Tuesday, February 4, 2020

GIS GRAD SOARS AS RESEARCH ASSISTANT

Even though there’s no official GIS major at Washington College, working in the Program has its benefits “as fluency in GIS is rapidly becoming a necessity in wildlife research,” GIS alumni Jeffrey Sullivan said.

Sullivan began working in the lab his freshman year in 2011 after completing Project Coordinator Stewart Bruce’s Intro to GIS course at WC.

“At that time we were still in the old Goldstein office,” Sullivan recalled.

Sullivan worked in the lab all four years, tackling crime projects including welcome wagon and gang related violence, before he began transitioning for a short time to several research projects for Stew.

“Perhaps the most interesting work I did on that end was when we were mapping all of the center pivot irrigation in a few counties to do predictive mapping of copper theft,” he said.

Through his time at the lab, he eventually started to work on more environmental projects, including a project where “all religious structures were classified by parking lot size to determine impact of the ‘rain tax.’”

After taking the intermediate GIS course Sullivan began doing a lot of independent work for the lab, by making maps for reports on Andelot and Chino farms.

“It was a great experience for me to get experience working with the customer from the beginning through the end of a project and see how are products are utilized by landowners,” he said.

After graduating from WC and the lab, Sullivan is now a masters student research assistant at Auburn University. He works under Dr. Steve Ditchkoff on white-tailed deer research.

“I am examining the movement of female white-tailed deer relative to estrus and hunting pressure, focusing on the potential display of female mate choice and the way in which these keystone herbivores display fine scale spatial and temporal risk aversion,” he explained.

As a research assistant, he uses Arcmap to build and maintain shapefiles that represent a multitude of attributes for his field site.

“For instance, I have developed a polygon around each permanent deer stand on the study site that represents the area in which the deer is visible to a hunter,” he explained. Sullivan then uses the “R statistical software” and codes for every point if the animal is in, or isn’t in, one of the zones. This allows him to determine the “temporal patterns at which deer place themselves at risk.

“Even when I am not using GIS in my research, I have found that the spatial reasoning skills I developed in the lab are critical to how I approach movement and behavioral questions.”

Sullivan says the skills he gained at the lab were “crucial” and helped him stand out for his current position. “I believe access to high level GIS coursework and experiences truly provide WC students with a significant advantage in the environmental fields,” he said. “While the actual work I did at the lab is not really comparable to what I am doing now, learning how the software functions, and developing the problem solving skills I honed as a project leader have helped me immensely.”


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