Student Focus: Jim Daly

We love hearing from our talented students in the Penn State World Campus Geospatial Program, especially about what they have learned from our classes and how they plan to apply their certificate/degree.

Jim Daly, from Huntington, New York, entered our program in fall 2013 and is on track to complete his MGIS degree in 2018. For his capstone project, he plans to pursue developing an online subdivision and zoning web map application for local municipalities and residents. The purpose of the application would be to identify property subject to certain state and municipal subdivision and zoning laws based on proximity to environmental features and governmental jurisdictions.

In this note, Jim shares his professional and education experiences with us and offers advice and insight that is applicable to both prospective certificate and MGIS students.

Let us know a little about yourself, your current employment, and how you ‘found’ GIS.

I took my first professional job with the Long Island Regional Planning Board (LIRPB) in 1992 as an aviation consultant. At the time, the LIRPB was working on a reuse plan of the former Navy/Grumman airport on the east end of Long Island. The job was a good fit because I graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Air Commerce and wanted to work in the airport industry. As part of the planning process, I did some mapping work and used GIS and before I knew it, I was hooked (on GIS)! At the conclusion of the airport study, I took a job in Suffolk County Planning Department’s Cartographic Division, where I worked for 11 years, learning about GIS as I went along. I received no other formal GIS education during that time. However, with the GIS experience I earned over time, I initiated a process to coordinate GIS technology efforts among County departments and eventually became Suffolk County’s GIS Coordinator in 2005. In 2006, I moved into the Department of Information Technology, where I am today.

What have you appreciated about your experience in the Penn State MGIS program so far?

Over time during my career I would see GIS education programs begin offered, but the logistics never worked out for me to participate. I eventually earned my Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University in 2005. Working on that degree was tough because there was little flexibility with the timing of the program, and the university was a 45 minute drive away. So, I have always appreciated the convenience and flexibility of the online GIS program at Penn State. And it worked out well that Suffolk County provides partial reimbursement for our tuition, so it was affordable too. I would also encourage potential students to seek out if their employer would cover at least a portion of the tuition to help defray costs.

One thing I have learned in my time in the program is how to get my ‘head out of the forest’, so to speak. My classes and research experience in the program have taught me to look at other alternatives to solving problems. This has been a necessary exercise for me – it has made me a better GIS analyst and also more confident when talking to people about solutions. In other words, I have learned more about how to think, and I approach problems with a different mindset than I did when I started. I also appreciate that the electives allow you to pursue a subject area that you might enjoy learning more about, and they encourage you to get outside of your usual way of thinking.

During my time in the Penn State program, I also have appreciated the support I’ve received from the library – they have so many online services and resources, and I encourage students to take advantage of them. Finally, I also have learned from other students through online collaboration in the classes, such as participating in the discussion forums.

How do you plan to use your MGIS degree when it is completed?

I am actually nearing the end of my career, and can retire in about 4 years. When I do leave service here, I’d like to pursue options like consulting or teaching, and my MGIS degree will help me have the credentials to do that.

Do you have any advice for incoming students or students considering the MGIS program, based on your experiences so far?

My recommendation for older students that have not had previous formal education in GIS is: don’t be intimidated! I was a bit unsure of how I would do with online education, but Penn State’s online learning environment was easy to adjust to, so just dive in! I know I’m getting a great education here at Penn State. My wife, father-in-law, and brother-in-law graduated here, and my daughter will be starting here this year – attending Penn State was kind of a ‘no-brainer’ for me.

This story was originally published on the Penn State Online Geospatial Education Facebook page.