By Cassandra Sottile
Elm Staff Writer
On April 1, Erica McMaster was appointed to the position of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program director replacing former director Stewart Bruce. According to the GIS blog “GIS on the Chester,” McMaster will also become the associate director of the Center for Environment & Society (CES).
McMaster is very excited for the opportunity to lead the team and to expand the program.
“I think we’ve done a great job over the years of consistently being able to hire students and bring them on as freshmen, train them, and really see them advance their skills and go on to have great job opportunities,” McMaster said to “GIS on the Chester.”
Before becoming the program director, McMaster was the GIS operations manager.
“I was responsible for the management of business operations for the GIS Program, as well as the management of various projects as assigned by our previous GIS program director,” McMaster said.
Past projects that McMaster and GIS have led include their Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention (GOCCP) grant, Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO) grant, Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council grant, and the Victims of Crime and Domestic Violence grant.
The mission of the GIS Program at Washington College is to provide students with experiential learning opportunities via contracts and grants that provide professional experience for undergraduates. The contracts and grants the students work on focus on using geospatial technology, including GIS, global positioning systems, and remote sensing.
McMaster’s 15 years of prior experience with ESRI ArcGIS mapping software and other remote sensing packages has allowed her to give technical assistance to staff and students working with the software.
Before coming to WC, McMaster worked as a GIS specialist for the National Parks Service at Assateague Island National Seashore, then as a GIS project manager at McCrone Inc. in Centreville.
“Most of the projects I worked on before coming to WC were related to image processing and manipulation, environmental studies, urban planning, and 3-D scanning and visualization,” McMaster said.
According to “GIS on the Chester,” Bruce was interested in bringing McMaster onto the team, “because of her experience with the private sector working in civil engineering and land planning that came from her last company.”
“At McCrone, I was able to take everything I learned and apply it to the civil engineering, surveying, and land planning disciplines. Many projects involved site suitability analysis for a particular parcel, creating GIS & BIM models using 3-D scanning systems and point clouds, and analyzing environmental data for particular areas — critical area, wetlands, etc.,” McMaster said.
Upon her arrival at the College, the first project McMaster worked on was Historical Easton 3-D, which modeled the town in three dimensions to create a GIS database of conditions for each structure.
The first large project she managed was the Crime Mapping and Analysis Program (CMAP) funded through the GOCCP. The grant provides training and outreach support on crime analysis and mapping, and supports agencies such as the Maryland State Police and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
“Because of our work with the Maryland State Police, MHSO was interested in having us expand our traffic analysis capabilities, and since then, we have grown that side of our program,” McMaster said.
In her role as director, McMaster plans to focus more on the academic side of the program.
According to “GIS on the Chester,” McMaster will be “leading the laboratory side as the director, [but will be] really focusing on forging that long-term and short-term plan of where the program is going and its mission, in addition to the greater responsibility for teaching the GIS academic courses and providing additional academic opportunities for the students.”
“I plan to work to promote GIS as an interdisciplinary tool and perspective, and will work with faculty and staff on campus to incorporate it into their classroom and on campus,” McMaster said.
McMaster hopes to establish a minor in geospatial technology and provide students with something tangible they can take with them.
According to “GIS on the Chester,” GIS has worked with history, biology, sociology, and environmental studies, but McMaster wants to expand to programs such as computer science and others that could utilize GIS technology.
The students and staff who have worked alongside McMaster during her time as operations manager are happy to see her step in as director.
GIS Journeyman Leader Erika Koontz, senior, said, “I am really excited that she is committed to establishing the minor program, which will bring GIS into more of the academic classes. GIS is an incredibly valuable skill to have, and is applicable to every single major.”
Katie Walker, student project manager, said, “I could not be more pleased with the choice. She is an excellent leader for the office and has good ideas for how to give students the best opportunities she can find.”
Kelsey Newcomb, GIS office manager, said, “I couldn’t think of a better person to take over as the director of our program than Erica. She has over 15 years of experience in GIS, and has been with WC’s GIS Program for over five [years]. She is the only person I know that has the proper knowledge on how to successfully run our one-of-a-kind program.”
GIS Analyst Alicia Shipley said, “I foresee growth as one change Erica will implement. Erica truly cares about the GIS Program and WC as a whole, and I know she has some great ideas for growing the program, which would be truly beneficial for everyone at the College.”
GIS Project Manager Luis Machado said, “Our new GIS Director is in a position to be an agent of positive change and growth, and I think Erica is the best person for the job. The GIS Program could not be in better hands.”