An early introduction to GIS combined with computer science provides a strong foundation for a successful future in GEOINT.
Roseanna Torrez, a freshman at SUNY Polytechnic Institute studying computer science, discovered the fields of GIS and GEOINT early in her academic career. Now, she hopes to harness the power of computational and geospatial thinking to help others around the world.
Students rarely learn about geospatial intelligence in high school—what drew you to the field, and how did you first hear about it?
I first learned about GEOINT while living in State College, Pennsylvania. I signed up for a program called the EnvironMentors, a partnership program between State College High School and Penn State University that pairs a high school student with a graduate student and a professor to work on a graduate-level project. I picked a GIS project it because it didn’t seem like something I’d done before, and I wanted to broaden my horizons and knowledge. It was definitely out of my comfort zone. We did a project looking at land cover and land use change in Narok County, Kenya. It was exciting because I realized how this could help people and how I could use GIS in the future, and I knew I wanted to keep pursuing GIS and learn more about it.
Prior to this experience, I didn’t have much of a passion for science. But GIS was a science that I could understand. And I wanted to do something that could help people. That was very important to me—contributing back to the world that had given to me. I’m excited to combine my love for science and my love for helping people.
Tell me about your internship with Gateway Global American Youth and Business Alliance.
I applied to a program called the St. Louis Internship Program while I was in high school. I went through a 10-week training program with them, and they assessed my interests and what I was good at. After that, you can earn an internship at an organization that you like. I knew I wanted to work with GIS, so I was paired with Gateway Global, and it was amazing. In the mornings, we went to lectures and learned all about USGIF’s terms and vocabulary, how to use ArcGIS Pro, and how to navigate the world of GIS and GEOINT. In the afternoons, we completed work projects. Mine was on international trade between Missouri and China, and it was exciting to dive deeper into that. I looked at imports and exports between the two, how the trade war affected it, how trade routes were built and changed, how jobs were affected, and security issues. At the end of the program, we took the USGIF high school certificate exam, which I earned, making me a certified geospatial technician.
What’s your dream job?
My dream job is to run the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). I know that’s a lot to want, but I met the director of NGA and I’m hoping one day that can be me. I also want to reach out and let other high schoolers and kids in general know about GIS. I feel like this is an opportunity—it’s a field that’s growing, and it needs people. So, I want to ensure that I’m doing something like what Gateway Global did for me—giving those who are underrepresented a chance to find passion in this job.
What interests you most about GIS/GEOINT?
What interests me most is how advanced it’s getting. It can be almost frustrating because when you finally understand what’s going on, there are new updates and new technologies. But at the same time, that’s so exciting. You can get into software not knowing anything, and you can come out of it knowing 10x more than you did when you started. That’s my favorite part—there’s always room for growth, and things are always changing. I love that.
What advice do you have for high schoolers who don’t know what they want to do in college yet?
Breathe. There’s no pressure to decide right now because your interests and who you are will change over time. But, if you have an inkling of something you’d like to do, follow it. Only you know what you like and what you’re good at, so don’t let other things decide for you. The only person who can decide what you want to do and what’s best for you is yourself.
Featured image: Roseanna Torrez (right) with Zekita Armstrong Asuquo, President of Gateway Global American Youth & Business Alliance Academies Inc. (Photo credit: Niambi Tucker)