Welcome back to the story of how I went from a music education major in college to working with maps and technology. The previous article in this series left off with me deciding I did not want to teach in secondary education the semester before I was supposed to complete student teaching.

As I wrote previously, many friends told me to just stick it out and get through student teaching. But I knew I would not be able to make it through the semester. My major was a Bachelor of Science in Earth Science Education. The most logical major to switch to would have been a Bachelor of Science in Geology. But there were still quite a few courses I needed to take. And many of these were only offered once every two years. I didn’t want to be in college for 7 years just to get a Bachelor’s degree.

Another option for switching majors was to the Bachelor of Arts in Earth Sciences. I would still be able to graduate in December if I went this route. However, I was warned by professors and students that this wasn’t the most marketable degree. I did consider that, but honestly, I just wanted to finish college and move on to the next stage of life.

During my final semester of college, I took a few science courses, statistics, and an introductory course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). For those that don’t know, GIS is basically making maps and running geographic analysis on computers. I never planned on taking this course until an interview for a summer internship with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (they manage state parks, state forests, and have geologists on staff). During the interview, they made it clear that they wanted to hire somebody who had experience with GIS. That was all the motivation I needed to sign up for the class.

I fell in love with this class. The concepts came easier than my geology, chemistry, or physics courses. I enjoyed the assignments. I ended up helping most of the other students. I looked forward to my Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I would take a nap on my couch, and then head off to GIS class.

Even though I would be graduating soon, I wanted to explore the world of GIS further. To that end, I set up a post-college internship with Lancaster County (Pennsylvania). This would actually be the first of two post-college internships with Lancaster County.

During the final weeks of my last semester of college, I had an interview for a full-time job. The job would entail travelling to various client sites and performing various environmental tests, and then completing reports based upon those tests. I don’t remember being overly excited about the job, but I think it was mostly because the employees working in the basement (where I would be working) seemed a little on the down side. (Oh, and it was much colder down there than on the main level where all the higher ups worked.) Anyway, I didn’t hear back either before graduation.

Graduation came and went, and it was now time to start my internship with Lancaster County. I would be working two part-time jobs. Three days a week I would be learning about this GIS thing. And the other days would be spent grinding away at Millersville’s dining halls washing dishes (which I actually had grown to enjoy).

I quickly learned I didn’t know much about GIS or maps. The first couple maps I made sucked. I’m also pretty sure I completely missed the point on a project related to updating building footprints from recent aerial photography. But Lancaster County was kind. They kept throwing projects my way. And during this time, I started to develop a professional passion.

Now to throw a curveball into the story, a couple months into the internship, the company I interviewed with offered me a full-time job. A difficult decision was upon me. And perhaps to many of you, this was a simple decision. I imagine most people would say that fresh out of college, you always take the full-time job with benefits over working part-time jobs.

But I knew there was something about this GIS thing. I was more excited about working my low paying internship than driving around the Mid-Atlantic collecting soil samples. I knew the answer. I declined the full-time job to continue in my internship. And I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions of my life. Though things got tough for a little bit, the internship put me on the path that led me to where I’m at now. And I don’t know if that would have happened if I would have taken that full-time job.

The internship with Lancaster County ended in April. After spending some time looking for any kind of job, I moved back home to western Pennsylvania in June of 2008. I spent most of the summer unemployed, applying for any GIS job on the east coast. I had some phone and in-person interviews here and there. But there were also some interviews I forgot about (seriously, how do you do this?). I definitely had some immaturity issues going on, and perhaps that’s why I would forget about the interviews.

As summer progressed, my hopes of getting a GIS job were starting to fade. I worked at some restaurants just to make a little money. And near the end of the summer, I would get as close as I was going to get to a full-time GIS job. I had an interview with a local engineering company. Out of a pool of seventy-seven candidates, I was one of four finalists for two positions. I was heartbroken. I wasn’t sure what to do next. But it was clear a guy with an Earth Sciences degree wasn’t going to get a job in the GIS industry. And I was starting to question my decision not to take that full-time job collecting soil samples.

But soon, an unlikely opportunity with an unlikely probability opened up. Some would call it luck; others that karma was in play. But for me, it was a sign of God’s providence. And that’s where we’ll pick up in Part 3 of this series.

Articles In Series

Part 1