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Paying it Forward

Hannah Gunderman At least once a week, Hannah Gunderman (’18) finds herself strategizing about ways she can engage with the UT Department of Geography. She is a proud alumna and makes it a priority to stay involved.

“It would be an understatement to say that I care about the geography department,” Gunderman said. “There was something really special about my experience that makes me want to continue being involved in any way that I can and pay it forward to students currently in the program.” 

Working with Professor Derek Alderman as her dissertation advisor, Gunderman earned her PhD in geography and decided to pursue a career in academic librarianship. She started down this path as a postdoc in the UT School of Information Sciences (SIS) in September 2018 and a year later, began working in her current role as a research data management consultant at Carnegie Mellon University. During her postdoc at UT, however, Gunderman could not get geography – or the Burchfiel geography building – off her mind.

“The postdoc in SIS changed my mental map of UT’s campus, which had previously been so rooted in the Burchfiel geography building that I found myself making excuses to pop over to Burchfiel whenever I could,” Gunderman said. “Needed a walk at lunch? I’d head over to Burchfiel! Needed some water? The water fountains in that building are the best! It was clear that, although my professional sphere at UT had shifted, my heart still remained with UT geography.”

Gunderman’s commitment to giving back to the department began during her internship at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as a doctoral student in the former geographic information science and technology group. For several years, she served as a bridge between ORNL and the department. Gunderman connected students with information about opportunities at the lab and mentored several students on career development and professional growth, both as a doctoral student and in her role as a postdoc in SIS.

“I quickly learned how much I loved giving back to the department that provided so much for me as a student,” Gunderman said. “While my postdoc duties over in SIS kept me busy, I always made time for coffee chats at Golden Roast, my favorite Knoxville coffee shop, with UT geography students.”

Shortly before Carnegie Mellon and UT went fully online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gunderman visited Knoxville for two information sciences conferences and saw an opportunity to conduct a data management workshop for UT geography students while she was in town. During the workshop, students drew from Pokémon to learn more about documentation and workflows, chatted through file naming schemes, and engaged in conversations on tools for storing and sharing geospatial information.

“It was an incredible experience to watch these students go through these activities and also see myself through a completely different lens being back in Burchfiel,” Gunderman said. “Conducting the workshop in the very same room where I used to write my dissertation, have committee meetings, and meet with students, I saw how I could continue to enrich the department as a faculty member at another institution.”

Hannah Gunderman and UT students and staff after her workshop in February 2020.

Hannah Gunderman and UT students and staff after her workshop in February 2020.

Gunderman recently participated in a five-week career coaching program, led by GIS Outreach Coordinator, Michael Camponovo, where she learned techniques for growing her career and gained the opportunity to network, mentor, and connect with other UT geography alumni.

With the ongoing pandemic, Gunderman is not sure when she will be able to visit with UT geography students in person again, but she plans to continue her outreach in a virtual environment through guest lectures, data management workshops, and a Zoom-Side Chat with Michael Camponovo.

“I am always available to talk with any students or alumni who are interested in exploring the academic librarianship career route, for which geography is an excellent foundation,” Gunderman said. “I consider my outreach and engagement with UT geography to be one of the most important service activities of my career, and I hope to continue this for many more years to come.”