Welcome to the final article in the series tracking my journey from entering college as a music education major to working with maps and technology. At the end, are links to the previous articles in this series.
The last article closed with me finishing up graduate school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). I received a Masters of Science in Geography. It was the middle of May 2011, and I would be moving back to my old apartment in Millersville. Ever since having to move back home in 2008, I had always wanted to get back to Lancaster. Now that time had finally come!
I would be completing an internship with the Lancaster County Planning Commission. Most of my time would be spent driving around the county and setting road traffic measuring devices (or traffic counters as we called them). If you’ve ever seen rubber tubes across the road, that is a traffic counter. If there is one tube, it records the number of vehicles and speed. Whenever there are two tubes, it’s also tracking the class of vehicle (car, semi-truck, etc). These statistics are sent to the Federal Highway Administration. They inform the money that flows from the federal government, to the states, and then to regional transportation planning agencies.
Even though I was making a low intern wage, I had a blast. I got to spend my days driving around my favorite county in Pennsylvania and discover new areas. When I wasn’t outside, I would be making maps. They liked my work so much that they kept delaying the end of my internship. But as December arrived, it would have to end due to me closing in on the maximum number of hours an employee could work before having to participate in the retirement system.
Although the internship was fun, I also wanted to get a full-time job. As the summer progressed, I applied to and interviewed for various positions. A community planner with Chester County, an emergency planner with York County, a transportation specialist with Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, a graphic designer with Dauphin County Parks, and a GIS Specialist with Lancaster County Conservancy. The job with the Conservancy was the most appealing to me.
But as occurred back in 2008, nothing panned out. During the fall, one of the planners with Lancaster County left. The position was in the Countywide Planning division. They worked on recreation, natural resources, cultural resources, tourism, and other countywide planning initiatives. The interview was at a local coffee shop. And I must say, this can be a great environment for holding interviews. Fortunately, I got the job! A couple weeks before Christmas, I would leave on a Friday as an intern, and start on Monday as a full-time Countywide Planner.
I am very grateful for the time I spent working with the Lancaster County Planning Commission. My role functioned as an in-house GIS specialist. I got to make some cool maps, perform interesting analyses, and work in a great city. My co-workers also appreciated the work I did.
Some of the projects included creating a series of maps for our water resources plan, performing analyses for a tourism-focused village, developing signage maps for a growing rail-trail, and designing a map atlas for the heritage byways program.
But as time progressed, I saw the limits of this position. I wanted to be a GIS professional, but I was learning that I would be stuck doing basic map projects in a Planning office. At the completion of a project looking at acres of parks and population for some centrally located municipalities, I proposed performing an analysis looking at the approximate population served within a quarter and a half mile of these parks. It would give us an idea of what populations were within walking distances to community parks.
I was more than capable to do the work, but the tools were managed by the county’s GIS office. After talking to the GIS manager about wanting to do this project, I learned that they would have to do the project. It was out of bounds for me. This was very frustrating, and honestly, pissed me off. After this event, I realized I needed to find a “real” GIS job to find the professional fulfillment I desired.
After looking for a little bit, I came across an entry-level position in Carlisle, working for Cumberland County. As I had previous experience working in county government, it seemed like a good fit. Looking back on the interview process, I definitely believe God was guiding our family into this opportunity. My phone number got mixed up, and I almost missed having the initial phone interview. Then during the day of the in-person interview, I arrived late, and had trouble finding the office. You may interpret these events differently, but attribute them to the hand of God.
My work with Cumberland County has been a blessing to our family. I’ve been able to grow tremendously as a professional, complete some great projects, and discover my joy in speaking at conferences. And it’s also been great outside of the work setting. We’ve met some really cool people, found exciting places to visit, and have gotten connected to a church we love.