I am the one and only GIS Analyst for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), helping outfield personnel, both agriculture and forestry.
"I think you are in the right spot if you want your future to involve tromping around in the woods and protecting natural resources for future generations"
As a kid...I was always fond of the outdoors, as some of my favorite childhood memories were driving up north to spend a day at a state park. Looking back, I think I was a pretty outdoorsy kind of kid.
In high school I worked on a horse farm, and it made me realize that whatever I studied in college, I wanted to be outside. I didn’t mind working hard in the elements and thought a physical, outdoor job would be a good route for me. I also took A.P. Biology, and although I struggled with the human biology portion, I really had a knack for the plant biology. It came easily to me and inspired me to search in the Natural Resources realm.
After looking through all the programs MSU offered, it was a toss-up between Animal Science, Fisheries and Wildlife, or the Forestry program. I considered Animal Science to become a veterinarian, however, I quickly noticed that the vet was usually called in whenever the grossest stuff went down. Blood and guts do not bother me, but I will say after seeing intestinal worms, Animal Science was out of the running (it ruins spaghetti for a time)! Fisheries and Wildlife was heavily debated too, but in the end, Forestry seemed like a more stable route with a good number of opportunities.
When I first started in the program, it was sort of a “test drive”. However, the more people I met, the more I liked it. I made great relationships with office staff, Tree Research Center (TRC) managers, and professors alike. I would say they were extremely vital in my choice of pursuing a career. They taught me good life lessons and how to move forward with my future. The camaraderie amongst students also helped tremendously.
I was also secretary, then president of the MSU Forestry Club. It was lots of hard work, but I found that as a group we became more like a second family than anything else. If you are a new or current Forestry student, I recommend going to club meetings. During my time, Forestry club was a spot where study groups were formed, where company representatives would talk about their upcoming jobs, and where you could decompress from the woes of exams and written papers.
Aside from clubs, I worked as a Student Assistant in the Forestry Department’s office as Juli Mack, my supervisor at that time, would put it, “Radar” from the old TV show M*A*S*H. There, I learned the ins and out of how the university runs. Plus, I saw what professors were like after class! Then, toward the end of my time at college, I worked on an MSU Forestry research project that looked at various treatments and how they affected Northern hardwood regeneration. I believe that project is still being worked on to this day.
I still consider myself a “newbie” in the professional world, but I have had a few positions. After graduating, I was a Student Assistant for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Traverse City for a summer. I conducted regeneration surveys and marked trees for timber sales up there. I then transitioned back to Lansing and started working as a GIS Analyst for the DNR where I helped with trail edits, compartment and parcel mapping, field troubleshooting, and much more. Now, I am the one and only GIS Analyst for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). I still work alongside my DNR colleagues and together we are trying to get MDARD up to speed with all the GIS technology available.
In short, I map stuff and answer questions. The more professional-sounding way to say this is that I am a GIS Analyst. There are many things I like about my job, including helping outfield personnel (both agriculture and forestry) as I have been in their “boots” for a time. I know what it feels like to get all the way out in the field and have your mapping application not work, so when they call about their troubles, I enjoy solving their issues and saving any more wasted time in the field. I also enjoy making “StoryMaps”. These are interactive, web-based stories that combine content, maps, images, and videos all together into one product. You could say it is the more “creative end” of GIS. So far, I have made two StoryMaps involving Michigan shipwrecks and craft beverage businesses, and I look forward to making more.
For those who are hesitant about an education and career in Forestry, take it from me that there are more opportunities than you may realize. I never thought I would be getting into GIS as my full-time occupation, but here I am! Be open to possibilities, but also be smart in your decision. There is likely a reason you are looking at it in the first place. Plus, I think you are in the right spot if you want your future to involve tromping around in the woods and protecting natural resources for future generations.