Geography graduate wins EPA Rising Star award

Growing up, Kaitlin Kean spent the mornings before school in her father’s office, poring over maps and watching him collect data as a land surveyor.

Kaitlin Kean ’19, MSGA ’21, seen here with her parents, recently received the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Rising Star” award. A geography graduate from UMW, she now works as a program analyst and GIS training manager at the EPA’s mission support office.

“This is where I first discovered the field and it was something I wanted to pursue,” said Kean, who now claims her own office where she has sought-after expertise in systems. geographic information, or GIS, for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Recently named a “Rising Star” in support of the EPA’s mission to protect human health, Kean honed his skills in the geography department at the University of Mary Washington, ranked among the top 10 in the South. is from the United States. A bachelor’s degree, coupled with an accelerated master’s degree in geospatial analysis – both completed at UMW – as well as a pathway program with the EPA, delivered a powerful punch. Now straight out of college, as a program analyst and training manager at the Mission Support Office, Kean’s work helps the agency protect communities from environmental hazards such as paint lead and toxic waste.

A college-level GIS course she took in high school caught her attention and got the ball rolling. “My teacher told us this is a growing field,” she said, “and if you stick to it you’ll get a job.”

This is especially true at UMW, said geography president Jackie Gallagher, where many graduates find immediate work, thanks to the department’s robust programs, which College Factual also ranks No. 5 in Virginia. An active alumni network provides support for new graduates, and Kean, a native of Charlottesville, also credits faculty members like Melina Patterson, Ping Yin and his advisor, Brian Rizzo, for his success.

“I met Kaitlin in first grade and was fascinated that she knew exactly what she wanted to do,” said Rizzo, who guided her in her quest for a GIS certificate and a thesis on the modeling of climatic ecosystems. “She could be found in the lab all day and night, working on homework in Python – a computer programming language – and helping others understand the material.”

As a senior, Kean enrolled in UMW’s five-year accelerated Master of Science in Geospatial Analysis program – one of only two in Virginia – which gives students the opportunity to take master’s-level courses. that count towards undergraduate and graduate degrees. “It’s kind of a double whammy,” Kean said. “I would recommend it to anyone considering studying GIS.”

Outside of class, she played starting catcher for UMW Softball and worked at the reception for Fly Fitness in Fredericksburg. An exercise enthusiast these days she hikes with friends at nearby state parks and walks her Labradoodle around her neighborhood in Old Town Alexandria on her lunch break, while working out at residence.

Focused on earning a project management certification later this month, Kean said she was honored to have earned the respect of her colleagues at the EPA – and the “Rising Star” award that she received. ‘she received in a virtual ceremony last month – so quickly. “In such a large government agency, it feels good to be recognized. “

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