Congratulations to our February Alumni of the Month, Christine Dong! Christine graduated in May 2017 from our Master of Professional Studies GIS program. Currently, she works at Oak Ridge Institude for Science and Education as a Visiting Science Fellow (FBI Labratory).

What is a recent project that you have worked on that you have drawn on skills from the MPS program?

My primary focus in my position is how to best use GIS data to determine the provenance (or origin) of a soil sample, a problem that I first started working on during my MPSGIS Capstone.  I’m currently making raster maps of relevant soil and landscape properties using the USDA’s gSSURGO (Soil Survey) data and other sources.  These rasters will be able to be used in models or queried individually to find areas with properties that best match a given sample.  Before the classes in the MPSGIS program, I only had a small fraction of the skills necessary to program a complex GIS model or to work with a data set as large and intricate as gSSURGO!

How have the skills you have learned in the MPS program helped you progress in your career?

I knew from my limited experience during my undergraduate education that I wanted to work with GIS professionally, but I didn’t have the necessary skill set coming out of undergrad.  The skills that I learned in the MPS program were essential to me being able to find employment in GIS because it gave me the capability to solve problems using GIS as opposed to only being able to follow tutorials or procedures given to me by others.

What drew you to the MPS GIS program at Maryland?

Prior to beginning the MPSGIS program, my knowledge in GIS was basic and somewhat scattered.  When I was looking for a Masters in GIS program, I knew that I wanted one that would help me round out my skills and give me a solid foundation in all that GIS and remote sensing.  I really liked that Maryland’s program not only did just that, but it also tied GIS into how it would be used in a professional setting with instruction about real-world applications and with classes such as GIS Project Management.  This was especially helpful since I came straight from undergrad.

What advice can you give current and prospective students about the MPS program? ​

I would advise current students to take advantage of the resources offered by the instructors!  The more you put into this program, the more you will get out of it, so make use of your instructors by asking questions, getting advice and feedback, and engaging with other students and the instructor inside and outside of class.  This will allow you to learn more about both established and cutting-edge GIS and make helpful connections!  This includes going to class in person if it’s possible for you, and bringing a laptop to class so that you can engage in the chat.  I would advise prospective students to think about the ways in which they can use GIS in their current and/or desired work.  In most of the MPS classes, you can customize your final project by choosing a research problem to fit your interests, allowing you to not only learn GIS skills but how to apply those to real and relevant research problems.

What recommendations would you make to current students for career and academic success after graduation?

My biggest recommendation would be that once you’re ready to start searching for positions (assuming that you are looking for one), read the announcements in the Geography department email lists!  I heard about my current position because my now-supervisor submitted a request for applications from people with my skill-set to the mailing list.  It really does work!

What are some of your hobbies/interests?

Right around the time that I started the MPSGIS program, I started training in Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  I’ve been doing that for about two and a half years ago, and I’m enjoying it immensely!  I also help to manage an online gaming community.  In my spare time, I explore the D.C. area and spoil my two special needs cats!

Anything else you'd like to add?

I would definitely recommend the MPSGIS program to anyone who wants to build a solid foundation in GIS!  Thank you so much to all the awesome instructors and staff of the MPSGIS program for making it such a valuable experience!  To those who are in the program now, keep on trucking, and to those who have graduated, good luck and much success!

Christine Dong