October Alumni of the Month: Kristofer Lasko
Name: Kristofer Lasko
Year of graduation: 2012 (B.S.), 2014 (M.P.S. GIS)
Major: Geographical Sciences
Current employment status:
· Employer: University of Maryland, Department of Geographical Sciences
· Position: Graduate Research Assistant
Did you/do you currently go to graduate school? If so:
· School: University of Maryland
· Program: Geographical Sciences
· Degree: PhD (Current)
I am currently a 2nd-year PhD student in the Department of Geographical Sciences who is mentored by Dr. Chris Justice and Dr. Krishna Vadrevu. My current research focuses on crop residue characterization, burning, and associated emissions in the greater Hanoi area of Vietnam. The research combines field-based methods and remote sensing observations.
Why did you want to be a GEOG/GIS/ENSP major?
Many college majors have curriculums which follow a rigid course schedule, with very little choice. Geography was appealing to me because I had a lot of choice in a plethora of electives as well as choice with major-related courses. This individualistic approach was beneficial to me because I had an interest in both the social sciences (demography, urban studies) and physical sciences (ecology, biology). I was able to take classes outside of the department or within the department that focused on these subjects –an opportunity I wouldn’t have been afforded in another major.
Further solidifying my interest in selecting geography at UMD was the size of the department. When I entered the program, there were only around 100 undergraduate students. This facilitated individual interaction with faculty members and teaching assistants who are often too busy to regularly interact within individuals in larger departments. The individual interaction is critical for intellectual discourse, networking, future recommendation letters, etc.
What internships or independent research did you do as a GEOG/GIS/ENSP major?
I worked a myriad of unrelated jobs (park ranger, guitar teacher, receptionist, etc.) while I was an undergraduate student before taking an internship in geography my senior year, as well as completing an independent study course in the geography department. The independent study course focused on eminent domain in the U.S. after the Kelo case. I encourage students to take an independent study course so that they can produce writing examples to highlight for future employers.
The internship was in the geography department and was guided by Dr. Krishna Vadrevu. The work initially involved GIS and remote sensing data processing broadly related to land cover and land use change science. The first major project we conducted was entitled “Fire Regimes and Potential Bioenergy Loss from Agricultural Lands in the Indo-Gangetic Plains”. After graduation, the position later evolved into a full-time position and then a subsequent graduate research assistantship during grad school. During this time I also TAed for GEOG373 and instructed GEOG579A.
What recommendations would you make to current GEOG/GIS/ENSP majors for career and academic success while they are still undergraduates?
Cultivate a passion in a topic that piques your interest. If you are getting a slow start at this, try seeking out guidance from lecturers, professors, or TAs from classes that you really enjoy. Sometimes, they may have opportunities for you to do some internship work or could offer guidance for a course project. Once you have found a passion, then you should seek-out documentable experiences related to this passion such as completion of an honor’s thesis (an excellent choice if you are even remotely considering graduate school).
I would also recommend you to develop a skill set as early as possible. You should aim to take the technical courses (GIS, remote sensing, programming, statistics, etc.) as soon as possible instead of during your senior year. This will give you a better chance at obtaining an internship during your senior year because you will have skills that are often desired in geography-related internships. With a competitive job market, 1 or 2 internships are often required before you can secure a geography job.
What recommendations would you make to current GEOG/GIS/ENSP majors for career and academic success after graduation?
It can take many months to find gainful employment in geography. If you aren’t able to line anything up right after graduation, then I highly recommend you to gain breadth and depth in tangible and demonstrable skills (i.e. programming, because of the high demand and employability). Aside from internships/employment to boost your resume, you can use different GIS software, statistical software, etc. to build upon skills while working through problems in topics that interest you.
Echoing what some of the other alumni have said: Network! Getting a job in your desired field is largely about who you know and who knows you. GPA, field of study, coursework, and internships are important, but they will only take you so far. For the final step, you should find conferences, meet-ups, clubs, volunteer organizations, etc. which are related to your career interests. Not only will you learn a lot, make some connections, and have some excellent experiences, you may also find a job opportunity from one of these experiences.