Brigham Young University geography students are gaining critical job experience through internships at the National Geographic Society, which has selected five BYU undergraduates in the past five years to work at the organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"Working at National Geographic is invaluable for our students," said Sam Otterstrom, an assistant professor of geography at BYU. "They receive excellent experience that is completely relevant to their undergraduate studies, they make beneficial contacts with others from around the country and they work for a place that has tremendous name recognition."
The National Geographic Society has noted the quality and character of the BYU students who have interned there.
"The BYU interns have been of the highest caliber," said Robert Dulli, director of the intern program at National Geographic. "They're always a pleasure to work with, and they always receive great kudos from their supervisors."
Krystal Hansen, a geography major, is the latest BYU student to intern at National Geographic. She has been assigned to help develop a program of workshops to train elementary and middle-school educators to better teach geography. She will also work with the Society's grant program, which donates funding to public schools to improve their geography courses.
"National Geographic is an amazing organization," Hansen said. "It is such a wonderful opportunity to work at the most prestigious place in my field and apply the things I've learned in my classes at BYU."
Hansen says that her classes and background using geographic computer software, called Geographic Information Systems, helped distinguish her from other applicants to the Society. GIS gives cartographers the ability to create highly accurate and flexible maps and also analyze a broad variety of geographic data. Their familiarity with GIS has proved invaluable for BYU students.
"I think we have had more success placing students at National Geographic over the past five years, partly because we have more faculty members teaching GIS and cartography courses that have given students a good background in those areas," Otterstrom said.
Elizabeth Carr, who recently completed her master's degree in geography at BYU, was the second BYU student to work at National Geographic in fall 2001. As an intern, she was assigned to work on National Geographic's Web page, developing an internet-based education program called Xpeditions. Xpeditions allows school teachers to submit geography lessons to National Geographic, which are then reformulated into online interactive multimedia presentations available for use in the classroom. The opportunity to work on such cutting-edge projects, as well as the exposure to elite geography professionals gave Carr a unique glimpse at the top of her profession.
"I wanted to work at National Geographic because it was a direct application of the things I learned as a geography major," Carr said. "But it was also an opportunity to see how a large geography organization funds and conducts research, which helped me pursue my master's degree."
Otterstrom says that the interns at National Geographic reflect the good reputation of the university and the high-caliber students who attend BYU.
"Our recent success with having interns accepted at National Geographic points to both the quality of our students and the positive light in which they are seen."
Writer: Brad Jensen