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Day in the Life: GIS Specialist
Day in the Life: GIS Specialist
Our employees use GIS to collect, analyze, and visualize geographic data that can help protect people and the environment from harm.
What is GIS?
A geographic information system (GIS) is a system that creates, manages, analyzes, and maps all types of data. GIS connects data to a map, integrating location data (where things are) with all types of descriptive information (what things are like there).
How does EGLE apply GIS?
Some examples include:
- Calculating, analyzing, and visually demonstrating methane emission reductions and increases (Air Quality Division)
- Aiding in site assessments by identifying sites of concern for potential listing on the Superfund National Priority List of sites (Remediation and Redevelopment Division)
- Oil and gas well and facility inspections and permitting (Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division)
- Identifying geologic features that may not be obvious from an aerial photo alone and identifying where groundwater may be vulnerable (Materials Management Division)
- Calculating and visualizing coastal erosion rates along Michigan’s Great Lakes coast (Water Resources Division)
- Find properties that are within certain areas of environmental concerns to send communications to (MPART)
Meet Kevin McKnight, GIS & Information Technology Manager
I am the GIS and Information Technology Manager. I work out of Constitution Hall and am currently working from home I started out at Michigan State University pursuing an engineering degree. During my first year I had a class that sparked my interest in Geography. Specifically, the geographic and anthropologic study of people from around the world.
During talks with the professor, he explained a new technology called Geographic Information Systems that would be useful for lots of analysis and studies. I changed my major and completed a B.S. in Geography and a Specialization in Spatial Information Processing. At this time MSU didn't have a GIS degree. After completing my B.S. I continued at MSU for my Master of Arts in Geography. My studies were focused on using GIS to identify spatial patterns related to the spread of diseases.
I have the privilege to lead a team of GIS and IT Services Professionals. Most of my days are spent in meetings related to their work. We discuss new and ongoing projects they are working on with EGLE staff across the department. I also act as the Enterprise Geodatabase Administrator. This includes the management of spatial datasets and creating policies that ensure the accuracy and security of the departments data.
The work that we do through the GIS section at EGLE works to get as much GIS Data out to the public as possible. Over the last few years we have made over 100 items available through our Open Data Platform. We also create Web Maps, Applications, and Dashboards to provide the public tools to visualize all the different data and programs that EGLE works on. GIS is still a young and growing field of study. EGLE has many different positions that utilize GIS skills to enhance the analytical and visualization toolbox across all divisions.
The centralized GIS team that administrates and supports users at EGLE is only two years old and will continue to grow over the coming years. Throughout my career I have only seen the need and desire to embrace this technology grow. So, depending on if you are looking for a science-focused position that utilizes GIS or if you are looking to be a GIS expert developing applications and managing data, you can't really go wrong.
Kate Berg, Lead GIS Analyst for entire agency
I am the Geographic Information System Lead. I technically report to the main EGLE office in Lansing but have been working remotely since I started in January 2021.
Every day is different! And that’s one of the things I like about this career. As GIS Lead, I get work on a lot of different aspects related to GIS, including administration and leadership roles, internal and external communication and knowledge sharing tasks, and then actual content creation projects. I coordinate all GIS staff at EGLE and make sure they have what they need to do their work, such as software, licensing, and training. I also represent EGLE at statewide departmental GIS steering committee meetings, where I help advance the geospatial program at the state, and GIS conferences where I present on some of the cool things we are doing at EGLE. I also maintain EGLE’s Maps and Data portal (where we share all of the web maps and open data publicly) and make sure that the content that does go on there is ready for publication. This includes making sure it is accessible and understandable for people of all walks of life. I also get to do really fun things like make interactive maps and story maps and come up with creative solutions to technical problems. My favorite latest example of this is Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART)'s PFAS Geographic Information System. I had to figure out a way to share our data, but also protect our critical infrastructure by not sharing exact locations of the public water supply. In the map you can find Statewide Testing Initiative of Public Water Supplies Hexbins as my solution to this problem. I’ve also worked on projects that share EGLE work in engaging ways, such as this Michigan COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Pilot Project story map.
The GIS work we do at EGLE makes a difference in several ways. First, creating authoritative maps and data and conducting GIS analyses can produce powerful results that can help professionals make informed decisions about the best way to protect Michigan’s environment and the people who live here. Our mapping technology also provides tools to enhance workflows and improve collaboration, such as tools that provide immediate access to data collected in the field. This means that EGLE staff can respond quicker and more efficiently address environmental concerns. Lastly, our tools help us create engaging interactive maps and stories that help the public learn and relate to environmental topics that may affect them. This helps create a more educated and connected state.
The first thing is to learn that Geographic Information Systems even exists and that you can make an awesome career out of it! I didn’t know this was a realistic option when I was first starting out and wish I did. Most schools these days have geospatial programs these days, and there are several top programs in Michigan institutions! Many programs offer introduction to GIS as a course that counts for many different requirements, so why not give it a try? Next, I like to think that GIS is a tool that you can apply to any topic you’re interested in. We at EGLE are using GIS to support environmental topics, but GIS is used across many fields such as history, transportation, engineering, law enforcement, wildlife biology, city planning, utilities etc. Find what fields interest you and then see how you can apply GIS to it. Even within the environmental realm, there are so many different topics you can use GIS for. Check out the What Makes EGLE Spatial story map that I made to learn more!Kate Berg headshot
What's your education journey been like?
I was born and raised in California and originally thought I wanted to be a research scientist, so I studied ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA. Along the way, I dabbled in GIS classes and graduated with a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technologies.
After graduation, I felt lost about what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do research, but I also liked the environmental topics I learned in college. I ended up moving to Michigan to attend University of Michigan for my master’s degree in Natural Resources. I specialized in environmental communication and policy, thinking I might go into environmental education.
To help support my education, I worked as a teaching assistant for several introductory GIS classes. It was that experience that made me realize that GIS was what I was searching for all along. I loved the combination of using technical computer skills to complete complex spatial analyses and getting to be creative with my cartography to make my visualizations engaging and effective. I also loved teaching students about the topics and getting them excited about the tools.
Lisa Dygert, GIS Support for emerging contaminants in drinking water
My role is Geographic Information Systems support, specializing in emerging contaminants for the Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division, out of Constitution Hall in Lansing.
I received a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Geographic Information Science from Michigan State University (MSU). I was a student assistant working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) while at MSU. Later, I was hired by the DNR and became the project manager for the forest inventory mapping effort. I was involved in many various projects while at the DNR with tasks including cartography, data analysis, and database administration. These great experiences allowed me to employ my skills with the needs of the programs in EGLE. After working for the MDNR for almost 20 years, I wanted to assist EGLE with Flint Water Crisis and transferred into the department for that purpose.
A typical workday involves many tasks including creating queries and analysis of various drinking water contaminants and often mapping the sample locations and results. Using Microsoft and ArcGIS tools, I connect to data from databases, complete reports, and update spreadsheets to create maps and other GIS tools. Throughout the day, I need to troubleshoot, test out alternatives, create new ideas, research available tools and data, reach out to other GIS staff for recommendations, and determine the best approaches and solutions for the GIS needs at hand.
As an ever-expanding technology field, GIS is a great path to follow. If you love maps or have a desire to better understand how geographic features or people are related to one another spatially, and how they affect one another from that spatial relationship, or if you are interested in the data behind the maps and are curious to analyze the data relationships to discover insights and solutions, then GIS is a great direction for you to go.Lisa Dygert portrait
How does your work impact Michiganders?
My work directly affects Michiganders’ lives by using the spatial and data analysis of the contaminants to allow EGLE staff to more effectively determine the source of the contamination, share data effectively with the public, determine who all may be affected by any contamination plume, and whether a citizen should have drinking water tested for a specific analyte or compound.
One of my strengths is that I actively seek tools and applications to help fellow staff become more effective in their jobs and thereby visually communicate findings to the citizens of Michigan through dashboards with easy-to-use survey tools that collect and consolidate information. As a way to expand staff knowledge to better assist Michigander’s lives, I created and shaped the “Demo Days” series with division support to introduce new and experienced staff to applications currently being utilized in division programs. This series has recently been expanded to include introducing applications being developed and used at the agency level for training purposes.
Jeremy Jones, GIS Analyst for wetlands, lakes, and streams
I’m an environmental quality analyst (GIS Analyst) within the Water Resources Division at Constitution Hall in Lansing.
I attended Eastern Michigan University (EMU) for my undergraduate degree in Secondary Education majoring in geography and minoring in history. It was during this time I was introduced to Geographic Information Systems. I graduated at a time when the teaching field was flooded and jobs were difficult to come by. I needed to pivot and find a new career. I always loved geography and cartography and began looking into careers and education opportunities in the GIS field. I found a master’s program at EMU for Geographic Information Science. During my graduate program I had the opportunity to intern for Ducks Unlimited and the State of Michigan learning valuable skills that would serve me well in the future. This internship led to contract work with EGLE working in the Wetlands, Lakes, and Streams Unit and eventual full-time employment with EGLE.
The work we do in the Wetlands, Lakes, and Streams Unit helps to protect and minimize the loss of an important resource. Wetlands are a significant factor in the health and existence of other natural resources of the state such as inland lakes, ground water, fisheries, wildlife and the Great Lakes.
GIS can be used in a variety of fields so explore them all and find the one that best suits you. Don’t be afraid to pivot if you find during your education journey your passion has changed. Take on internships, and volunteer work where you can get some real-world experience working with GIS. Always enjoy what you are doing and those you are working with. It makes the job that much more fun!Jeremy Jones headshot
What's a typical workday like?
My typical workday is in the office with some exceptions throughout the year to assist on sites collecting GPS data. My office days consist of emails, meetings, and map making.
During my office time I am assisting my staff by doing site reviews and providing aerial photo interpretation for various regulatory and non-regulatory projects and conducting Landscape Level Wetland Functional Assessments for watershed groups.
I spend time reviewing updates currently in progress for the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) for Michigan as well as the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD). Every day is different and that is one reason why I enjoy what I do.
Matt Warner, GIS Analyst for contaminated sites
I am a GIS and Web Analyst in the Remediation and Redevelopment Division. I work out of Lansing with statewide job responsibilities.
I earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University with a dual major in Hydrogeology and GIS. During my last couple of years at Western, I became involved in Great Lakes beach erosion research. I realized I could pursue a career blending my passion for the coast with mapping. This led me to Florida Atlantic University where I attained a Master of Science degree in Geology, with a specialization in coastal processes. I returned to Michigan and spent more than 20 years working with DEQ/DNR/EGLE on Great Lakes coastal management issues. I applied my GIS skills towards mapping areas prone to coastal erosion and other issues in both permitting and grant & technical assistance roles. Taking advantage of additional GIS technical training opportunities throughout my career helped me eventually pivot into my current position with RRD where GIS is at the heart of my responsibilities.
Quality maps and information showing people where sites of contamination exist in Michigan, and ways in which those properties cannot be used, are critical. Our team works hard to identify, clean up, and repurpose sites, so it’s exciting to play a role in improving how we map, share information, and tell the important stories behind these efforts.
Follow your passion and keep an open mind when new opportunities arise. GIS can be applied in many ways within the environmental field, so pursue things that interest you and don’t hesitate to refocus or change course as you go. Start building a portfolio of your GIS work now. Happy mapping!Matt Warner
What is a typical workday like?
I maintain GIS data for contaminated sites and remediation/redevelopment activities to inform the public through EGLE’s Environmental Mapper, Open Data Portal, and our web site. I enjoy the diversity of my job as I’m able to create a variety of maps and mapping applications depending on program needs.
My work is mostly office-based where you’ll typically find me using ArcGIS Pro or another ESRI mapping application on one screen and a database application on the other. Mapping land use restrictions is a daily activity to show areas restricted from various uses due to site contamination. I map these areas based on the legal descriptions and/or site plans provided in the legal documents.
I enjoy coordinating and collaborating with the EGLE GIS team as well as our larger GIS community within the state.