For senior Olivia Snow, studying geography means having the opportunity to think about the world through a range of perspectives.

“Geography really encompasses a lot of different specialties,” said Snow, a senior in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “You have the science and data information side of it, but then there is an anthropology aspect with human geography, and with cartography there’s even an artistic and design component. And it is applicable to so many fields, from urban planning to meteorology to national security.”

Now, Snow has received recognition for her studies. She is the recipient of the 2021 Phi Kappa Phi Medallion Award, given to the top graduating senior across the four departments of the college.

“Olivia was one of the best cartographers I’ve ever had in the class,” said advanced instructor Stewart Scales, who teaches in the Department of Geography. “She constantly made maps that reflect a great attention to detail, and I still use her final project map of Island County, Washington, as an example for formatting and design in my current cartography class.”

Snow, who is minoring in geographic information science (GIS) and international studies, had the chance to put her skills to the test this past summer, during an internship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

“Working at the NGA, I was able to use GIS skills I learned in courses such as modelling in GIS and cartography on several internship projects,” Snow explained. “For instance, I used three-dimensional laser imaging data to perform an analysis that showed the geographical area visible at three different embassies.”

“In relation to human geography, I used ArcGIS Pro software to create maps visualizing datasets containing points of interest in southwest Asia,” she continued. “Maps such as these are important in understanding how humans interact with and influence a location.”

Scales said that Snow’s acumen with GIS software and sharp attention to detail allowed her to make great strides in her learning.

“Olivia was able to grasp the elements of creativity and design in GIS very quickly, which let her spend more time ‘thinking outside the box,’ which showed in the large-format maps she created,” he noted. “She is a great example of how hard work and focus can pay off.”

Snow says that learning from the professors in the College of Natural Resources has been a highlight of her time at Virginia Tech.

“I think, as a whole, the teaching styles of the professors in the CNRE have been a standout experience,” explained Snow, who is from Aldie, Virginia. “I feel like they know when to challenge you and when to walk alongside you, and that’s been very important to me.”

On campus, Snow has been an active participant with campus chapter of the New Life Christian Fellowship, a church community dedicated to community engagement.

“It’s helped me to connect with and get to know other students,” Snow noted. “They provide volunteer opportunities and have a service Sunday morning, so I’ve had the chance to meet new students and introduce them to Virginia Tech while continuing to grow my faith.”

Snow’s internship with National Geospatial Intelligence Agency will lead to a job after graduation, when she will join the agency as a human geographer.

Written by David Fleming

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