Careers in Geography

Most geography work is centered in one of four basic career fields: business, government, planning or teaching. Career options within these basic areas are widely varied. Augustana graduates are involved in such fields as:

Environmental land-use law, urban planning, environmental protection, U.S. Foreign Service, intelligence analysis, hydrology, transportation planning, community planning and development, travel management, industrial real-estate development, public works, cartography, meteorology, timber company sales, park management, soil conservation, landscape architecture, international trade, and high-school and college teaching.

Recent alumni describe their current jobs in their own words:

Eva Peterson, ’04 eva.jpg
Planner: Davenport, IA

I worked for the City of Davenport full-time during the summer of 2003 and after graduating in May of 2004 they hired me as a full-time Planner in the Planning and Land Use Department. My job includes issuing permits, making floodplain and zoning determinations as well as zoning enforcement. I am City Staff to the Historic Preservation Commission which meets once a month. I also handle the historic and environmental reviews and compliance, landmark nominations and historic properties database.

Augustana’s emphasis on developing oral and written communication skills has been vital. The Geographic Information Systems courses at Augustana kept me current on the tools necessary to create, read and interpret maps everyday. The Urban and Regional Planning course allowed for a more realistic look at life as a City Planner including common planning practices essential for this position. My degree in Geography has opened many new doors for me; working in Planning has expanded my knowledge and diversified my interests. I am fortunate to have been able to complete a degree in Geography and in Political Science, because of my broad base of liberal arts courses I have been able to excel at the multiple tasks required of a Planner.

Steph Gaspers, ’04 steph_gaspers.jpg
McHenry County Defenders: McHenry County, IL

Ever wonder what it’s like to make grass-roots ideas become realities? Working for the McHenry County Defenders, a local non-profit organization in McHenry County, Illinois allows me to do this on a daily basis.

I work with volunteers and concerned citizens who bring forth questions and concerns about local environmental issues. One of the most common concerns deals with uncontrolled development that threatens natural resources in the area. Being a geographer and understanding the physical science behind streams, soils, and earth processes, I can scientifically analyze development proposals and the environmental impacts they will cause to make educated recommendations to politicians and decision-makers. Our intention is to ultimately influence their decisions on human-environment interactions within the community to ensure that we have a sustainable future. Along with this advocacy as well as the daily office routines, I also teach people about the importance of recycling and land and water resources and how it plays a role in their every-day lives.

By jumping into the non-profit environmental sector, I have learned the dedication and time commitment required to make the overlooked environmental voice acknowledged, understood, and accepted within a community threatened by unplanned growth. However, I could not have done it without Augustana’s Geography Department. In my time spent learning from the phenomenal professors, the close-knit family of fellow geographers, and real-life assignments, I acquired the geographical tools and environmental ethic I need to make a difference, showing once again that without geography, you’re nowhere!

Mark Hunt, ‘04
General Planner, Bi-State Regional Commission: Rock Island, IL

I work mostly on transportation and economic development issues. During the past year, I worked as the Commission's Data Services Planner, where I specialized in accessing and researching demographic and economic data for the Quad Cities area. My education at Augustana has helped me in numerous ways. First and foremost, I learned how to properly conduct academic research, which was immensely helpful in my first position here. Second, I learned to think geographically, which is important when assisting the more than 40 governments we serve at Bi-State. By learning concepts like sense-of-place, and economies-of-scale, I am able to understand why a solution to a problem in Davenport, Iowa, may not apply to a similar problem in Cambridge, Illinois. Finally, the abilities to speak publicly and write clearly are skills I use on a daily basis. Without these skills, which I definitely honed through numerous presentations and papers for the Geography Department, I simply could not work in my current capacity.

Jodie Daley, ‘04
Michael Baker Engineering and Energy: Lakewood, CO

I work for a large engineering firm, Michael Baker Engineering and Energy, in Lakewood, Colorado--a western suburb of Denver. I work for the engineering division under a contract with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) analyzing requests for LOMAs (Letters of Map Amendments) as they relate to FEMA's Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Since the establishment of the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 FEMA created flood maps for the entire United States that identify the 100-year and 500-year flood boundaries for every flooding source in the nation. My office focuses on FEMA Regions 8, 9, and 10, which encompass most of the western United States. As the surface of the earth constantly changes FEMA's flood maps constantly become outdated. My job is to review requests from homeowners and property owners who believe their home/property is represented incorrectly on the flood maps. They submit information that allows me to compare surveyed elevations on their property with flood data that has been generated through FEMA Flood Insurance Studies. If the lowest adjacent grade of their structure or the lowest lot elevation of their property exceeds the base flood elevation (i.e., the elevation of the water level at the 100-year flood) they are granted a LOMA that removes them from the 100-year flood zone. Consequently they are freed from obligations to pay flood insurance.

Roughly 85% of the requests I process are removals from the flood zone. In processing most of my cases I use flood profiles, tables, and charts from the Flood Insurance Studies. In rare instances I use various hydrologic and hydraulic computer applications to generate pieces of data that allow me to determine the base flood elevation for a property. Besides working with FEMA flood maps, I constantly refer to USGS topographic quad maps, various community maps, subdivision plats, and all kinds of other geographic information. The job is great! I wake up every morning incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a member of this team. My job is just a small portion of the FEMA contract. Another team in my office has the duty of restudying all of the flooding sources in our three regions, while yet another group is remapping all flood data throughout our regions into a GIS that will be available online within the next ten years. Sometime within the next six months I plan to start taking classes at the University of Denver for my Masters of Environmental Policy and Management. I am hoping someday as the up and coming Denver office expands into a fully equipped engineering office that I will be able to move into a job that entails environmental field work and restoration.

Stephanie Allewalt, ’04
AmeriCorps: Baltimore, MD

My job has definitely been a learning experience. AmeriCorps has a very unique structure, and it has been a blessing and a challenge to have the amount of freedom that I have. All AmeriCorps members are employed through the Corporation for National and Community Service, but we are deployed to various non-profit organizations and development corporations throughout the country to complete our service. As Greater Homewood's Neighborhood VISTA, I oversee the corporation's block improvement projects. We receive funding from a local foundation for up to $1,000 per block, and I administer the funding to those who apply within our 41-neighborhood area. I work with one other AmeriCorps*VISTA in the neighborhoods department, so we've teamed up for community meetings, etc. The area demographics are vastly different from anyplace I've lived in the midwest, and I'm learning about how to (and not to) go into communities and try to help. Although many people don't want help from an outsider, I'm gaining their trust. Slowly, I'm beginning to make progress. I would recommend AmeriCorps to anyone who's interested!

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