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Lightning Learning

Date: September 18, 2015

As journeyman leaders in the College’s GIS Lab, Brad Janocha and Daniel Benton are presenting at international conferences, teaching younger students, and reveling in overseeing real-world projects. 

About a week before Brad Janocha ’16 and Daniel Benton ’17 were to leave for San Diego, where they were giving a presentation at this summer’s Esri International User’s Conference, the organizers blasted an email to attendees: If you want to give a “lightning talk,” at the conference, send a proposal now. First come, first served.

“I was thinking, I have been to three conferences. Most students only get to go to one. But I went to two GEOINTs, and this one,” says Janocha, who is a journeyman leader in Washington College’s GIS Lab, run by Stewart Bruce, assistant director of the College’s Center for Environment & Society. “And I was thinking, I feel like Stew has given me so many opportunities, I need to give back. So I decided to write up a proposal and show the industry what we do, because it’s amazing.”

Janocha, an international studies major who’s specializing in the Middle East and Africa, landed the talk, and he gave it to a healthy portion of the estimated 16,000 attendees at the conference, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings of  “geogeeks”—a disarmingly self-deprecating term for giants in business technology, federal, state, and local governments, NGOs, defense and intelligence contractors, and other industries and agencies that utilize GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

He and Benton also gave a presentation about an online web application that the College’s GIS Lab uses for its clients to distribute data. For both students, the conference was another in a long list of real-world opportunities that the GIS Lab and Bruce have been instrumental in creating.

Both had also attended the GEOINT Symposium—an annual national gathering organized by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), which last year drew over 5,500 attendees—as part of their work for the GIS Lab at the College. And both are now journeyman leaders at the lab, the highest rank in the guild system that enables the less experienced students to become apprentices to the students who can teach them the lab’s software and project management methods.

Janocha says he knew nothing about GIS until he answered an ad to work at the lab during his freshman year.

“He [Bruce] pays us to train and learn at the lab, so within about a week he gave me my first assignment, and the next thing you know, I’m actually meeting with clients and forming relationships with people in the professional world. Within a semester—and I’m still a freshman—I’m running my own projects. It was pretty huge for me. As for as international studies, it’s everything.”

Benton, a computer science major and member of the College’s men’s rowing team, says he first learned about GIS in high school.

“I took four classes of GIS in high school that were all designed by the GIS Lab,” he says. “I applied to WAC because I wanted to work at the GIS Lab and study at the College. Since coming here, I have worked on a number of different projects and learned many more skills that I couldn’t have, had I gone to another college. As far as opportunities, I think the fact that I went to two major GIS conferences in the same summer, and that I presented at one of them, says enough.”

Janocha, who studied abroad for a year at Al Akhwayn University, hopes to return to Morocco and set up a similar GIS program there.

“GIS has been the best thing I’ve experienced while at College,” he says. “Having that practical experience, I can’t even explain how important that is to me.”

To watch Janocha’s lightning talk, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSIhRKqHa_Q&feature=youtu.be


Last modified on Sep. 18th, 2015 at 4:17pm by Wendy Clarke.