Kelsey Smith

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Kelsey Smith

Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut

Discovering Geography

Why did you choose the Geography program at SU?

I originally came to Syracuse as a Math Education major. I took that intro to human geographies class hoping to knock out 3 requirements in one, but ended up loving it way more than number crunching in a basement. I immediately dropped math and picked up geography and never looked back.

After SU Geography

Where do you work? How did you end up there?

I work for a private development company in Connecticut, BLD. We are currently using a TIGER grant to build one of the largest mixed-use harbor developments in the state. After SU I decided to get a master’s degree in Community Planning focusing on placemaking and environmentally friendly planning which helped me land the job there. I also have a side consulting business where I’m the Community Planning Consultant. For that I do grant and graphics work for various non profits (e.g., housing organizations or community events).

What geography skills do you use at your work?

I work with a lot of different people including architects, community leaders, state agencies, and the EPA. Geography really sets you up to be able to understand and communicate across fields. I use the mapping skills I learned in GIS and Cartography on a daily basis. I also use planning principles and what I learned about how people interact within their space to help guide decision making at work. Finally I use what I learned with regards to environmental impact/implications a lot as our site is a brownfield literally inches from the ocean.

Lessons learned as a Geography major & Advice to undergrads

What was the most useful class during undergrad?

Skill development wise- GIS, however I use what I learned in Coastal Geographies, Urban Historical Geographies, and a 400 migration class w/ Professor Winders (Fall 2011) on a regular basis.

What programs helped prepare you for the future outside of class?

Learning AutoCAD, Economics, and Adobe Creative Suite really helped me with the nitpicky technical stuff (it also makes you more marketable). Also anything that helped me build my communication and group mediation skills (presentations, writing workshops, local community meetings, and lecture panels) were very useful. And, as much as I hated them, group projects (in any class). You need a lot of patience if you are dealing with something that crosses multiple agencies, disciplines, and communities so anything that develops this will save you stress in the field.

Any advice for undergrads?

Give yourself a real chance (and time) to find a job in the field you are passionate about. Finding human geography jobs can be hard, but you will be so much happier in the end if you don’t settle. Also, getting involved is the best way to find a job. I volunteered at maybe 5 or so different places ranging from local government offices, to housing nonprofits, to food desert advocate groups and make real connections with people who ended up helping me land paying opportunities.

Fun Fact:

I help design cities for people who play online games (like clash of clans/sims/ forge of empires/etc) and use them as testing grounds for our real world site designs just to see how stuff would fend against a crusade attack, plague scenario or zombie invasion.