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Career Series: Fast Five with five GIS staffers on GIS Day

As part of GIS Day, MI Environment today is highlighting the career paths of five staffers at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) who work with geographic information system (GIS) technology. GIS is a spatial system that creates, manages, analyzes, and maps all types of data.

This Fast Five edition of MI Environment – the latest in EGLE’s Career Series – features five staffers who use GIS to make a difference.

They answered these five questions:

  1. What is your position at EGLE and what office/city/region do you work out of?
  2. Discuss your education journey.
  3. What is a typical workday like?
  4. How does what you do in your job have an impact on Michiganders’ lives?
  5. Wat advice can you offer to students considering your career path?

Chad Fizzell

 Chad Fizzell photo

  1. I am a GIS and remote sensing specialist within the Wetlands, Lakes, and Streams Unit at EGLE.  Our program is managed out of the Water Resources Division and is responsible for regulating impacts to surface water in the State.  I have been based out of Constitution Hall for the last 20 years.
  2. I received my bachelor’s degree in resource development: environmental studies and applications, with a specialization in spatial information processing, from Michigan State University in 2001. During my undergraduate work, I was employed by several research organizations within the university assisting with GIS and remote sensing-based projects, including updating land cover maps for the Amazon basin and Southeast Asia, and closer to home working on the Muskegon River watershed land use update. These experiences, along with my classwork in environmental protection, got me very interested in utilizing technology like GIS to assist in managing and protecting natural resources from a landscape scale, an interest I carried into my role at EGLE in 2003.
  3. In 1979, the Michigan legislature passed the Geomare-Anderson Wetlands Protection Act, which is now Part 303, Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). In addition to Part 303, our program also administers Part 301 of NREPA. The Inland Lakes and Streams Program is responsible for the protection of the natural resources and the public trust waters of the inland lakes and streams of the state. Given these two broad responsibilities, I have had the opportunity to work in all aspects of wetland, inland lake, and stream protection over the years. Many times, my activities during the day are dictated by our regulatory program and our compliance/enforcement responsibilities under Parts 303 and 301. I have participated in hundreds of these efforts in my career, and these can vary from aerial imagery interpretation for a wetland to assist staff in a permit decision, all the way to testifying in court about my work in a civil or criminal matter. I have been qualified as an expert witness in GIS and remote sensing in 10 of these cases around the state over 20 years and continue to provide this service for our program currently. Our program also pursues grant money to develop our non-regulatory program, and I have been involved in many of these efforts in my time at EGLE. From participating in Wetland Monitoring field activities, watershed and regional planning efforts, wetland delineation trainings, and wetland/stream restorations efforts across the State, my days are rarely the same and always keep me engaged. I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel the state and see pockets of Michigan’s natural beauty that few get to see. As the GIS lead and principal investigator on many grant-funded research projects for the program, I’ve gotten the opportunity to speak at conferences and workshops and network with the other experts in my field.  As my career has progressed, my work has expanded to include other responsibilities for the Water Resources Division as a whole including administering GIS tools for our online permitting database, MiEnviro and participating in EGLE’s GIS committee.  I am part of several advisory committees for the state as well, including participation in statewide aerial imagery/remote sensing collection efforts, and ongoing efforts to update our stream and lake inventories for Michigan.  Overall, working in this field at EGLE has provided countless opportunities to expand and grow, and participate in efforts that will have real impact on our state moving forward -- not to mention the amazing people we get to work with on a daily basis inside and outside of our program, as those relationships are at the core of making my workdays fun and exciting.
  4. I would hope that my efforts over the years have helped to inform and educate Michiganders as to the important wetland and water resources in their own backyards.  Our efforts to produce maps and resource inventories that clearly outline the boundaries of these important waters benefit businesses and residents by drawing a clear line around areas to restrict development and ideally steer protection efforts. At times, my role has been to assist in enforcing our laws and regulations, in an effort to protect the waters of the state for my kids and future generations so that they can continue to enjoy this freshwater paradise with their kids and grandkids. Overall, I help to provide the best GIS tools and resources to our programs and program staff, which hopefully leads to increased efficiency and better outcomes for the residents of Michigan. By bringing technology and the best data available to our program staff, and Michiganders as a whole, we are helping to make the most informed decisions possible when it comes to our water resources.
  5. The biggest advice I can give here is to seek out and get involved with organizations and professionals that appeal to your interests and passions, as early in your student career as possible. Only by working in the field can you learn what the day-to-day life in one of these professions is like, and whether or not you would enjoy it as a career in the long term. Seeking out internships in GIS and remote sensing during my time at MSU was the biggest factor in helping me narrow my focus in terms of my professional interests and gave me the contacts and network to find a job in the field post graduation.  Building relationships in your field early and often is critical, as is getting true work experience to build your skillsets and expose you to a real work environment. Lastly, I would say seek out, hold on to, and learn from your mentors. I’ve carried lessons and knowledge from all of mine throughout my career.

Andrea Munoz-Hernandez

Andrea Munoz-Hernandez headshot

  1. I currently serve as the district supervisor for the Remediation and Redevelopment Division at the Jackson district office. Prior to this role, I was a geology specialist (hydrogeologist) with the Source Water Unit (SWU) within the Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division (DWEHD).
  2. I hold a doctoral degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University, with a strong foundation in integrated surface-groundwater modeling using various modeling tools and geographic information systems (GIS) to assess potential climate change impacts on water resources in a case study region. My educational background also includes a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in geology from the University of Sonora, Mexico, with a focus on environmental geochemistry, as well as an master’s degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Technological University, specializing in water resources management. With two decades of experience, I have actively utilized GIS and earned a professional certification (GISP) to support various projects in my current and previous roles. Proficient in database management, spatial analysis, and statistics, I have contributed to the success of several initiatives. Before joining EGLE, I served as an assistant professor in the School of Physical Sciences at Lake Superior State University (LSSU), teaching a range of courses in hydrogeology, hydrology, and GIS for the Department of Geology and Physics, as well as the Department of Environmental Sciences. My passion for GIS continues to drive my commitment to environmental science and research.
  3. In my role, I oversee staff responsible for the administration of Part 201 (Environmental Remediation) and Part 213 (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks), two critical regulatory frameworks in Michigan. Part 201 encompasses the oversight of environmental contamination sites, addressing substances like Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), Trichloroethylene (TCE), Perchloroethylene (PCE), 1,4-Dioxane, and other contaminants. It involves evaluating various exposure pathways, including direct contact, groundwater-surface water interaction, volatilization to indoor air pathway, ambient air, and drinking water. On the other hand, Part 213, under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, focuses on petroleum products from leaking underground storage tank releases and their potential soil and groundwater contamination. My typical workday revolves around engaging with a diverse spectrum of stakeholders, including the general public, responsible parties, consultants, internal team members, and occasionally state or federal representatives. The overarching objective is to safeguard public health and the environment. GIS is an indispensable analytical tool in my position. Given the multitude of projects managed by individual project managers, it's crucial to establish a comprehensive system for tracking site progress. Under my guidance, the Jackson office has developed a dynamic dashboard that provides insights into workload distribution, the geographic spread of incoming submittals, impending deadlines, risk assessment, and the identification of potentially affected receptors. This dashboard incorporates data from various GIS surveys, facilitating information tracking and the generation of pertinent metrics for our team and other stakeholders.
  4. In the Remediation and Redevelopment Division (RRD), our mission is to effectively manage and mitigate the risks posed by environmental contamination sites, safeguarding the well-being of Michigan residents and the environment. We regulate responsible parties to ensure they undertake necessary corrective actions that minimize potential risks to the public. Additionally, when no viable liable party is identified, we collaborate with state-funded initiatives to facilitate the cleanup of contaminated sites, thereby preventing harm to our communities. One compelling example of the impactful use of GIS in our work is a pilot project conducted in collaboration with the Grand Rapids office, focusing on dry cleaner facilities. This initiative aims to proactively identify potential risks associated with such sites that have limited or no available information. Under my supervision and guidance, our dedicated team developed a GIS model to pinpoint the most vulnerable locations within the district. This model integrates various factors, such as proximity to susceptible receptors and the physical characteristics of the area, such as soil type. By using GIS in innovative ways, we empower our efforts to protect Michigan residents from potential environmental hazards.
  5. GIS transcends simple mapping. It's a powerful analytical tool that enhances comprehension of intricate projects. It introduces a spatial dimension that conventional software lacks. The key advantage of GIS is the ability to layer multiple datasets, offering a holistic view of complex issues. Moreover, the skills honed through GIS work are versatile and applicable across a broad spectrum of professions, providing the flexibility to explore diverse career paths beyond a single trajectory.

Anne Santa Maria

Anne Santa Maria headshot

  1. I am a resource analyst (geographic information system analyst) within the Information Management Division. I am based out of Constitution Hall in Lansing but am currently working remotely.
  2. I was raised in West Central Indiana but I received my bachelors’ degree in geography from Grand Valley State University. I graduated during the “Great Recession” and decided I better keep going to school instead of looking for a job, so I attended Western Michigan University and received a master’s degree in geography. After graduate school, I worked for a civil engineering firm mapping a local municipality's utilities such as sewer, storm, and water systems. From there I spent several years with Facilities and Operations at the University of Michigan. We applied GIS to all sorts of infrastructure projects across campus, from managing several hundred floorplans for campus buildings using ArcGIS Indoors, to mapping electrical networks and underground steam systems. I enjoyed the diverse range of subjects that I could apply GIS skills to, especially helping grounds and landscape teams map stormwater runoff. I also enjoyed helping others see the benefits that can come with modernizing workflows, including data collection and data presentation. 
  3. I have only been working here about six months now (since May), but every day I work on something different, whether it is a different type of data analysis or a different GIS app to present geographic data. I work with Andrew Kilbourn to help analyze and present data from all the various EGLE divisions. We recently used FME (Feature Manipulation Engine) to map first time Radon test kit results and will use it to automatically update the layer in ArcGIS Online as new data is delivered from the supplier. I work with Kate Berg to manage users in ArcGIS Portal and with Kevin McKnight to help promote data through an enterprise database system and keep information from all the divisions up to date. I am also readily available to help EGLE staff walk through GIS workflows and troubleshoot problems. I love this aspect of my daily work because there are so many different ways to do the same task in GIS that it requires a different approach every time a new problem is presented. Teaching individuals also allows me to meet staff from across the divisions and fully appreciate the complexity and breadth of work that is accomplished at EGLE.
  4. EGLE has a plethora of amazing scientists across the divisions working to protect and improve Michiganders' lives. They produce a ton of scientific data that they use to inform decisions. For many Michiganders, understanding scientific information may not be intuitive and can be difficult to do when reading a paper or looking at a table. Mapped data is a fantastic tool to provide the public with a visual representation of important concepts. Mapping information expands our ability to communicate with the public and provides alternatives to communicating complex problems. I also love that every day I can work with EGLE staff to come up with solutions to automate work tasks and improve workflows. I firmly believe that the more accessible information is to the majority of people, the more likely they will be to value the work that EGLE does every day to improve the quality of Michiganders' lives.
  5. I think anyone considering a career in GIS should take classes in programming, database management, and statistics. With a solid foundation in ESRI software and computer database systems, GIS can be applied to literally every field from engineering to air travel to facilities management and so much more. GIS is a dynamic tool that allows you to see information in a different way beyond just an Excel spreadsheet. Also, a must is to apply for an internship in your field. Most of the skills you learn in school are just a foundation, but an internship enhances your critical thinking skills and allows you to hone new skills. You don’t need to have an “GIS” job to use geographic information systems or to think geographically -- just remember it is a tool you can use. Finally, remember to stand up for yourself in the workplace, recognize your limits, and verbalize something when you don’t understand. And always make time for you.

Christopher Vandenberg

Christopher Vandenberg headshot

  1. I am environmental quality analyst in the surface water assessment section (SWAS) in EGLE’s Water Resources Division, and I work out of Constitution Hall in Lansing.
  2. I attended Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management and minors in geographic information science and sustainable urban and regional planning. While studying at GVSU, I gained research experience as an intern at Annis Water Resources Institute and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, which furthered my interest in water resources and geographic information science. After graduating from GVSU, I attended the University of Washington-Tacoma (UWT) and graduated with a master’s degree in geospatial technologies. While studying at UWT, I was a teaching assistant for the introductory GIS class. My thesis focused on the application of open-source GIS technologies in citizen science initiatives, more specifically in microplastic research being conducted by UW oceanographers in the Salish Sea.
  3. I support numerous SWAS monitoring programs by providing GIS applications to collect, manage, and visualize data related to surface water assessment. A typical workday includes developing and maintaining GIS applications and datasets to meet programmatic needs. My role also includes providing spatial analysis, charts, and maps for SWAS publications related to biological assessment, inland lakes water chemistry, sediment chemistry, aquatic invasive species, bacterial monitoring, fish contaminant monitoring and more.
  4. SWAS monitoring programs are vital to protecting surface water quality and aquatic ecosystems throughout the state of Michigan. My work aids SWAS in developing standards for the protection of water quality and disseminates important information to the citizens of Michigan.
  5. I highly recommend internships and job shadowing during college; my undergraduate experiences were critical in informing my career path. Ultimately, GIS is an ever-evolving, interdisciplinary toolset that can be used in countless ways. Gaining experience by applying GIS tools in a variety of disciplines and contexts can help you find your niche.

Kent Walters

Kent Walters headshot

  1. I am a geologist that works in the Solid Waste section of the Materials Management Division out of the Grand Rapids District Office.
  2. Growing up, my family would frequently travel to the various national parks across the United States, hiking in and throughout the natural features and rock formations.  Upon my admittance into Grand Valley State University, I entered undecided as I was unsure which of the sciences I wanted to pursue. When reviewing the courses available that satisfied the general education requirement, geology was something I had never heard of, but sounded very interesting and similar to my passion for the national parks. I was instantly hooked as my first geology class took us outside into the Grand Valley ravines learning about basic geologic processes.  After that first Introduction to Geology course, I was a declared geology major.  As a geology major at GVSU, there are many elective courses you can take, one of which that focuses on the use of GIS and its application and uses in geology.  The class allowed me to pursue another passion of mine – maps!  The course taught me how powerful GIS can be when displaying information visually for scientific or educational purposes and was the foundation for my use in GIS in my career.  I was even provided with a unique opportunity to use GIS to map many of the gypsum mine tunnels located near Grand Rapids. While pursuing my master’s degree in glacial geology, approximately half of my thesis required using GIS to map glacial geology landforms in Central Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The map I created with GIS for my thesis not only provided updated glacial geology mapping at higher resolution, but also won second place in a United States Geological Survey map competition!
  3. A typical workday includes reviewing technical geological information related to landfills.  Much of the information that I receive is provided in a very analytical format which includes numbers or other information on 8.5x11 sheets of paper. In many cases I take the data provided by the various sites and use GIS to visually plot that information on a map.  More often then not, plotting the data in different ways helps reveal patterns or trends that can help better manage sites of environmental contamination or help with decision making on how best to protect the environment. Other parts of my job also includes completing site visits, in which I sometimes use various GIS applications to flag areas of concern that need to be addressed.
  4. EGLE's mission is to protection human health and the environment.  My day-to-day activities include reviewing environmental information or visiting landfills to determine if it is impacting the environment.  If it is determined that the landfill is impacting the environment, my primary focus is to ensure that any residents or businesses that are near a landfill are protected.  After it is determined that human health is protected, I then work with a landfill to develop a strategy to clean up any environmental impacts.
  5. With geology, or really any of the sciences, GIS is a tool that is being used more frequently and is a valuable skillset to have when entering the workforce.  Many colleges and universities offer classes in GIS and I personally think getting a minor in GIS would complement any of the sciences and give you a valuable skillset that is applicable to many jobs, even beyond the sciences. 

To learn more about how EGLE is using GIS technology, you can also check out the What Makes EGLE Spatial story map. Visit EGLE's centralized location for maps and data to see all of our public GIS content. You can also Subscribe to the EGLE Maps and Data Updates GovDelivery list to get an email straight to your inbox when we publish new datasets or mapping applications.