By Guest Blogger Amelia, 2012 Student Assistant
“What am I going to do next summer?” Last winter break, I pondered the question. I had just graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in geography and was gearing up to start my first semester of graduate school in the spring. While I have a research assistantship at the Louisiana Geographic Information Center, I wanted to spend part of my summer gaining exposure as an intern. I looked into a summer internship at Esri, but didn’t want to be away from my assistantship for the entire summer. The User Conference Student Assistantship program appeared to be the perfect fit. It would allow me to obtain a first-hand account of Esri’s company culture and to gain valuable exposure in only one week.
I will now fast forward from December to July and “press play” when I arrived in San Diego. Expecting to be put straight to work that afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when our supervisors told us that we were free to go explore (many of us were geographers, after all). I really hit it off with one of my roommates, so we decided to take the ferry to Coronado Beach. Even though we were both tired from having traveled all morning, we were brought back to life with the salty sea breeze and the cool water on our toes. We made plans to go back later in the week, but never had the chance since the conference kept us so busy.
Even though we worked all day, the weekend flew. Many of us had registration duties, so we would either hand out tote bags or check attendee IDs and give them their badges. Seeing the IDs from such a wide-range of places—and hearing all the different languages and accents—made this task exciting. Regardless of the large number of attendees, the Esri team kept registration moving like clockwork. Our supervisors always made sure that we knew where, when, and how to do our tasks.
During the week, student assistants only work half of the day. Prior to the conference, we had the chance to choose whether we wanted to work the AM or PM shift and the duty we would be assigned. I chose to work in the store and at workshops. If there was a lull, I was able to talk to my supervisors about daily life at Esri. From this inside perspective I heard nothing but great reviews. The overarching theme was that there is a genuinely reciprocal relationship between the company and employee. Because Esri invests so much into the well-being of its employees, its employees invest in the culture of the company.
Whenever I had time off, I tried to take advantage of it. Monday afternoon I was able to catch the end of the plenary session. The innovative thinking was mind opening. For instance, Stephen Ervin, the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented an idea (that I have been chewing on since the conference) about envisioning our lives spatially. Dr. Ervin imagines his life as a space-filling curve, which is “a recursive subdivision of the line or space where each new node adds to the complexity and the length or the volume, but doesn’t move the beginning or end points.” During his presentation, he showed a group picture from a graphics conference hosted by the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics and Spatial Analysis in the early days of GIS. It reminded me of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Instead of luminaries in Paris, however, they were in Cambridge.
During the rest of the time I had off, I went to sessions and networked. A word of caution to future assistants: it is very easy to get distracted at the conference. Before you even get to San Diego, choose a couple of sessions that appeal to your core interests. Indeed, one of the most surprising parts of the conference was that I made more connections with people from Louisiana in San Diego than I did in Baton Rouge!
After the full days at the convention center, the assistants got a chance to play. Some nights we stayed at the hotel, and other nights we went out on the town. Since our hotel was so close to the Gaslamp Quarter, we were able to walk everywhere. One of my favorite spots was Vin De Syrah. Its décor made me feel like I was in a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Because there are so many people in town for the conference, you are almost guaranteed to overhear conversations revolving around GIS in every establishment. The Gaslamp Quarter was transformed into a geo-geek paradise!
As you can tell, my week in San Diego was action packed. I took a lot away from the experience: 60 new friends, ideas about how to improve workflows at my current job and in my own research, great career advice from members of the Esri team, many new connections … the list could go on and on. Because of one of the new connections I made at LSU, I might even have the opportunity to return to the UC next year! In the meantime, I am enthusiastic about sharing my UC experience with other students in hopes that they will apply to the program and create their own experience. Envisioning my life as a space-filling curve, the assistantship has created a new node. I venture to say that it will do the same for those that follow in my path.
Learn more about the UC Student Assistantship Program.