Concordia senior Olivia Vergin spent the summer working for Moorhead Public Service (MPS) as a Geographic Information Systems intern. As a GIS intern, she gained hands-on experience – both in an office setting and out in the field.
“There are two aspects to my internship,” she said. “There’s the in-office part where I use a program called ArcMap doing data clean up, but the majority of my work is out in the field.”
ArcMap is a geospatial processing program that can be used to track structures on the Earth’s surface. MPS handles both electric and water needs for the city, so Vergin will have experience with both.
“A lot of my work is going to light/utility poles, checking that the data is correct and that the spatial location is updated,” she said. “Any time there’s water construction going on in the city, we’ll go to that spot and collect data points on those projects and update our maps. That way, if there’s ever a water break, crews will know exactly where to go.”
As a Concordia student, Vergin has made connections with faculty who have helped shape her career path.
“My mentors at Concordia have been Dr. Jenn Sweatman and Dr. Joe Whittaker,” she said. “I’ve been with both of them since the beginning.”
In addition to mentorships, Vergin appreciates how useful Concordia’s liberal arts approach to education has been when learning to solve real-world problems during her internship.
“One of the biggest strengths of Concordia’s environmental science program is how interdisciplinary it is,” she said. “I’ve learned to ask a ton of questions from many perspectives, as opposed to just the scientific point of view.”
She says that Concordia’s student-to-faculty ratio is an advantage compared to attending a large university.
“The personal relationships and small class sizes have been really crucial,” she said. “I’ve been able to build relationships with other students who have taken the same courses.”
With small class sizes, Vergin has enjoyed the student collaboration in the classroom, especially in her science courses.
“Looking at really important concepts with a group of people I’m comfortable with and who share similar interests with me has been really helpful,” she said.
Focusing specifically on GIS, Vergin is optimistic that the skills she built during her summer internship will be useful in her career.
“GIS is becoming a big part of the environmental studies field, especially in conservation and city planning, so this internship will be a unique asset for my future plans,” she said.
After graduating from Concordia, Vergin plans on continuing her education. Beyond that, she’s keeping her options open.
“I intend to explore graduate programs that combine all of my passions,” she said. “Then I’ll look into becoming a research scientist or going into academia, conservation, or environmental policy.”
Despite already completing her two Pivotal Experience in Applied Knowledge (PEAK) requirements, Vergin attests that working in GIS would be a perfect fit.
“This internship at MPS is a great opportunity for a PEAK,” she said. “It allows you to take the technical skills that you learn in the classroom and apply them to a real-life situation.”