GIS Interns Go Global During Winter Break

As the spring semester kicks, the students are settling back in to their roles at the GIS Program in Chestertown, Md. While some students worked winter jobs or used the time to relax before the start of the semester, a few of our students had the chance to travel – go abroad, meet with billionaires, or work on something they’re passionate about.


Julianne Golinski, senior and student GIS project manager, visited Nicaragua for two weeks during her break after learning about the opportunity through her professors.

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Photo courtesy of Golinski

Golinski stayed at the Makengue Reserve, which is in what Golinski describes as a “secluded section of rainforest near the Rio San Juan River [that] borders Costa Rica.” The reserve invites students from Washington College and the American University to stay and complete research projects during their trip.


This is the program’s second trip and is led by professors Dr. Jennie Carr and Dr. Robin Van Meter


“Our group focuses on ecological projects and different students come back each year.  So we would stay on the reserve for most of the trip and then every couple days we would go to places like Sabalos or El Castillo,” she said.


Golinski worked on a research project with another student, Nancy Louck, about the relationship between seedling growth and fungal presence in the rain forest.


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Photo courtesy of Golinski

“In the rainforest you find a lot of mycorrhizae, which are underground filaments of fungus that attach to plant roots and help them take up nutrients,” she said. “So we looked at roots under the microscope to look for fungus and also measured changes in seedling height in the forest.”


Through their research, they found that excessive soil moisture/puddling may hinder the performance of the fungus, causing the plant to grow less. Golinski is a biology major who has an interest in plant biology, so this project was “right up her alley.”


While on the trip, Golinski wasn’t exactly using her GIS skills she learned from the lab, but she did say that, “We could have used GPS for our project because we had eight different sites in the rainforest.  If we had more time, we could have also used some aerial imagery and mapped out the plots using the GPS points, especially because some were in tree fall gaps — so visible through the canopy.  I would have loved to incorporate some of my GIS knowledge.”


“Definitely an unforgettable experience,” she concluded.


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Photo courtesy of Golinski

Sophomore and Student GIS Technician Amy Rudolph may not have travelled exotically, but she did get to spend a few days in Omaha, Neb. on a trip that concluded with meeting Warren Buffett.


“I first learned about Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway in my high school economics class and I was fascinated by him from the get-go. I was always amazed by how ‘normal’ of a person he seemed to be while still being able to create an empire and be the third richest person in the world. Going on the trip and seeing Omaha and his humble beginnings that he still has such strong ties to really reinforced that,” she said.



Photo courtesy of Rudolph

Rudolph submitted an application and went through an interview process to be selected for the opportunity. She and a handful of other WC students were able to partake in the opportunity with the College President Sheila Bair and Associate Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Professor Brian Scott.


The students were able to ask Buffett some questions and Rudolph found a lot of benefit from just listening. “Just hearing him speak was awe inspiring,” she said. “When looking at the business world as an outsider it seems incredibly elevated and hard to comprehend but Mr. Buffett has a way of bringing everything to a personal level as he explains everything in laymen’s terms. Many people asked him questions that the average consumer may not understand and he always brought them down to a level that simplified them and made the concepts easy to grasp.”


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Photo courtesy of Rudolph

Rudolph is an economics major and she said that being able to hear from someone such as Buffett gave her a chance to hear from someone “whose decisions can make the stock market and economy as a whole shift.” She said, “It was interesting to see that he understands the power and responsibility that he has though he stated he does not care about the macro effects of his choices.”


In addition to meeting Buffett, Rudolph and the WC group had the chance to tour Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheim’s Jewelry Store, and Oriental Trading Inc.


“Nebraska Furniture Mart was interesting given that their history is so rooted in their business model today, in which they try to give their customer the best deal that they can while working within their margins…In their electronics annex they have a program, which geocaches each product and provides their customers with turn by turn GPS directions to each individual product on their floor. So I got to learn more about GIS’s capabilities on the trip as well,” she said.


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Photo courtesy of Rudolph

For Rudolph, the biggest takeaway from her trip was to, simply, to listen. “If they are interested enough in what you are asking and are wowed by your listening skills, they will ask you about yourself. Mr. Buffett told us to notice what qualities we like in the people around us and what ones that we don’t and make sure that we emulate the positive qualities and become more self-aware of our downfalls and that is a lesson that transcends the business and ‘real worlds,” she said.


In addition to Golinski and Rudolph, senior Erika Koontz, student project manager, got to participate in something she has been passionate about throughout her years at WC: working with Habitat for Humanity. Koontz is currently the president of WC’s chapter of Habitat and this winter trip marks her ninth journey with the chapter, with more planned before graduation.



Photo courtesy of Koontz

“I joined Habitat because I have had a passion for service for as long as I can remember,” Koontz said. “As a result of my membership in the organization, my leadership and teamwork abilities have improved greatly. These two skills have been essential to my academic success and in my job here at [the] GIS [Program]. My time in Habitat has helped me develop into a confident and friendly leader, taught me how to delegate and mentor effectively, and demonstrated that a little perseverance goes a long way when completing a task.”


A total of 11 WC students went for the three day trip in the middle of January. The group traveled to Pittsgrove Township, NJ and partnered with the Salem County Habitat for Humanity affiliate, working on the affiliate’s 39th and 40th houses.



Photo courtesy of Koontz

Back at WC, the spring semester has started up and our interns are back at work, balancing academics with their professional work. Welcome back!