Online GIS and web mapping master’s pays off for National Geographic employee

Digital Globe

Rosemary Wardley landed a dream job at National Geographic soon after earning her bachelor’s degree. She has worked there for a decade, putting her geography training to use as a geographic information systems (GIS) cartographer. But even with access to the magazine’s resources, it has been hard to keep up with a barrage of new web mapping technologies.

That changed when Wardley entered UW-Madison’s online master of science program in GIS and Web Map Programming.

“I tried for many years to teach myself the new technologies, with little success. I decided to pursue a master’s degree to learn these technologies, many of which did not exist when I was earning my undergraduate degree,” she says.

Designed for working professionals and international students, the GIS and web mapping program provides training in GIS programming and eases the transition from desktop to web GIS. Students learn how to develop GIS tools, mobile GIS apps, and interactive, data-driven web maps to solve real-world problems. They can tailor the program to their schedules and earn a degree in less than a year while staying at their jobs.

Wardley chose UW-Madison for its sterling reputation in geography and cartography, and the convenience of learning online.

“UW-Madison has a long history of influencing cartographic styles and techniques through rigorous research, collaboration, and experimentation, and I have seen that reputation continue in the age of web maps,” she says.

Flexible learning, fulfilling work

The GIS program’s adaptable nature allowed her to work full time. She started to apply what she was learning right away, producing interactive maps that boost National Geographic’s digital presence and bring her a sense of fulfillment.

“I didn’t want to stop working to pursue further education,” she says, “and learning online afforded me the flexibility to fit this program into my professional life.”

Rosemary Wardley
Rosemary Wardley: ‘Learning online afforded me the flexibility to fit this program into my professional life.’

In particular, Wardley likes how she can customize the pace of the program.

“There is complete flexibility in how many courses you want to take at one time, and the only deadline is one you set yourself,” she says.

Going into the program, Wardley was concerned about the challenges online learning might present. She was relieved to find a collaborative, student-centered learning environment that provided motivation and helped her absorb the course material. Though it took a little time to get comfortable with the format, she ultimately succeeded with support from instructors.

“The instructors are very attentive, and they do the best they can to facilitate collaboration and discussion between students,” she says.

Fellow students were also a great source of knowledge, sharing the best ways to learn new web development and programming tools.

“I found that committing to a program—and having homework and project deadlines—was just the impetus I needed to fully learn skills such as web development,” she says. “I even made some new friends and professional connections.”

For more information about the online master of science in GIS and web map programming, see here.

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