A Marine Science Experiential Learning Deep Dive

A Marine Science research vessel

Geographic information science (GISc) has numerous applications in fields ranging from emergency response and agriculture to finance and real estate, and with GISc jobs set to increase by 14% by 2026,1 a master’s in GISc and a solid understanding of how to apply geographic information systems (GIS) could be what sets you apart in this growing field.

For those in the GISc field who want to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to take on leadership roles but are reluctant to halt their current career progress, an online GISc program like the one offered by Kent State University can provide the right combination of convenience and rigor. See the online experience through the eyes of Kent State Master of Geographic Information Science student Kwanza Johnson, and learn about how she’s already applying the GIS mapping techniques she learned in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Mappers-in-Training Program (MiTP).

Learn While You Work, Work While You Learn

With an undergraduate degree concentrating in interdisciplinary environmental science, Kwanza Johnson knew she would need more time and practice to further develop her geospatial analysis skillset. She also knew that she wanted to enter the workforce and still be able to advance her education. Johnson, who chose the Environmental GISc concentration at Kent State, says that this program “was the only option that would allow me to work and make strides toward my graduate degree.”

“The online experience has helped me to create more effective, useful and aesthetically sound maps,” Johnson says, “and I also feel more confident with how to plan out the necessary steps for a mapping project and analysis before starting.” She also notes that the portfolio project in her Cartographic Design course was helpful in mastering several GIS mapping elements as well as providing her with a valuable finished product that she can showcase.

Kent State’s supportive faculty has also contributed greatly to Johnson’s growth throughout the program. Most notably, they assisted with her application to the Mappers-in-Training Program, which was just as instrumental to her acceptance into the program as the mastery of cartography, data management and various key types of software that she developed during her coursework.

Applying Coursework: A Seafloor Mapping Expedition

Marine Science researcher in diving gear

In the fall of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with the University of Southern California Sea Grant Program, recruited three participants for a new Mappers-in-Training Program (MiTP). This internship involved 11 days aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier and roughly 1-2 days of land-based preparatory activities.

Johnson, with her strong background in marine science, was one of the three participants selected for this seafloor mapping expedition. Johnson was able to apply the learnings and preparation from her Kent State master’s program throughout her time on the ship, as she recalls that “On the vessel, we worked with about six different platforms for data processing, and it reminded me of times during coursework when we would have to pull data from different folders and software to use the necessary tools.”

The work Johnson conducted on the ship gave her an opportunity to encounter and utilize new technologies as well; she found the multibeam echosounder sonar to be the tool she was most excited to try. Her main interest in the device was discovering how its “imagery was similar and different to that of satellite imagery, especially for habitat mapping. For example, what properties of backscatter allow us to understand what is present on the ocean floor.”

Johnson found that “Participating in this program also reinforced the importance of data management and processing” for her. “No matter how advanced our technology becomes to collect data, it’s of no use if there is not an effective procedure for how to work with and process it in the future.”

Advice for Online Students

While online master’s programs are notable for their flexibility and convenience, they are still large undertakings that requires a great level of self discipline and dedication, as well as real effort to network and form connections. The importance of the time and energy spent on networking has been a key factor in Johnson’s career development. She made sure to form bonds and keep in contact with the mentors from her internship in 2016 with the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP). This led to her being referred to her current position with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) lab. Her professional connections to NOAA undoubtedly were a factor when she applied for the NOAA Mappers-In-Training Program as well. Johnson says that she hopes to increase her contact with Kent State faculty in the coming semesters, and she plans to take advantage of the “ample opportunities and events posted” on the Department of Geography Facebook page.

At the end of the day, students should take stock of their personal qualities and tendencies and how that might affect their learning experience. When considering undertaking an online master’s in GISc, Johnson advises potential online students to “strongly consider their strengths and weaknesses as a student and know that their overall experience will be dependent on them. Self-reflection and improvement are their keys to success.” While no master’s program is easy, a genuine passion for improving the way we understand and interact with the environment can serve as a catalyst in this program, and help you become a leader in this ever-evolving field.

If you are technologically inclined and interested in analyzing environmental data through processes like the seafloor mapping, an online Master of Geographic Information Science (GISc) from Kent State University could help you find your calling.

1. Retrieved on December 17, 2018, from www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geoscientists.htm

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He is an Associate Professor in the Evaluation and Measurement program within the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. He is also the program coordinator for the online Master of Education degree in Research, Measurement, and Statistics.
Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.
Felesia McDonald, ’14 is an adjunct instructor in the iSchool, teaching courses in the 100% Online Master of Science in User Experience. McDonald is also the Sr Manager UX Design at Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.