Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Am I Doing?

Recently, I have been running into old classmates from my early years of college and from high school, and of course, they ask me what I am up to.  Well, that's easy -- I'm a GIS Intern for Forsyth County-- and then I have to explain what I do exactly. 

First let's back up.  When I attend parties/gatherings and talk to new people, they ask me what I study.  Well, I studied Applied Environmental Spatial Analysis.  When I tell them this, no matter how much they had or didn't have to drink, I get this dumbfounded look on their face.  I would say this is normal since there was only one encounter where I met someone else who also studied GIS at UGA-- we ended up talking for almost an hour about both of the programs and what we liked and didn't like--- it was great!  Once I get that look, I proceed to tell them that I study GIS.  If the look is still there, I tell them that I make maps and analyze them, but in all honesty, I do way more than that!

So what did I study in university?  I studied a combination of the following: Python programming and web development, GeoSpatial Techonology (GIS, remote sensing, digital image processing, and GPS use), Geography, and Environmental Studies.  You can also throw in some Physics and upper level maths for giggles.  Anyways, I'm probably still getting weird looks, so let me break it down for you.

  1. Python Programming- So this is an easy computer language that anyone can learn how to do.  I actually started learning it before I was in the IESA (Institute of Environmental Spatial Analysis).  For my degree, you learn how to use the computer language to automate tasks in the GIS software we use (ArcMap).  Later on in the program, you learn how to use Python to display your map with data on a website.  This is a super handy skill for the work force.  Not only is it nice to have some computer skills under your belt, but computer programming also teaches you to think critically and enhance your problem solving skills. 
  2. GeoSpatial Technologies - This is the foundation of the program at UNG.  GeoSpatial Technologies include the following: GIS, Remote Sensing, and GPS
    1. GIS- GeoSpatial Information Systems.  This is where you have a system that can create, store, manage, manipulate, analyze, and then display your spatial data. This is done with software on the computer -- we normally use ArcMap, but there are several other opensource software available (QGIS, GRASS, etc).  So this is where you "make maps and analyze them."  You can map anything and everything if you have the data.  You can use census data to find all the low income areas in a certain area of interest or you can map out all of the watersheds or parks or greenspace or farms....the list goes on!
    2. Remote Sensing- This is where you examine orthoimagery (high resolution aerial photos).  The big idea here is that you can answer your questions without having to go to the actual location!  For example: I can find out width of the base of the Pyramids of Giza by looking for familiar objects in the aerial photo.  In this photo, you can see in the bottom right hand side there is a soccer/football field.  The normal length of a field is 100-110m.  I can then create a scale factor to figure out the length of the pyramids.  However, we also use remote sensing for land cover classification.  You can run classification tools to find out the percentage of land cover of a certain area.  Ex:  An area of interest might be 30% trees, 40% water, 10% urban/rocks/soils, and 20% pasture/grassy areas.  You can also see how much an area of interest has developed over time!
    3. GPS- We use GPS to collect our data.  You can collect anything with GPS-- trails, lamp posts, benches, small ponds, etc.  You then can import your data and make a map in your GIS to show people what is at your area of interest. 
  3. Geography and Environmental Studies-  Though this wasn't my area of concentration, I did learn how humans treat the environment and how we should become more sustainable.  

Now that you have some background, now I'll tell you what I do as a GIS Intern at Forsyth County schools.  I work in the Facilities department where they design, plan, build, and maintain the schools.  As a GIS Intern, we take the floorplans of the schools and trace them in our GIS software.  We are digitizing all of the walls, doors, and windows.  We make the doors one color, walls a different and so on....  Once we do that, we can then trace the the big school polygon and make polygons within the 1 school, this way each room is its own polygon.  After that, we can give attributes to the room such as room classification, room number, sq. foot, etc.  Once we finish a school, it is ideal to go to the school to make sure it is correct.  Some room number might be wrong, they might turn a storage area into an Assistant Principal's office, or sometimes the school's PTO will hire outside work to build up or take down walls.  So why are we doing this?  
  1.  For the Maintenance personal.  Most of them have ipads/tablets with their duties on them.  The BOE wants to eventually have all of the floor plans with its attributes on the tablets for them so they don't have to take plans out of the plan room.  It cuts down on paper when everything is available in digital form. 
  2. For the County.  If there were a fire, terrorist attack, or anything of sorts, the county can quickly pull up the school plan to find all of the exits, or tell the school to block certain hallways, etc.  
In addition, we also do outside collection.  We have been collecting and attributing features such as storm water, waster water, water, gas, electric, and even fence posts.  But why?  Just in case something were to happen, like a water pipe burst, or if they wanted to build an addition, they know where all of the lines are located.  Normally if they want to locate a line like power, they have to take time to use the locator to find the line.  They spray paint it, but it can go away.  If we locate it and get coordinates for it, they will know in the future where it is so they won't have to spend time or they won't accidentally hit it.  

Do I like it there? Of course!  It's a paid internship-- not much, but more than what I was making as a cashier at Publix.  It's 20 hours a week, and our supervisor is super flexible. I like it because it's in my field, and I get to do both outside data collection, and inside data creation.  The environment is great.  My co-worker is great.  And we are working through the summer with is also awesome.  

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this field.  Everything about it is great.  I love that this field will help people out for the better. 


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