The Coordinates of Success

From left to right: Sociology masters student Nick Altizer, sociology doctoral student Lain Graham, Amanda Ashby and Dr. Timothy Hawthorne.

From left to right: Sociology masters student Nick Altizer, sociology doctoral student Lain Graham, Amanda Ashby and Dr. Timothy Hawthorne.

Amanda Ashby, a University of Central Florida senior majoring in sociology, was thrilled when she was awarded a student assistantship for the annual Esri FedGIS Conference. The conference, held this year in Washington, DC, focuses on the high-tech field of geographic information systems, or GIS.

GIS is a system that is designed to capture, store, analyze, and manage spatial or geographic data. In other words, GIS gathers information about the earth’s surface such as streets, buildings, latitude and longitude and uses that data to make decisions on various issues.

Some of Ashby’s tasks at the conference, being held February 13-14, 2017, will include helping with registration, monitoring technical sessions, and conference logistics. This experience will add to her growing knowledge in the field by providing her with insight from leading professionals and by having the opportunity to develop professional relationships with government officials.

Ashby scored this great achievement through her “hard work and dedication in learning and applying this new technology on top of her sociology degree,” said her professor and advisor Timothy Hawthorne, Ph.D., assistant professor of geographic information systems at UCF.

As a College of Sciences student, Ashby has taken many fascinating courses throughout her academic career but nothing inspired her more than a class called Spatial Sociology: Introduction to GIS, taught by Hawthorne. Ashby said the class showed her how useful GIS can be in the field of sociology; and that’s when her interest skyrocketed.

For Ashby, GIS is more than strategically analyzing earth’s surfaces, it’s a way for her to do her part in helping humanity. With the knowledge and experience she has gained through her sociology courses, Ashby was able to help create an app for a local food bank that helped them reach out to people in need. She was also one of seven who had the privilege of venturing off to Hopkins, Belize as part of the National Science Foundation’s Citizen Science GIS Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site at UCF.

“These experiences working with communities have encouraged me to pursue my love for GIS and its applications to the social world,” said Ashby.

And now she’s ready to bring her passion to Washington, DC, where she’ll delve deeper into the world of GIS.

Ashby attributes much of her success to the Department of Sociology. “The department has helped prepare me to be qualified for this opportunity by providing me with outstanding and caring professors. They encouraged me to participate in these different opportunities and have helped me thrive as an individual.”

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