GIS Technician, East Tennessee Development District
Greetings! My name is Emily Craig. I graduated from the University of Tennessee’s Department of Geography with a BA in Sustainability and a minor in Geographic Information Science in 2019. The time I spent at UT and, more specifically, within the Geography Department, has been a huge force in shaping my life thus far. When I joined the sustainability major in 2017, it was categorized as an interdisciplinary program, and, as such, was structured in a very free-form manner. Within one semester of seemingly unrelated courses, I learned that the subject of sustainability was (1) commonly misunderstood, and (2) a complex topic to understand by nature. It wasn’t just, “Let’s save the environment!” It was also, “Don’t forget about the economy! Oh, and the equity of the people!” This holistic approach to problem-solving felt natural and complementary to my way of understanding the world. For that reason, I felt at home in the discipline. As time went on, however, I found myself wondering how sustainable concepts could be applied in a more quantitative fashion. I enrolled in my first GIS course with instructor Michael Camponovo in the spring of 2017 – only a few weeks into the class, my answer was already clear. With the power of GIS to visually combine seemingly unrelated data, I could elucidate spatial phenomena related to the exploration, measurement, and achievement of sustainable objectives. GIS was the tool I would use to engage with my passion for sustainability – and with that realization, I was off!
The rest of my time at UT was dedicated to the pursuit of a minor in GIS. My class projects ranged from hydrologic modelling scenarios to temporal characterization of streambank erosion to green stormwater mitigation planning. Meanwhile, I worked on ways to engage with geography & sustainability on and off campus. I became co-president of the UT Alliance for Geographers & Sustainers in 2018 and served as student liaison to the Tennessee Geographic Information Council’s Board of Directors in the same year. Student presentations at state- and regional-level conferences rounded off my academic adventures.
Post-graduation, my path wasn’t straightforward, as most tend not to be. In the fall of 2019, I entered UT’s graduate program for landscape architecture with a fully funded research assistantship, but I left soon after realizing that GIS was the path I was most interested in taking. The job search that followed led to my first professional home at the East Tennessee Development District (ETDD) where I’ve served as sole GIS staff since May of 2020. ETDD is a regional economic and community development agency focused on improving the lives of East Tennesseans, especially those in rural areas. This purpose is achieved through ETDD’s community planning, transportation planning, and grant administration services, which are offered to the entire 16-county district. In this position, I’ve practiced GIS through the lens of sustainability in a real-world setting, networked with public and private sector professionals, grown my project management skills immensely, and – best of all – supervised interns from my home Geography Department at UT. The success of the department’s efforts to prepare their undergraduates is more than evident in the caliber of work they produce, and it’s been a privilege watching past interns enter the workforce after our time is complete.
Thanks to the faculty, students, and leadership of UT’s Department of Geography, the world gains several young professionals who possess an understanding of geography, systems-thinking, and people-and-environment-based ethics every year. I sincerely appreciate this opportunity to be Alumni of the Month and look forward to maintaining a relationship of commitment to the department’s growth in any way that I can. A future with more geographers and sustainers is a world I intend to help build!
If I can ever be of assistance in any way – whether academically, professionally, or personally – please reach out. As my time with geographers has taught me – it’s people that make the difference, always.