by Nick Coughlin, GIS specialist
The job hunt process and starting your first job can be a daunting task. One thing I’ve learned, though? You need help and a strong network of people to help get you where you want to go. As a fresh college graduate looking for a job, my network was small. During my time at Kutztown University, I took advantage of my department’s network and my personal network, to help find and apply for internship opportunities and I learned from professors and peers.
My internship opportunities led me to a better understanding of what I wanted to do career-wise and helped me position myself for an exciting future with a firm that valued the importance of sustainability and of course, geographic information system (GIS) services. In 2019, I graduated from Kutztown with a B.S. in Environmental Science – concentration in geography, ready to take on the workforce.
It’s important to find a mentor in your field, be that a professor, a family member/friend, a colleague, etc. Having someone who can help show you the ropes and offer advice can help you both figure out what you want to do with your career and help you achieve it.
The second thing I’ve learned, when you do find the job, take advantage of the opportunities provided to you, make yourself indispensable and step up. Be polite, express assurances and most importantly create a great product and your name will get out there.
I started working for Pennoni in the summer of 2019. That first few months, I was tasked with my first solo project where I inventoried over 700 curb ramps for ADA compliance, created a customized smart field data collection form, ran spatial analysis, developed a web application and more! This first project taught me the significance of collaboration. Brainstorming with colleagues and asking for help when needed, were crucial to create a quality product.
In October of 2019, I got the opportunity to work with Pennoni’s King of Prussia, PA transportation group for a month. I drove around with a crew, rating road conditions and inspecting stormwater inlets while utilizing GIS. Though this month was spent away from the GIS team, this experience allowed me to meet employees from other offices and taught me more about Pennoni’s culture.
Being flexible and willing to shift groups earned me my next major task, traveling to our newest office in Florida to train staff on ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Mobile Apps, and best handheld field data collection practices. There I had the privilege of meeting a great team of environmental scientists, and Nelson Shaffer. Nelson was extremely welcoming and in getting to know each other, we started talking about the importance of sustainability. He understood the role engineering firms could fill when it came to building sustainable resilient infrastructure and just how broad the topic is. Nelson invited me to join the likeminded sustainability group at Pennoni. I was a bit nervous to head to a new office and serve as the GIS expert for week. But, once again I met other employees, started relationships, and learned more about the culture at Pennoni. I was delighted to know sustainability is truly an important topic at Pennoni at all experience levels.
Receiving guidance from my mentors, branching out within Pennoni and the industry and making a point to continue learning – I have found a position and work I am proud of and excited to do.
I’m currently working with multiple disciplines at Pennoni on a number of projects including DelDOT’s Resiliency and Sustainability group to create quality GIS products!
I truly believe GIS will serve as a catalyst for all Sustainability and Resiliency related projects, as the geographic approach is key to a better understanding of the natural environment and physical infrastructure around us.
I plan to get my ENV SP certification soon and I look forward to assisting Pennoni with all the Sustainability and Resiliency related work to come!