Nancy Milholland

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Nancy Milholland, MS GIST Graduate 2014

The title of the talk seemed innocuous enough. Several years ago, I attended a lecture called “What is Geographic Information Science (GIS)?” offered by a local community college’s GIS education center. I was so excited by what I heard and saw that I decided to pursue the MS in Spatial Science at USC. GIS marked a return to my undergraduate roots when I studied Geography and Environmental Studies. However, I took a different career path on graduation. I enjoyed a dual career over the years in various software developer roles and as an Episcopal priest serving in parishes. More recently, I spent eleven years in IT at Genentech, a biotech company that develops drugs to address significant unmet medical needs.

The MS program at USC was a great change of pace. I loved having time to focus on learning and being challenged academically. The courses provided a balance between intellectual exploration and practical application of newly acquired GIS skills. I found the capstone projects for each course a great way to integrate course material, my academic interests, and my existing technical skills. The projects and my thesis were fun and helped me develop practical skills—such as GIS application development and configuration of servers, web pages, and mobile devices. I loved seeing the breadth of ways GIS can help solve pressing social concerns.

While pursuing my degree I gave papers and presentations at a variety of conferences across the US. I saw firsthand what others were accomplishing in the field. These activities were an outgrowth of being in a high level academic program where I had the freedom to pursue my intellectual interests.

My experience at USC was rewarding and helped me shift direction to a spatial science career. I recently started working at a woman-owned environmental consulting company in the San Francisco Bay Area ( I also teach a short course in Mobile Data Collection for non-GIS professionals at the community college where my interest was originally piqued. I am excited by the possibilities that lie ahead in GIS and grateful for the role USC played in helping me join the spatial science field.

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