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Kate Carlson: Mapping her Future

February 28, 2017
Map showing the movement of Henry V through England and France.
Map created by Kate Carlson, showing the movement of Henry V's troops through England and France as articulated in the Shakespeare play.

"Alright, I'm just gonna dive in."

Sophomore Kate Carlson has used this expression in many aspects of her undergraduate career: when she accepted her admissions offer to the U without ever stepping foot on campus; after one class her first semester set the path for the rest of her coursework; after creating a unique honors project involving maps and Shakespeare. All of this, she pursued fully and without hesitation. It is this very mindset that led to Carlson being awarded the Selmer Birkelo Scholarship for outstanding CLA students studying social sciences. 

Carlson has always enjoyed art and analytics. After asking herself what major combines her passions and would play to her strengths, she thought, "Making maps can be very artistic and analytical at the same time." It was this conclusion that led her to enroll in a biogeography course with Professor Scott St. George her first semester at the U. "It was my favorite class ever," she says.

Taking this course reaffirmed her choice of major, but geography is a diverse field with many different specialties. It wasn't until job shadowing a professional in the field that she knew what focus she would pursue. Kate landed an excellent opportunity to gain further experience in her field this past summer when she job shadowed Carrie Quast, a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist for Brown County, Minnesota. She got to see the kind of field work a GIS specialist does on a daily basis, as well as assist on two projects for the county. "Carrie showed me what kinds of projects and problems a GIS specialist encounters and how one would go about solving them," Carlson says. This opportunity also gave Calson experience working with software such as ArcGIS and QGIS, tools she uses in the Principles of GIS course she took this semester. "I had a head start just from watching her and having her explain what she is doing," she says.

This semester Carlson has worked on an honors project that combines her strengths in art, background in geography, and interest in a Shakespearean literature course: Carlson is creating maps based off of the numerous plays she reads throughout the semester. For example, she is tracing the route of Henry V through England and France. "It's been a fantastic learning experience," she says.

What more could Carlson do to gain further experience in her major? "I work in the dendrochronology lab with Professor Dan Griffin, who looks at tree ring width in stressed trees." Griffin’s research currently focuses on the California drought, and hundreds of samples from a variety of trees are analyzed. By cross-dating and assessing ring size across years, they examine the cores and identifies similarities among these samples. "Similarities among the samples show issues with the environment and not the trees themselves," Carlson says.

"The Department of Geography offers experiences that teach not only the concepts needed in the field of geography, but also the real-world applications of them," Carlson says. "I've had fantastic advisers that told me about great opportunities in and outside of the department. My experiences in the department have shown me how much the school cares about me, my learning, and my future."

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.