Today I want to introduce you to my student Bryan. Bryan was another one of those students who showed maturity from the outset and was a real go-getter. He also had to take out some student loans. I think that it is important to see that you can take out loans responsibly, as Brian did. But Bryan did so much more than that – while it appears that he was involved in everything, the truth of the matter is, Bryan was involved in meaningful things. You could say that Brian did not have any empty calories in his educational activities. And while his post doesn’t say it, I can tell you that Brian had a lot of fun – not Animal House kind of fun, but really fun adventures that doubled as opportunities for his personal growth and future career.
I started my college career rather unsuccessfully at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, so I transferred to Harford Community College – the cost was much less than that of a 4 year university. I was able to pay for my community college tuition completely from a job I had at the time. During this time, I also enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve – getting a monthly paycheck for drill weekends and a smaller version of the GI Bill. The Reserve GI Bill completely covered my tuition at community college, allowing me to work only part time. While it did not completely cover expenses at SU, it did defray them enough where I could take out smaller loans. Having completed my General Education in community college, I was able to focus solely on courses directly relevant to my B.S. in Geography when I transferred to Salisbury.
During my first semester I got involved with the Geographic Society (which I would later become President of) and started making friends inside of the department. I spent a lot my time in the GIS Lab, making and cementing friendships over challenging labs. I asked if any professors needed an extra hand with research, and starting with the next fall and lasting until graduation, I was able to have multiple paying jobs in the department as a tutor, a GIS Lab assistant, as well as being an assistant for Spatial Statistics and the Intro to GIS courses. Apart from a paycheck, the extra activities reinforced my knowledge and I was able to help others. By showing eagerness to work hard and support the Department, my Professors were very happy to write me letters of recommendation for internships and graduate school.
I worked between 15-20 hours/week, all in the Geography department and doing things related to my major, as well as my Coast Guard Reserve drill weekends. I was also able to have two significant GIS internships while a student, one working for the National Park Service, the other as a joint venture between the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative (ESRGC) and the Department of Zoning and Planning for one of the Eastern Shore counties. I took a very small and selective class led by Dr. Lembo as we attempted to build a powerful Enterprise GIS using a mixture of affordable GIS software and a free Database Management System. While our paper did not get published, it was presented at a regional GIS conference. I also assisted other professors in some of their research.
Because of my involvement in meaningful work and overall reputation in the Department as a hard worker I was hired before I had graduated as a GIS Analyst for a NOAA contractor during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. I have been at this job ever since, and during the past 4.5 years, my company has hired four other SU graduates as we know the quality of students that come from the GIS program there. Much of my advice to others as they set out on their own path towards higher education is an echo of what has already been written. In addition, don’t be afraid of student loans. For many people, they are a necessity. If you go about your college career wisely, for roughly the cost of a new car, you can come away with a very good education and a lot of practical experience. Also, if you do live off campus like I did, you quickly learn how to budget what spending money you earn as you balance that with rent and utilities. For me, college was an investment for my future and absolutely worth the cost.