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Geography & GIS Alumni: Career Spotlights

  • Anthony Lopez - GIS, Resource Management, & Government

    Anthony Lopez, Geospatial Data Scientist

    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    Geography captivated my scientific curiosities of the world. In what other field do you get to study biological processes, human interactions, physical nature, and more in one setting? It took only a couple of classes for me to make up my mind to major in Geography.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Geography teaches one to think spatially. Thinking spatially is not as straightforward as it may seem, yet it is so important not only in sciences but in day-to-day decisions and interactions.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    The GIS course’s paved the way to my current career. They taught me the tools necessary to be successful.

  • Cory Murray - GIS

    cory murray

    Cory Murray, Geospatial Technician

    Advanced Product Generation

    How did you decide to become geography major?

    After a failed first semester of freshman year, picking a major I thought I should do, I reevaluated myself, joined the Army, transferred colleges and switched my major I to something I wanted to do. I only took one geography course in high school, and I didn’t realize the impact that teacher and course would have on my professional career. Fortunately, I picked a job as a Geospatial Engineer in the Army and I was really able to come to UNC with a new perspective on the geography courses I took.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Although many people are unaware, geography is a major part in almost every aspect of life. Geography has allowed me to look at the world with a new set of eyes. I was fortunate enough to get deployed to Bahrain for a year and spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Being immersed in such a different place, I really got a feel for why geography is so important. I was able to see with my own eyes how cultural, physical, and political geographies work in a very misunderstood region of the world. Studying geography allows you to view the world without blinders on and that’s something not everyone is able do.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    My emphasis in my degree was in GIS, so the courses I got the most out of were the GIS and cartography related ones. These classes provided me with a solid foundation for my professional career. It was a very exciting thing being able to take statistics, numbers and stories and creating a story through a map for the person on the other end to visually understand in a way they normally would not be able to.

    What have I done professionally with a geography degree?


    In the Army my focus was on commercial satellite imagery and map generation. While deployed, our mission was to provide soldiers on the ground with quick and accurate maps of various points of interest. They varied from a basic black and white or color image of an area, to a map depicting change detection of an airfield several years apart. It may not have been your typical tough man army job, it served its purpose. Maps are extremely important, so being able to provide that service and help contribute to the success of the soldiers completing the mission was very satisfying.


    When I first started at DigitalGlobe I was creating digital elevation models around the world’s busiest airfields. Using stereo pairs of satellite imagery I was able to create very accurate three dimensional models of the ground and the vertical obstruction features that surrounded those airfields to help ensure the safety of the aircraft.

    My focus then shifted to creating controlled image base (CIB) imagery. This 1m and 5m resolution imagery was to be used by the military on the ground in various regions of the world. Being able to create clean and accurate products that are being used in real world situations is a great feeling.

  • Jason Smith - Government & Resource Management

    jason smith

    Jason Smith, Clear Creek Water Commissioner

    District 7, Division 1
    303-947-3523 or 970-352-8712

    Primary Job:

    To maximize the beneficial use of all waters within the State of Colorado according to the Decrees of the Court and the Prior Appropriation Doctrine

    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    I was thinking to myself, what in the world can you do with a geography degree? As I continued to read and briefly educated myself about Physical Geography, Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Biogeography, Cartography, and GIS. That was the turning point for me. I immediately scheduled an appointment with Dr. Schmidt, to learn more about the Geography department and class. The following semester I switched my major. And I am so thankful that I did.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Geography is something that affects you everyday, you just may not be able to classify it as geography unless you have taken a few courses. Not only were the geography courses so very important for my career but so was the study of GIS and cartography. Once you have learned to make your own maps and spatially analyze data that you have created, your world up light up...after all I had always had a passion for maps and now I can even make my own.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    World Geography was important from the start and I later became a teacher’s aid for it. Biogeography was great: I had always wondered how species had gotten from place to place, and this course was monumental for me having a better understanding of that. Cartography and GIS were valuable because I have always had a love for maps and spatial data, and now I have an great understanding of now it all comes together.

    In the Field Geography course, we took canoes down the Colorado River studying the growth and expansion of the invasive species and one of the tasks you had to do was to estimate the flows of the river. Now I am the Lead Water Commissioner on Clear Creek. And one aspect of my current career is to always know the flows of the river at any given time, and I know these flows because the Division of Water Resources maintains stream gages.

  • Will Kearns - Planning

    will kerns

    Will Kerns, AICP, Principal Consultant

    Open Plan Consultants, LLC

    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    I have always loved maps, I can spend hours just looking at the different places and elements shown on maps, and realized in High School that I liked Geography. During my freshman year I took World Geography with Dr. James Doerner who invited me to consider Geography as a major. This invitation and subsequent decision would shape the rest of my life in a very positive way. Now I make maps and plans for a living as a transportation planning consultant, I use my knowledge of geography every day and continue to educate myself on planning and geography.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Our planet and our built environment are shaped by spatial interaction. The understanding of how people interact with place is very important and valuable to us as a society. My studies in geography taught me the powerful skills of being able to think spatially and display data spatially. The ability to think about spatial relationships has put me into lead roles on many of my projects. For instance, I am currently the Planning Team Lead for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), Chair of the River North Art District's Neighborhood Design Team (RiND), and On-call Transportation Planner for the US-36 Corridor with 36 Commuting Solutions.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    Human Geography was especially important for me and it helped set the foundation for a career in transportation and land use planning. I loved World Geography so much that I decided on the major because of it. The Geography of the American West course that I took was especially valuable to me as I continually travel throughout the western US, and have projects in Colorado and California. I majored in Applied Geography and the required Cartography and GIS courses taught me critical skills that I continue to use each time I produce a map.

  • Joshua Schust - Planning & Transportation

    joshua schust

    Joshua Schust, Airport Planner - Denver

    Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.

    B.A., Geography emphasis GIS, 2008, University of Northern Colorado
    B.S., Aviation Management, 2011, Metropolitan State University of Denver


    After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in Geography-emphasis in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Joshua attended the Metropolitan State University of Denver and received a B.S. in Aviation Management. Currently, Joshua is an Airport Planner with a specialty in GIS.

    Before starting his career with Jacobs Engineering Group, he worked at the Nation’s Busiest General Aviation Airport known as Centennial Airport (KAPA) in Englewood Colorado. At KAPA, he gained experience in Airport Operations, Planning, and GIS. During his time at KAPA he created and developed a GIS Noise Database to help track and mitigate noise.

    This GIS Noise Database allows staff to map household complaints showing flight track density enabling Management to help mitigate noise. This database has a wide range of layers with detailed attributes within the database, which include: Land-Use, Noise Contours, Noise Zone Map, Noise Monitors, U.S. House/Senate information, Colorado House/Senate, County Commissioner Districts, City Council Districts, Subdivisions, Census Tract Blocks, Part-77 Imaginary Surfaces, World Topography, and Imagery. This database is used daily and is valuable to airport management, planning, administration, and operations. In 2015, Joshua presented the GIS Noise Database at the 18th Annual GIS American Association Airport Executives (AAAE) Conference in Savannah, Georgia.

    He has experience in Airport Master Plans, electronic Airport Layout Plans, Exhibit A Property Maps, Land use planning, Airport Geographic Information Systems (AGIS), Airport Land Acquisition and GIS Database Development. Joshua understands the process and has a background in AGIS, see example shown below. In 2015, he received his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) GIS Integrated Distance Learning Environment (IDLE) Certificate. AGIS helps the FAA collect airport and aeronautical data to meet the demands of the Next Generation National Airspace Systems. He has experience working on multi-discipline teams to meet FAA and ICAO standards and specifications.

    The GIS Program at UNC set Josh off in the right direction. Being able to put his passion for Aviation and GIS together allows him to be a successful Airport Planner. Each and every Professor at UNC played a critical role in Joshua’s career development and overall achievements. Day-in and Day-out Joshua uses his skills he learned at the Geography Program at UNC.

  • Sean Carlton - Resource Management

    sean carlton

    Sean Carlton, Cartographer

    National Park Service – Land Resources Division

    Job Description

    Maintenance of boundary and ownership GIS data for all units of the National Park Service (NPS). Creation of legislative maps and other cartographic products that support stewardship and define proposed changes to the NPS to be voted on by Congress or enacted by Presidential Proclamation. Provide national software support for both Autodesk and ArcGIS.

    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    I originally attended Front Range Community College. During my education at FRCC, one of my geography professors allowed us to use ArcGIS. I thought GIS and geography were fascinating subjects, which ultimately lead to majoring in Geography at UNC.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    I still remember to this day roaming the halls of UNC, and seeing stickers that said “Without Geography, You’re nowhere.” Those stickers really resonated with me, and I still can’t believe how geography and GIS are intertwined into our everyday lives. Whether it is looking at a map as you are roaming a National Park, or when I ask my phone to navigate to a specific restaurant, geography plays an integral role in the lives of everyone.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    Ultimately all of my geography classes at UNC were valuable and beneficial to me. In terms of my actual employment, Cartography, Advanced Cartography, and GIS were very valuable for understanding the cartographic principles, which I still apply in my job today. However, all of my other classes were beneficial and valuable because they completed parts of a whole when it comes to learning and understanding geography. The Gunnison River trip helped me better understand working with hydrographic data when I am mapping parks that have boundaries based on rivers. My physical geography class with the lab helped me better understand earth’s processes as well as reading and writing PLSS legal descriptions. Human geography was valuable in the fact that it helped me understand cultures and their interactions with their environments.

    Despite preparing me for a position in the federal workforce, geography in all forms is genuinely fascinating. The interconnectedness to all aspects of our lives will never cease to amaze me, and I continue to learn more each day.

    A typical segment map for a national park looks like the one below. This is one of 13 segment maps that I created for Grand Canyon National Park.

  • Nick Sines - Resource Management

    nick sines

    Nick Sines, PODS Coordinator

    Tallgrass Energy
    303-763-3466 or 303-550-0231

    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    Some of my earliest memories go back to my fascination with maps so it was only natural that I gravitated toward geography and GIS. I wandered between Political Science, Geology, History and Economics before I saw a listing in the catalog for “Intro to Geographic Information Systems.” I took the course with Dr. Diggs and I was immediately hooked. I always had broad interests and Geography at UNC was the perfect place to explore how all of my interests come together.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Geography is the study of the significance of place and most disciplines have an element of spatial significance. A formal education in Geography offers insight in to how complex systems interact and the principles that govern those interactions. My degree in Geography provided the framework for thinking about problems spatially in order to tell an accurate story about a problem or solution.

    GIS professionals and Geographers are important since much of the data we generate is spatial in nature. Spatial analysis allows for patterns that would otherwise be hidden to be visualized which makes GIS a very powerful decision making tool.

    Which courses were especially valuable to you?

    Physical Geography and Biogeography were two of my favorite classes. They showed me how closely all of the systems in the natural world are tied together and, as a result, they challenged me to understand that things are usually more complicated than they appear. What I learned in these courses gave me the basic understanding required to ask the right questions when talking to subject matter experts about the affects soil, terrain, climate and vegetation can have on pipelines.

    My studies in geography have allowed me to work in the aerospace and energy industries. My first job out of college was with GeoEye in Thornton, CO. I worked as a Geospatial Analyst producing high resolution imagery products for Google, the US Government and everyone in between. I was involved in projects ranging from mapping the 3D terrain of our national parks to building comprehensive 3D maps of some of the largest airports in the world.

    I am currently working for Tallgrass Energy, an oil and gas pipeline operator. I manage the pipeline mapping database that is used to support pipeline integrity, risk and GIS projects. The database allows me to track maintenance projects, potential threats to the pipeline and all pipeline specific data. I coordinate the collection of construction survey data and manage large datasets generated from inline inspection tools that measure corrosion and potential pipeline threats.

    Here is a screenshot of a facility model that was built from a combination of ground based lidar and CAD. This facility was modeled by CH2MHill and I tied each piece of equipment back to our PODS database using SQL and New Century Software’s Facility Manager. New Century is a local company based out of Ft. Collins. I am currently in the process of scoping a project to collect all above ground facilities using a combination terrestrial lidar and UAV or satellite sourced stereo imagery.

  • Kate Sheil - Education

    kate sheil

    Kate Sheil (Kent)


    How did you decide to become a geography major?

    I decided to become a geography major after switching my teaching focus from elementary education to secondary education with a social science focus. I was taking a human geography class with Dr. Schmidt and found it very enjoyable. I decided against the social science emphasis and went with the geography emphasis, knowing that I wanted to teach in a large school district and that large high schools would like to see specialization in our content areas. Geography also appealed to my love of Earth science, bridging my college major with some “hippy” tendencies I already had.

    What is important about the study of geography?

    Geography education is important because it is very 21st century skill oriented. Through questioning and critical thinking, geography students are creating solutions for current world issues and conflicts. Geography involves so much more than just place/location, but opens up students to a world perspective and forces them to think outside of their immediate lives, like investigating sustainable agriculture, predicting future conflicts and discussing the impacts of population policies. Through Geographic Information Systems (GIS), my students have been able to identify issues on small and large scales using the technology tools required by employers to predict outcomes in authentic, real world applications.

    My husband, Chris Sheil also a 2006 UNC geography major, works in sales of GIS and remote sensing materials for Harris Corporation.

  • Ben Rude - Education

    ben rude

    Ben Rude

    I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with my Geography degree and teaching license in December, 2011. After a semester of substitute teaching and coaching track in the Thompson School District, I accepted my first full-time position at Liberty High School in Colorado Springs. I am entering my second year at LHS and will be teaching World Regional Geography, World History and Geography, and Honors Civics. I feel like the Geography Department at UNC did an exceptional job in preparing me to instruct these courses. When I’m not busy teaching, I coach football at Liberty and am working towards a master’s degree in Educational Psychology, also through UNC. My interests outside of school include backpacking, hiking, and running.

  • Matt Peldzus - Resource Management

    matt peldzus

    Matt Peldzus

    My name is Matt Peldzus and I graduated from UNC with a Geography and G.I.S. degree in 2012. I work for a company called AlsoEnergy out of Boulder. We customize and manufacture ways to measure solar energy using cloud technology. It's a fairly small company but almost doubling in size and profit each year. In 2009, AlsoEnergy introduced PowerTrack™, a cloud-based software platform for monitoring renewable energy system performance. Our company monitors 1,500 solar power project sites in the United States, Canada, Korea, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Slovakia, France, UAE, Australia, Spain and Greece. This is a photo from 2009 when I joined Dr. Barton’s field course to Peru.

Are you an alumnus/a?

Tell us your story!

  • What have you done with your degree from UNC?
  • What was the highlight of your time in the Geography & GIS program?
  • Who was your most influential professor – or most influential class – and why?
  • What advice do you have for students just beginning their college career?