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David Gunther

Alumnus David Gunther took advantage of his Geography education through fieldwork, internships and networking. He currently works at the Utah Division of Water Resources and has started a drone program for collecting data, mapping sites of interest, and documenting aspects of water across the state.

Below are David's thoughts and advice as related to Geography:

Where are you from?

I call Hagerstown, MD my hometown.

What was your major and emphasis?

I majored in Geography with an emphasis in Geospatial Science and Technology.

What led you to choose Geography as your major?

I chose to be a geography major after the second lecture of a geography 100 class taught by Dr. Jensen. Dr. Jensen was describing some of the field work he had undertaken as a geography student and some of his research that was conducted with drones. That was the first time I realized you could do more with geography than just teach.

I specifically love geography because it’s a great major that can help serve as a “back door” into many different fields of science. I enjoyed how the program at BYU was a nice blend of the “hard” and “soft” sciences. I love the sub-disciplines of GIS and remote sensing because of the different perspective and approach they can bring to answering many different questions about things and phenomena. The end product of these analyses is usually a good map or series of maps and I’ve always been interested in how that data is visualized and communicated with the intended audience.

What was your favorite class and part of the program?

My favorite class was 414 which introduced me to drones in GIS and remote sensing. I still do some of this in my day-to-day work. The third photo was shot by another student while I was taking a nap (long day) up at Strawberry Reservoir in Sep. 2019. The fourth was shot in October 2019. We had received permission to do some flights on BYU campus, so I shot this in the field just south of the KMBL.

My favorite part of the program was evenly split between learning how to design a “good” map and how to leverage drones as a tool for GIS and remote sensing. Both of these classes have largely influenced my career path since graduation.

A close second was an internship I had with American Fork public works. I discovered that fieldwork was something I enjoyed and it’s something I’m still trying to do in my day job.

How did your studies prepare you for your career?

My background as a TA for GEOG 211, of all things, was what landed my initial job out of college at the Utah County Recorder’s Office where I worked as a Cadastral mapper. While the work was important and engaging, I quickly realized that I missed participating in fieldwork. This led me to the Utah Division of Water Resources where I currently work. At the division, I’ve been able to bring my experience and interests in drones to the division to start our own drone program for collecting data, mapping sites of interest, and documenting aspects of water across the state. This has created quite a few fieldwork opportunities across the state! As fun as flying is, I mostly spend my time working as an analyst to address questions as needed, manage a website of publicly available water data, and develop new maps and applications to help Utahns understand their water. I’m blessed to have the best job in the state!

Any advice for current Geography students?

If I were to offer some career advice to recent or upcoming graduates, I would encourage them to never discount anything they learn in their classes. I was hired at my first job because I understood the Public land survey system (PLSS), of all things.

Networking through conferences, additional education, or local GIS groups can help open the doors to opportunities that you might not otherwise hear about. Don’t be afraid of LinkedIn or reaching out to former alumni. Find a way to integrate into your GIS community.

I initially had some trouble hearing back from employers when I graduated. To those who are discouraged, I’d encourage them to have faith and trust that things will work out. God is good and he won’t abandon us.

As an undergrad student, I wish I would have not been as afraid of programming. One of the challenges I will need to overcome to progress further in my career is technical competency with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Esri’s arcade language can be really powerful in the right hands as well. I also wish I would have realized sooner that there comes a point where a map is “good enough” and that the opportunity cost of getting something one percent better is not worth time not spent with the people that matter most. Dr. Plewe was kind enough to teach me this lesson and I’ve tried to remember it since.

I wish people understood their world and it’s geography better. We could right so many wrongs and build so many bridges if we understood more about our neighbors both nationally and internationally.

Other BYU departments such as public health or plant and wildlife science offer GIS courses. I found it uniquely enriching to learn GIS from the perspective of other disciplines. There are also a great portfolio and résumé building opportunities and some of these.

Finally, I’d offer that a portfolio demonstrating competencies in the skills that job descriptions ask for can be a powerful tool in interviews.

Outside of Geography, were you involved with any other groups at BYU?

Outside of BYU I was a member of BYU folk dance. I participated with one of the teams for the latter half of my time at BYU. This is a picture of me right before an early morning dance class. I also included some team photos we took. Prior to that, I was a member of the BYU Symphony Orchestra and other string groups.

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