One of the most pressing questions for college students is: what are you going to do with your major?
This same question plagued Andrew Newell, class of 2010. “I was an Anthropology major and at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do with that degree. I loved the concept of becoming a professor and working on [archeology] digs, but I also wasn’t sure if going back to school for another three-plus years full-time,” he said.
In 2009, his junior year at Washington College, Newell was introduced to the GIS education when he helped do predictive modeling of where archaeological sites could be located for the Anthropology Field Schooled. He found the locations based on a pre-determined criteria including analysis “topology of the land, soil types, proximity to water, etc.”
“After that year I immediately signed up for all the classes I could, which were only two at the time,” he said.
Newell began working with the Washington College GIS Program his senior year and he became completely immersed in the world of GIS. After graduation he pursued his Master’s Degree in Professional Studies in GIS at University of Maryland and, as of October, has obtained a position as a GIS Manager for the city of Philadelphia.
“I oversee a team of three analysts and help plan and implement projects to help with the efficiency of the [GIS] department while collaborating with other departments to help solve as many problems as possible,” he said.
In December 2016, the Philadelphia Inquirer did a story on Newell and his team, focusing on how his work with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) helped identify a building that was a potential risk because its roof was on the brink of collapse.
“That is a more publicized aspect of one of the main projects we are currently working on, but we are also in charge of the updates to our layers — building violations, building permits, business licenses, etc. — that we support on OpenDataPhilly, helping our inspectors prioritize not just residential inspections but commercial inspections as well, [and] we are in charge of processing and incorporating LiDAR data the city owns into the building footprints layer we maintain,” he said.
Prior to this role, Newell worked for the city as the Lead GIS Analyst for the Streets Department. “I would handle all of the online web mapping and was the point of contact for our department at departmental wide meetings. My current position is obviously a step up as I now manage a team of analysts and provide guidance and leadership to help us fulfill our mission.”
While he was at WC, though, Newell was a part of the GIS Program when it was still growing. “At the time, the lab was on the second floor of Goldstein and by the time I graduated the lab had already begun expanding and taking over other rooms in Goldstein,” he said. “I would rank Stewart Bruce (former GIS Program Coordinator) right up there with my favorite professors from my time at WC, right next to Dr. Lampman and Dr. Siedel.”
The GIS Program now has about 60 interns and eight full-time staff and has expanded to fit two suites off-campus in the business park.
“The first projects I recall working on were the moodle GIS teaching program and also Google Sketchup for 3D modeling of campus,” he said. Newell even modeled a new dorm at the time, Hartford Hall.
After his graduation, Newell worked as a part-time intern for McCrone Engineering in Centreville, MD. “It helped me see the bigger picture of how GIS can be used in so many different fields. For someone who wasn’t sure what they wanted to do and what field to work in, learning GIS opened up a lot of different opportunities,” he said.
As part of his thesis for his Master’s program, Newell also kept ahold of his close ties with the GIS Program at WC. “I was able to collaborate with Stew and his contacts at the NGA and work on mapping the megacity of Lago’s Nigeria. I wanted to identify evacuation points in case of flooding, as well as the location of resources that could be utilized in case of natural disaster,” he said. “I was able to connect through social media to graduate students in Lagos and collaborate with them which was really cool.”
Newell only regrets one thing about his GIS education: “I wish I had been exposed early on in my WC career because once I got familiar and met people in the lab, I was incredibly jealous because they were doing a lot of cool work for the state of Maryland and, as a bonus, it was one of the higher paying jobs on campus.”
Although Newell didn’t join the Program until his junior year, he has certainly found a rewarding career, with a little help from the GIS.
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