• Real-World Geography: Melody Ablola

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

    Illustration by Mary Crooks

    By Stuart Thornton

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Melody works for Arup, an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants, and technical specialists. Arup is based in London, England.

    Melody is currently working on a project for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The project will determine how deliveries will be made to the Olympic Village, the community where athletes stay during the games.

    EARLY WORK

    Even as a young girl, Melody was able to understand technology and put it to practical use. “I’d be the 5 or 6-year-old fixing the VCR or taking apart some clock,” she says.

    At the University of San Diego, Melody pursued a degree in industrial and systems engineering. “The reason for choosing engineering was just always being really good at math, really good at science,” she says.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “All of the projects are very diverse,” Melody says. “So I’ll work on something like the Olympics, and I’ll help them build environments, but because I’m an industrial engineer I also get opportunities to work on airports. I go visit Heathrow Airport [in London] and look at their baggage-handling system, and then look in Qatar and help develop their system of transportation.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Melody says the technical nature of her work can make communication difficult. People who are not engineers may not understand technical terms and problems. In addition to other engineers, Melody works with software developers and architects.

    “I suppose it’s the combinations of subdisciplines” that make communication demanding, she says.

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “When you say geography, I think of destinations. And I think of airports.”

    However, Melody’s view of geography is changing. “Right now, I’m also pursuing a transport masters, so geography becomes the globe and it becomes where goods or people move,” Melody says. (A “transport masters” is a degree in International Transport and Logistics, which Melody is pursuing from the University of Glamorgan, Wales.)

    GEO-CONNECTION

    “When we think about the urban geography or the economic geography side of things, I’m looking at how people move around,” she says. “Or I’m looking at how goods are distributed around.”

    Melody finds it helpful to know the geographic nature of a region before she begins working there. “When I have to consider different economic climates for a project, it’s defining those languages that are local or what goods are available locally,” she says.

    Melody uses geographic tools in her work. “Any type of geographic information system (GIS) helps the supply-chain planning or it helps the delivery-service planning for a lot of the projects that we do,” Melody says.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ENGINEER

    “Starting in high school, it’s just being involved in any of the mathematics programs,” Melody suggests.

    Melody recommends participating in academic competitions, such as a debate team or the National Geography Bee. “That stuff keeps you sharp,” she says. “It keeps you aware of current events.”

    GET INVOLVED

    Melody recommends volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that seeks to eliminate homelessness around the world.

    “Being able to do real construction work, for example, gets you hands-on [experience] with what engineering has meant historically or what engineering really is,” she says, “whether it’s developing a city or it’s designing a building to provide better living centers.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    academic Adjective

    person or thing having to do with school, particularly college or university education.

    architect Noun

    person who designs buildings or other large structures.

    athlete Noun

    person who participates or competes in sporting events.

    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    construction Noun

    arrangement of different parts.

    determine Verb

    to decide.

    distribute Verb

    to divide and spread out materials.

    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    eliminate Verb

    to remove.

    engineer Noun

    person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

    engineering Noun

    the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    globe Noun

    scale model of the Earth, or sometimes used to mean the Earth itself.

    Encyclopedic Entry: globe
    industrial Adjective

    having to do with factories or mechanical production.

    logistics Noun

    management of the movement of goods and services.

    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    Olympics Noun

    international sports competition divided into summer and winter games held every four years.

    region Noun

    any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    software Noun

    electronic programs of code that tell computers what to do.

    subdiscipline Noun

    field of study within a larger area of research.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.

    urban Adjective

    having to do with city life.

Tell us what you think