Shaun Vester transitioned immediately from intern to full-time geographic information systems (GIS) analyst in a regional planning office this spring.
The internship was part of the 15-credit Geospatial Certificate Program that Lake Land College Geography and GIS Instructor Michael Rudibaugh developed with support from the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program.
The 25-year-old Vester is glad that the certificate program is making it possible for him to earn more money.
Working as a contract GIS analyst immediately increased his income and guaranteed 40 hours of work each week through 2013 doing the detailed GIS work he likes. He also has a chance to become an employee with benefits next year, if the government entity has sufficient funding.
Vester says his internship gave him the opportunity to prove he knows GIS and can apply it in practical, important ways. His first project for pay involves converting all the rural routes of Shelby County, Illinois, into an emergency address system so people and properties can be located more quickly by safety services.
Employer Learning from Intern
Vester's boss raves about the script Vester wrote to automate the assignment of 100 addresses for each mile of roadway in the rural county. The two days Vester spent customizing the software program eliminated 30 workdays of hand-entering data, according to Kelly Lockhart, executive director of Coles County Regional Planning Office in Charleston, Illinois.
"He's great; he's fantastic," Lockhart said of Vester.
Vester is the third Lake Land College GIS intern hired at the regional planning office, which typically has one intern from the community college and two interns from Eastern Illinois University each semester.
Lockhart himself learned GIS as a work-study student in Professor Rudibaugh's office in 1998 when the technology was new and the community college did not have a GIS course. The experience set Lockhart's career direction. He eventually transferred to Eastern Illinois University and majored in geography with a GIS concentration. When Lockhart completed his bachelor's degree in 2000 he was hired as a contract employee in the regional planning office that he now runs. He interned there while attending classes at the university.
As an employer Lockhart values the GIS certificate program that Rudibaugh developed with support from MentorLinks, an ATE project of the American Association of Community Colleges, and then enriched with what he learned as a co-principal investigator of the GeoTECH Center, one of 39 ATE Centers nationally.
Lockhart offers this evidence of the quality of the GIS-certificate students' skills. Eight years ago, he had to train the community college's interns to do particular GIS tasks. Now he and his staff routinely learn about GIS innovations from the community college's interns.
"Without the community college, we'd have a much more difficult time doing our job," Lockhart said.
Lake Land College Board Learning from GIS Student's Work
Lake Land College, too, is benefitting from Vester's capstone project with Rudibaugh that analyzes students' commuting patterns in the 4,000 square mile Central Illinois college district.
By geo-coding and spatially referencing 2012 student registration data, Vester and Rudibaugh found that the cost of commuting to the college's main campus is double the cost of tuition for many students. These students are driving from the outer ring of the service area (red section in the map) and spend $600 to $1,200 per semester on gasoline to attend classes.
In their report to the Lake Land College board, Vester and Rudibaugh estimate that assigning students to branch campuses nearest their homes could reduce the average students' commuting costs from $340 to $178 per semester.
Rudibaugh hopes other community colleges will use their study as a model of the type of useful information they can extract from their students' registration data.