Wendy Hodges '98 Natural Science (Geology) Major

Wendy Hodges '98 Natural Science (Geology) Major

"Many small journeys and connections led me to where I am now."

Geographic Information Systems Specialist

Wendy Hodges '98 Natural Science (Geology) Major

Life as a GIS Specialist
Career path

CES: What are your duties and responsibilities as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist?

WH: I work directly with project managers, consultants and clients to deliver quality map-based products for a variety of natural resource and environmental management projects. I frequently take data that has been collected in the field and integrate it with imagery and/or project footprints to analyze potential impacts and develop mitigation measures.

CES: How did you break into your career in science and what has been your career path?

WH: Approximately one year after I graduated I saw an announcement for a position with the U. S. Geological Survey in Denver through the Environmental Careers Organization, a non-profit organization that provides internship opportunities in the sciences for recent college graduates.

I was hired to do mineral separations and analysis for a senior isotope geologist who specializes is Zircon age dating.  It was a great experience, mostly because I decided lab life wasn't the thing for me.

From there I moved on to a brief stint as an environmental educator for an environmental studies center in Aspen, Colorado. I very much enjoyed doing interpretive programs there.

From Aspen I joined Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC), a Denver based non-profit organization that facilitates volunteer environmental stewardship projects and opportunities in Colorado. When I started I had two roles, Administrative Assistant and VOC Network Coordinator. The Network was a system VOC managed through which volunteers could be matched with volunteer opportunities offered by other organizations seeking volunteers for stewardship-related activities. Over my 4 years there the Network evolved into a robust web based tool that is now called Volunteer Outdoors.net.

Admittedly, my starting position wasn't my ideal job, but I had some familiarity with the organization and I knew they had a history of promoting from within so I went for it. At the very least I figured I could make some excellent connections with those involved with the organization.

At the same time that I started working at VOC I also started pursuing my eventual Master's Degree. While job hunting I'd seen many listings for GIS experience, so I figured I should get some. The University of Denver (DU)has an excellent certificate program for GIS and right at the time I started taking classes they had just approved GIS as a concentration for their Environmental Policy and Management Master's degree program. Figuring a Masters couldn't hurt, I entered the program.

As I was nearing the end of my degree I left VOC with the intention of finding work in the GIS field. I started out doing some pro-bono work for a non-profit called Forest Guardians (FG). My work with FG quickly translated into additional work with the Denver Zoo as I went there to use GIS software. The senior conservation biologist was the husband of the woman I was working for under FG.

While doing some part-time work at the Zoo I got connected with another DU alumna (Garth Smith) via one of my instructors, Steve Hick. Garth and Steve play softball together and Steve mentioned I was available for work. Garth works for ERO Resources and they were looking for someone to contribute about 20 hours a work to supplement their full time GIS staff. I worked part-time for ERO until I finished my Master's degree and then I took some time off to travel. When I returned ERO was still able to use me and in August of 2007 they offered me the full-time position I now have.

I know this narrative is a little long, but it's important to know that many small journeys and connections led me to where I am now.            

CES: How did your experiences at the University of Puget Sound prepare you for your career?

WH: For starters, UPS was a good fit for me. My closests friends to this day are a core group I met during the first year the Schiff Outdoor Ed Hall started. Being in Schiff reminded me that I was fascinated by natural processes, and with a little guidance from a former Physics professor, I started on the path of a Natural Science degree with a geology emphasis. If I hadn't chosen that major I never would have ended up on the path I did, so I'm very grateful to have found it.

CES: What advice do you have for students considering a career in this area?

WH: GIS can be applied to a multitude of areas. If you think you're interested in it, take an introductory course and if you get hooked, explore the arenas in which you might want to use it and find a good certificate or degree program that matches what you're interested in. Make sure you get some real-life experience working in the field while in school to keep all the good information from falling out of your head. I took the full 5 years to finish my degree and didn't really get the chance to use my skills until the end because I was enjoying my current job, but it would have helped me to even do a small, part-time internship of some kind.