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Montgomery College Student Success Stories

Mapping a Path to Success: MC Students, Alums Find Their Place In Applied Geography Program
Montgomery College Today, Spring '04

Craig Winn and Siddharth MathurSiddharth Mathur is a map guy. Ever since he was little, Mathur loved studying maps: street maps, historical maps, aeronautical charts, any type of map. His fascination with maps led him to the applied geography program at Montgomery College, and ultimately to an associate’s degree in applied geography and geographic information systems (GIS).

His parents and family were puzzled. They could understand his desire to be an aeronautical engineer...or a doctor. But a cartographer? Yes, cartographer. According to Mathur, who lives in Gaithersburg, “People who have a natural curiosity about maps...people who are curious about spatial relationships” should consider careers related to geography and cartography.

Flexible Career
“Geographers are plugged into so many areas: emergency management, health care, environmental analysis, land use management, even optimizing pizza delivery using GIS applications and tools,” said Mathur. “It’s one of the most flexible degrees out there.

You can make a specialized career in so many areas,” he said. Professor Tanya Allison, coordinator of the applied geography program, keeps her finger firmly on the pulse of the industry. As a result of her extensive contacts, MC students have the opportunity to intern at federal, state, and local governments, as well as private firms. Allison says that when organizations need an intern, MC is often the first place they call. “One of the most difficult tasks we have is trying to fill everyone’s request.” Interns gain experience—and often full-time employment—through such places as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the City of Rockville, the National Park Service’s Cartographic Division, Montgomery County, and the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division, to name a few. Marthur says the solid foundation he received at MC enabled him to transfer to the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), where he received a bachelor’s degree in geography while working at Earthdata International. Today, Marthur is a senior consultant serving as an emergency management planner/GIS analyst with Booz Allen Hamilton, a U.S.-based international management and technology consulting firm in McLean. He supports the U.S. Department of Labor’s Emergency Management Center with strategic and tactical elements of emergency response/recovery operations using his geospatial analysis background.

Unique Program
MC is the only community college in the state of Maryland to offer an associate of applied science in applied geography. It is designed for students who want to pursue a career in geography, cartography, geographic education, or GIS. Course work includes a variety of applications and hands-on assignments such as fieldwork, geographic thought and methodologies, computer cartography and graphic design, and ultimately, mapping projects. Two certificate programs are offered: one in cartography and GIS, the other in geographic education.

Exciting Career Options
Professor Allison sees a lot of trends that make the program unique— approximately 50 percent of applied geography majors already have undergraduate degrees, including master’s and an occasional Ph.D. Alumnus Craig Winn of Frederick, now a geography major at UMCP, stumbled onto the applied geography program at MC. “It was a fluke,” said Winn, a former Navy corpsman who enrolled in a psychology class at the College. “I thumbed through the catalog and found it. “I met with Professor Allison and asked if someone could make a living doing geography,” he said. The rest is history. Allison encouraged Winn to accept a contract position at NOAA. He started out in the Nautical Data Branch of the Marine Chart Division, but moved up the ranks into a permanent job, where he now compiles and reviews NOAA Electronic Nautical Charts. “Most students realize they have an interest in mapping, but they don’t know there is a career in it,” said Allison. GIS has opened up the field to a new way of mapping and problem solving. It has expanded the field of geography in a major way. Frankly, there is no end to the paths of employment in the GIS world. It is the heartbeat of our program.”

The applied geography program is so successful, in fact, that many community colleges throughout the U.S. are modeling their programs after MC’s. According to Allison, “you can get the A.A.S. and go to work immediately. If you are trained in GIS, you can do very well.”