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Mariah Perkins ’13 can remember exactly the “ah-hah! moment” when her future lit up, and it happened during Dr. Julie Markin’s Global Research and Writing class at Washington College. “We were trying to map the Vikings’ journey to the New World,” she says. “I was introduced to GIS, and from that point, I was fascinated with it.” Since then, Perkins has focused her undergraduate career so successfully on Geographic Information Systems that she landed a job at one of the country’s leading technology consulting firms before she even started her senior year.
What’s unique about Perkins’ path is that unlike most people who work in GIS, she’s not a math, physics, GIS or geography major. Washington College doesn’t even offer the latter two as majors—a fact that nearly caused Perkins to transfer to a bigger school, which she dreaded doing. “I love Washington College as a small liberal arts college, and I was scared to sacrifice that for getting a geography degree somewhere else at a big university,” she says.
Enter Stewart Bruce, program coordinator of the College’s GIS Lab, assistant director of the Center for Environment and Society, and adjunct assistant professor in anthropology. He suggested that Perkins major in anthropology, applying GIS to the movement and study of populations and cultures. And he hired Perkins to intern at the College’s busy GIS Lab, where she worked on a wide array of projects. “Stew showed me a different way of doing it and getting the experiences, and opening new doors for me that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get at a big university, because it’s more personal here.”
One of those doors was through a contact Bruce has at Booz Allen Hamilton who serves with him on the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Academic Advisory Board. Perkins landed a summer internship with the internationally known management and technology consulting firm, where, among other projects, she worked in a cyber cohort competition, developing a mobile GIS application for the iPad. “I was the only one who wasn’t a computer science, physics or math major in the competition,” Perkins says. “I was an anthropology major, but that brought a whole different perspective and it helped a lot.” Perkins’ team was a finalist and presented its work to Mike McConnell, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
At the end of the internship, Booz Allen offered Perkins a job as a GIS analyst. “I’m very excited to start; it’s an amazing position,” she says. She begins in June, though she’s been interning for the firm during her final semester. She also earned a prestigious $5,000 undergraduate scholarship from the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.
Perkins, a Phi Beta Kappa member and Douglass Cater Society Fellow, spent her fall senior semester at the University of Oulu in Finland on a Cater Society research grant. She traveled to Lapland and Norway to study the indigenous Saami people, taking side trips to the Arctic Circle.
“I am so happy that I stayed at Washington College because I don’t know where I would be otherwise,” she says. “The drive that teachers have for their students to succeed is really amazing. They care, very much.”
Read more stories of Purpose and Passion here.