USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

USC GIST Student John McDermott Wins Excellence in Business GIS Award

Geographic information science and technology (GIST) has a diverse range of practical applications, leaving room for both students and professors with decades of experience to contribute to the field. We wanted to take time to recognize a major accomplishment of one of our Graduate Certificate in GIST students, John McDermott.

John received the 2018 “Graduate Award for Excellence in Business GIS” offered by the University of Redlands. John graduated with an MBA in GIS from the University of Redlands in 2017 and was recognized for his MBA capstone project. He has served the United States Coast Guard in a variety of roles and continued to use geographic information science and technology throughout his career in operations management positions.

We talked with him about how he plans to leverage the skills gained in USC’s graduate online GIS programs in conjunction with his MBA, as well as about his award-winning capstone project.

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USC GIST Student Q&A

What was your role in the U.S. Coast Guard? Has your Coast Guard service influenced what you are interested in doing with your GIS-related career?

I served in various roles while in the USCG. My first unit out of boot camp was the Coast Guard Cutter Walnut which is a 225ft buoy tender stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. Our mission on the Walnut was to maintain the Aids to Navigation within a 60,000 sqm area of the South Pacific. The purpose if this work was to ensure that the aids to navigation within the navigable waters of the United States were in functioning properly. Aside from our primary mission the Walnut was always on standby should we be needed for any search and rescue or law enforcement missions. My second unit in the USCG was at Personnel Service and Support Unit (PSSU) Sand Island within the Hawaiian Housing Department. This was a shoreside position where I worked in with transitioning members coming to and from the Hawaiian Islands, while not as adventitious as my first billet, the time spent at this unit allowed me to meet and interact with a new set of Coast Guard Personnel on a daily basis.

The Coast Guard taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and a commitment to education. Upon leaving the Coast Guard I used the GI Bill to go to back to college. It was during my undergraduate studies that I was exposed to GIS in a business class and I became instant believer in the power of spatial thinking and its importance in understanding the world we live in. This class is what made me decide to choose GIS as an emphasis for my MBA. So, while the work I do now in GIS is not directly related to what I did in the Coast Guard, I would not be here today would have I not enlisted some 10 years ago.

Why did you choose the USC GIST Programs for your education? Is there anything about the USC program thus far that you would recommend to others?

I choose USC’s GIST program because it allows me to be on the forefront of what is happening in the GIS industry and because of USC’s commitment to excellence in education. The curriculum has challenged me and exposed me to new technologies, concepts, and theories about GIS and spatial thinking. The highlights for me thus far have been the Catalina trip and my current course SSCI 591: Web GIS. The Catalina trip allowed me to meet my classmates and create bonds and friendships that have persisted to this day, as well as an introduction to field work. My current class has opened my eyes to the power of Web GIS and the importance of using GIS to solve society’s problems though VGI and spatial analysis. This class has also taught me how to integrate GIS with web services to connect GIS and people.

Are there any specific things you want to highlight about your experience with the Web GIS course?

I found the Web GIS course to be the most relevant class I have taken so far in the program. As GIS migrates from enterprise systems to web service, the ability for a GIS professional to actively assist in the process is indispensable. At this year’s CalGIS/URISA conference, the keynote speaker, Esri founder Jack Dangermond, discussed how the future of GIS is in web GIS.

What has been one of your favorite GIST projects to work on, either in USC’s GIST program or in your career?

My favorite project so far was my MBA Capstone project at University of Redlands. The aim of the project was to establish connections between various indicators of gentrification and use the power of GIS to map and visualize areas in Los Angeles that were at risk of gentrification or had already been gentrified. This project let me explore and better understand the socioeconomic forces that are driving change with Los Angeles County. This project won the University of Redland’s Center for Business GIS and Spatial Analysis (GISAB) Graduate Award for Excellence in Business GIS.

What drove you to pursue a graduate certificate in GIS after earning your MBA?

After receiving my MBA with an emphasis in GIS, I was looking for a program where I could get more experience using various GIS platforms as well as get more hands-on experience with data collection and programming.

The MBA gave the tools I needed to conduct spatial analyses and manage GIS in an organization, but I wanted to learn more of the technical practices and tools to better round off my skill set. The certificate program allows me to take graduate-level courses with other students, and it offers the flexibility to focus on the courses that appeal to me the most. I want to continue and apply for the M.S. in GIST, but I had just finished my MBA in August 2017, so I wanted to give myself some space before pursuing another master’s degree.

Looking ahead, what are some of your career goals for the future? What type(s) of GIS work are you most interested in?

My background in GIS was very specific to business operations and how GIS could assist these processes. I am currently interested in developing new methods and models for community and utility scale solar project site selection. As renewable energy grows the demand for solar will as well. While the notion is that these solar farms will be built in distant desert the reality is that we will need sites that are closer to the eccentrical grid, many times hidden in plane site within a community. I want to focus on how we can improve the process to identify locations that are ideal for solar development using GIS and spatial analysis.

About USC’s GIS Graduate Programs

The University of Southern California offers a comprehensive selection of GIS programs, including GIS master’s degrees and GIS graduate certificates. Click on the programs below to learn about our leading geographic information science education.

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