living in affected areas. It’s hard to explain, but I felt like that experience really helped me get into the mindset of what a well-rounded geographer.

6. What have you found most useful about having a geography degree?

  • Both the GIS/Remote Sensing skills I learned, as well as the basic, but well-rounded understanding of the various geographic concepts that I’ve been able to build on.

7. 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?

  • For sure an understanding of GIS and all that it can do. So much of any geographic aspect of science these days exists as GIS work. Being able to use GIS (even in a very basic manner) can be the difference between getting and not getting a job.

8. What advice would you give a current or prospective geography student?

  • The most important advice I think anybody going through college (especially in geography) can get, is to think about all the ways you can apply your degree/knowledge in your future employment. No matter what specific field you’re interested in, almost everything ever has a geographic component that goes along with it. Just think about all that you’ll learn in getting your degree, and realize that you can apply and morph you knowledge around whatever job you may be getting. I think that’s a huge issue with people that say there’s nothing to do with geography (or whatever) after graduation, except teach. It may take a little bit of effort and searching around, but you’ll find something you can do in whatever field you want to work in.

Emily Fultz

SIUE Geography Alumni Profile Questions

2/12/16

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. 
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