From the Trenches: GIS – The Merging of Analytics and Artistry

 

Kevin L. Garcia GIS Technician

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is at its core a combination of analytics, artistry, and technicality. To be a GIS technician, one must be able to convey information in a visually-compelling format, as well as skilled in the realm of data management, which can be quite challenging at times. It’s a duality and balance of these attributes that combine for great map making, maps that are critical in the way we define and perceive the world around us. GIS certainly sounded cool, which was why I was “drawn” to the area of study in the first place as an undergrad at Texas State University (TSU).

While attending school, I obtained a B.S. degree in Environmental Studies with GIS certification. The college was and still is known for a very large Geography department, so it felt pretty good to be a part of the community. Many of my friends from the department were talking about GIS, so I figured I’d check it out and I’m glad I did! It turns out there are many more components to GIS than I realized. Among the many interesting aspects of GIS, the one clear take away is that GIS can be incorporated into basically anything. Whether you are focused on conservation, statistics, or even business analytics, GIS can turn even the most complex of data into an easy visual representation.

After taking the introductory course in GIS, I found myself becoming involved with the SOGIS student lead organization on campus, which connected me with lots of other students, faculty, and industry professionals that shared the same curiosity as me. The club would have weekly meetings, events, and even yearly group projects. “Big name” organizations like ESRI or even NASA would provide guest speakers, which I thought was super exciting. The goal of the group was to better the TSU community and campus through the use of spatial planning and the application of GIS-based functions. I worked with the Student Wellness Program, which involved creating maps of the campus to show the distances, steps, and number of stairs to several of the main buildings from the College of Health Professions. Not only did I help with basic map creation for the university, but the information collected also helped the College of Health Professions in gauging how far most students would walk in and around campus on a daily basis.

In my last GIS class, GIS Design and Implementation, I had the opportunity to work with a mountain-biking club, the Austin Ridge Riders Association, by assisting them in mapping both Reimers Ranch and Muleshoe Bend. My job was to create maps displaying park boundaries, bike trails, flood plains, bathrooms, and emergency exits throughout the park areas. All the trails were displayed based on the level of difficulty to aid park visitors as well as bike riders. I also was involved in a trail sustainability analysis to see which trails where susceptible to flooding and erosion by looking at floodplains and contour elevation data.  The whole project was an effort to promote safety within the park areas, and to help the Ridge Riders identify which trail areas were unsuited for development. More importantly, the class gave me vital experience in working with my first real client! I got hands-on experience working with project submittals, timeframes, and budget expectations.

I also had the opportunity to intern for the City of San Marcos Habitat Conservation Plan. Some of the work I did there involved invasive species removal, water quality monitoring, riparian fence repairs, and litter clean up events. I also helped with conservation efforts to protect threatened and endangered species found local to the San Marcos and Comal River Systems, sometimes even taking a dive in the water when needed to determine how to improve river bank stabilization or to monitor plant species, such as the famous Texas Wild Rice. I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting hands-on experience to finish off my final year at school! It was quite the experience working with scientists and naturalists to help preserve the ecosystems, and to inform river users on the importance of localized ecology within the San Marcos River.

I have been with Zephyr now for a little over six months, and I will say I love the work I’m doing. Being the youngest person in the company, there is something new to learn every day! It’s astounding to me the sheer potential GIS can bring to the consulting industry, and what it can bring to client satisfaction. Graphics play a big role in first impressions, so it’s my job to continually improve and adopt new applications to our GIS work, as the technology is continually evolving. What I love about GIS is that it’s the perfect interface for dealing with environmental observation. While the data itself is fundamentally concrete, using it with GIS is perfect for analyzing the ever-changing nature of the world around us.

Featured in the Zephyr Currents Fall 2017 Issue – PDF

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By |2017-11-15T20:29:32+00:00November 14th, 2017|Articles, Home Page|