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Dear GIS Freshman Me: 7 Pieces of Advice from Your (Slightly) Wiser Self

Updated: Feb 9

Letwin Pondo

Usually when your application to college/university goes through, you just get the general orientation and boom classes are all over you. The excitement of attending your first college class and the heroic/adulthood feeling that carries you throughout that day is unimaginable. The same happened to me!

I was so excited, especially to make my first map during my GIS practical! For me, the beauty, and the joy of being a GIS professional were in me producing beautiful maps. Orientation never taught me much, especially relating to my degree of choice.

It was when I started following a unique route that I truly understood something was missing on my first day. So, today I decided to write this letter to my younger self, advising me on what I was supposed to be told that day. To anyone else reading this, especially if you are a GIS freshman or still in school, join me as I share 7 Geospatial College Survival Secrets They Forgot to Mention in Orientation!

1.This field is amazing

There is no doubt this is an amazing field. I have had the privilege of tasting that firsthand. It is a journey of discovery, lots of fun, traveling, and genuine satisfaction and growth. While you start on it, you need to gear up for a roller coaster ride.

2. Affiliation with professional organisations

The ever-evolving field of GIS will be intense if you don’t get some kind of affiliation with an in-person or online community, professional organisation, or society. It is through that affiliation that you get to hear the testimonies of your fellow professionals; their challenges, successes, and trends within the field, and stay up to date. If you can be committed to even one, you are home and dry.

GIS professional

3. Keeping up with industry trends

As much as you are sent to school to learn, some of the things you are learning inside those four walls may not apply to the real world anymore. It takes so much to change a university curriculum - months, and years. Take a challenge to constantly check what new things are coming up within the field, and, if possible, learn them. A basic appreciation of what is going on in the world outside those four walls is essential.

Geospatial Letwin Pondo

4. For a woman, stay strong!

Just like any engineering field, the geospatial profession can be difficult for a woman. Many promising passions and dreams have been shattered. It would be so helpful if even a few men came on board to offer a supportive hand to the aspiring women in geospatial. Fortunately, there are now lots of female geospatial spaces where you can get the motivation and inspiration you deserve.

Women in Geospatial

5. It’s not all in the classroom

The geospatial field is too broad to be compiled into a single semester module. There is so much to learn outside of the classroom environment. The real deal of what makes you worthy might be scattered around your environment, social media, and networks; you need to open your eyes.

6. Networking is key

Learn all you can, cram those texts and procedures, but networking, I mean meaningful and intentional networking, will get you places. It’s not all about increasing the number of followers on your LinkedIn or Facebook page, or getting so many retweets. Be intentional about your networking even in person. Know the right words to say, know why you even need the network in the first place, and it won’t be hard to sustain that connection.


7. Constant self-development

As I mentioned earlier, there is too much to learn out there and sometimes you need to spice it up with coding, artificial intelligence, research, project management, creative writing etc. Just do it! If you have the resources, never stop improving yourself. Ever heard of a fresh graduate who is irrelevant in the real world? Sound familiar? It can’t be you, so never stop learning. YouTube is loaded and the internet – with just a click of a button, you have it all.

It isn’t about attending college anymore; it is about creating a unique person out of you. Now every chance I get to orient new students within my department, I sit them down and tell them this, with real-life examples and references. How I wish someone had spilled all this on my very first day! So dear younger me, take note.

About the Author

Letwin Pondo is a rising star in the geospatial world, passionate about bridging the gap between technology and community. An avid OpenStreetMap (OSM) contributor, advisor and mentor to YouthMappers Zimbabwe and the founder of Ladies In Maps Zimbabwe, she empowers youth and women to harness the power of spatial data for positive change.

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