Article

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stephanie is a transportation engineer for Fuss & O’Neill, an engineering firm in Manchester, Connecticut.

Stephanie’s job duties include conducting traffic signal studies, roadway-planning studies, and working on street improvement projects.

EARLY WORK

During her childhood in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, Stephanie gravitated towards math and science. “I got the hang of math at a very young age, and I liked it,” she says. “I liked how you could always get just one answer. It’s not multiple, so you know if you are right or wrong.”

Stephanie discovered transportation engineering while working towards her degree in civil engineering at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. “As I took these classes, I realized I liked more of the ground aspect than the structural building aspect,” she says.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“It’s a new challenge every time. Not every project is the same. You have the same basic concepts, but there are different technical ways and different solutions to solve every problem.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“I would say that everything has to be technically correct, so we do a lot of work with AutoCAD and computer-aided software. Whatever you type in, the computer is going to produce, which makes everything a lot easier than hand work, but at the same time if you mistype or something doesn’t line up, you have to go back and rethink that solution.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Within engineering and what I do with transportation, land, and roadways, I would say it’s the type of ground that you are building upon.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Stephanie says that there is one particular aspect of her job that is tied closely to geography. “We do a lot of permitting, so if you are in a wetland, on the coast, or in a flood-hazard zone, those factors relate to geography,” she says.

According to Stephanie, looking at a region’s geography is essential when working on a roadway. “When you are building something say in the middle of a mountain, you have to slope the road so it [the water] drains off the road and doesn’t pond right into the middle of the center,” she says.

Stephanie’s firm has a new tool for field work that utilizes geographic information system (GIS) technology. “The camera has a GPS compass that is compatible with Google Earth,” she says. “You can take a picture in the field, come back to the office, upload the pictures, and then import them to Google Earth, where they will show up at the exact locations in which they were taken. This helps us greatly in the field, especially when we do roadway studies for roadway segments that are miles in length.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . TRANSPORTATION ENGINEER

Attend a public hearing in your area. “[Meetings are] open to the public if they are having a new roadway or school built or something,” Stephanie says. “They give a whole presentation on what’s going to happen. You can ask questions and listen to what other people have to say.”

GET INVOLVED

Stephanie recommends getting a tour of an engineering or architectural firm to learn about engineering.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

aspect

Noun

view or interpretation.

AutoCAD

Noun

software program used by engineers, geographers, and other professionals to help design and model land areas and build infrastructure.

civil engineer

Noun

person who works in the design and construction of buildings, roads, and other public facilities.

coast

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Encyclopedic Entry: coast

compass

Noun

instrument used to tell direction.

Encyclopedic Entry: compass

compatible

Adjective

complementary, or capable of working together productively.

concept

Noun

idea.

engineer

Noun

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

essential

Adjective

needed.

field work

Noun

scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.

Encyclopedic Entry: field work

flood

Noun

overflow of a body of water onto land.

Encyclopedic Entry: flood

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

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Noun

system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

Google Earth

Noun

computer and mobile application used to access and explore virtual globes, maps, and other geographic information.

gravitate

Verb

to move toward or be attracted to something.

location

Noun

position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: location

mountain

Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

multiple

Adjective

many.

permit

Noun

official, written permission to do something. Sometimes called a license.

public

Adjective

available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

roadway

Noun

land on which a road or path is built.

slope

Noun

slant, either upward or downward, from a straight or flat path.

software

Noun

electronic programs of code that tell computers what to do.

technology

Noun

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

traffic signal

Noun

light, sound, or other indication that vehicle traffic is moving.

transportation

Noun

movement of people or goods from one place to another.

wetland

Noun

area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.

Encyclopedic Entry: wetland

Credits

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Writer

Stuart Thornton

Editors

Jeannie Evers
Kara West

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

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