“Where Are They Now?” Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Hughes

When Olivia Hughes graduated from Washington College and the GIS Program, she moved right into saving sea turtles in the Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She spent two years living in Hawaii, responding to sick, stranded, dead, or alive turtles, assessing their condition and then deciding what actions to take – i.e. whether or not to rehabilitate them – as a marine turtle biological stranding associate.


After spending two years there, Hughes moved back to the U.S. in September 2016 and started looking for GIS jobs.

“I instantly found so many opportunities,” she said.


After an interview process, Hughes was hired to work for the U.S. Army’s Sustainable Range Program Geospatial Support Center as a GIS Specialist.


“The only real similarity between my job with the Army and my job with NOAA is that I am working with the ESRI GIS software,” she explained. “My continued experience with GIS after WC kept me in the GIS field to make me applicable for more GIS focused jobs. Having the four years of experience with the WC GIS Program, plus the two years of experience with GIS at NOAA, really helped with my years of experience to make me applicable for some of those GIS jobs.”


Hughes is one of eight people in her current position and she manages GIS data pertaining to the sustainable range program for all U.S. army installations. Hughes said that this includes running quality control (QC) scripts on data, creating Military Installation Maps per NGA standards, and collecting GPS data of Army assets that fall under this program. Additionally, she has been teaching an introductory GIS class for non-GIS people as a part of her job.


“While at WC GIS [Program] I had a very solid foundation in GIS skills and I also had the opportunity to co-teach the GIS 101 class through Geoworkshops with Samantha [Bulkivish],” Hughes explained. This opportunity gave her the fundamentals that she is currently putting into practice.


I had never thought that I would end up on the path I am on now, and I definitely wouldn’t be on this path if I had not worked for the WC GIS Lab, that is for sure

Olivia Hughes


She said that working at the Program gave her many skills, ranging from troubleshooting database issues to teaching GIS effectively, which is very applicable to what she now does for the army.


Hughes began working with at the GIS Program in the fall of 2011. She had taken the initiative to contact the former GIS Program Coordinator, Stewart Bruce, for a job because she knew that gaining experience in GIS would be beneficial for someone pursuing an environmental biology degree.


She worked at the lab from the start of her freshman year through graduation and was able to involve herself in a variety of different projects. Some of the projects she was involved in were environmental, such as impervious surface mapping for Cambridge and the Choptank Project. For the latter project in particular, Hughes’s team created maps of land use and watershed for the Chesapeake Conservancy to give them a better idea of what was going on in the river.


Hughes also did GPS fieldwork, mapping some state park trails while working at the GIS Program. She picked up the skill of transitioning between raw data to “corrected and cleaned up GIS data,” and said that it was a very relevant skill because it taught her exactly what she does for her current job.


“I had never thought that I would end up on the path I am on now, and I definitely wouldn’t be on this path if I had not worked for the WC GIS Lab, that is for sure,” Hughes said. “It really just came together that I gained so much applicable work experience at the lab that the jobs I am most qualified for are GIS related jobs. I really like what I’m doing currently and I’m really looking forward to seeing where GIS takes me in the future.”


In the years since graduation, Hughes has had the chance to put her experience and education to use in two vastly different ways, showing the versatility of GIS technologies!