Welcome back to Part 3 of the journey that took me from a music education major at Millersville University to working as a GIS Analyst for Cumberland County (Pennsylvania). Part 2 of the story ended with me being one of four finalists for two open positions with an engineering firm in western Pennsylvania. I should probably remind you that I did not get the job.
This occurred near the end of the summer of 2008. By this point, I was getting tired of applying for jobs and either not hearing back, or not getting hired after an interview. The realization was setting in that I would not be getting a job working in the GIS industry (working with maps and databases). I could learn to live with that, but I needed a more fulfilling job than working at Fire Mountain or the local pizza shop.
Somehow during my search for gainful employment I learned about the AmeriCorps program. This is a federally funded program that provides low-cost workers to service-oriented organizations. The organizations have to pay a certain amount of money for a full-time or part-time AmeriCorps member. And the members receive a living stipend, as well as a set amount of money that can be used to pay back student loans or education-related expenses. Members can also have their student loans placed on deferment while they serve their term. The money for student loans and deferment were especially appealing to me. And the low living stipend wouldn’t be an issue as I was living at home.
There were two local positions that interested me. The first was with Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s (IUP) student affairs program. The second was with Indiana County’s Parks & Trails office. I had interviews for both positions the same week (and possibly the same day).
The opportunity with the Parks & Trails office sounded more exciting. The interview went well. I was told that the position was offered to someone else, but that they might be taking a full-time job instead. If so, the Americorps position would be mine.
It turned out that the person took the full-time job. Come September, I resumed my journey working in local government. Looking back, it was a good experience for that point in my life. I got experience working full-time in a low pressure environment. The Parks & Trails office had me do a little bit of everything. Taking reservation calls for our cabins and pavillions; helping the maintenance crews mow the grass; tracking visitors to our annual Festival of Lights Show; and even making a few maps here and there. Though this was mostly fun, there were times I would just sit in the office, bored and not sure what to work on next.
An important life lesson I learned while here was that it can take a long time for great ideas to turn into something material. Some Saturdays I would come to visit the park or get in a few extra hours of work. It was always nice to see people enjoying their time at the park. It helped connect the dots that the work I was doing was meaningful, and positively impacting peoples’ lives. I need to remember this more. Though updating address points and road centerlines isn’t the funnest work, it is helping make sure people can get emergency services to their house when they call 911. That is pretty important!
During this time, I also applied to IUP to attend graduate school. The fall of 2009 would see the start of two years studying geography and cartography. I would stay in the AmeriCorps program my first year as a part-time member. The summer after my first year, I worked for Indiana County Parks & Trails as a contract employee. And I even got a freelance gig with them during my second year of graduate school. There was something to be learned here as well. When you do great work for an organization, and you work well with other team members, opportunities can open up. This scenario would play out again in 2011 when a summer internship with Lancaster County Planning Commission was extended until the end of the year.
As I started graduate school, I was reminded that I didn’t take my time at Millersville as seriously as I could have. There were times I would skip class to play Mario Kart. But graduate school would be different. I don’t know if it was the experience of working full-time or being motivated to get a full-time job in GIS, but I approached my time at IUP like a serious job. I did most of the readings. I worked hard on my projects and papers. And I definitely did not skip class to play video games!
The short two years at IUP were fun. I met a lot of new people. The grad students would often hang out together. Great times were had in the grad student lounge, our local bar (Wednesdays after class splitting pizzas and pitchers of beer), or at the bowling alley (where we misunderstood the discounted bowling one time and almost got kicked out). One evening, we all went to a local resturant to watch two fellow students take on the sandwich challenge. Some of these people I still see once or twice a year at professional conferences. And I am always grateful to connect with them once again.
Some of my professional peers reading this article know about my passion for the intersection of software development and mapping technology. This seed was planted while taking a class on customizing ArcMap with Microsoft VBA. I don’t know how well I did in this class, but I definitely wanted to learn more about this coding stuff.
During my second year, I was pondering my life after IUP. Would I get a job near Pittsburgh, possibly in the oil and gas industry? Would I move back to Lancaster, that place I had always been drawn to? Or would I play a wildcard and move out of state?
I think I may have settled on trying to move back to Lancaster, even if I didn’t have an ideal job lined up. This may have been inspired by a conversation with a friend about picking a place to live, and trusting God with finding the right job in that location.
In March or April, I had a phone interview for an internship with Lancaster County’s Planning Commission. The internship would be driving around the county setting up traffic counters (those rubber strips on the road during summer time). And as it turned out, I would be moving back to my old apartment in Millersville. That’s where we will pick up in Part 4 of this series.