From 5th Grade Science Experiments to Employment
In honor of Earth Day, Fredericksburg Parent had an exclusive interview with local Massaponax High School and University of Mary Washington (UMW) graduate Gretchen Gorecki, currently working as an analyst for Marstel-Day, a fast-growing, woman-led, environmental firm headquartered in downtown Fredericksburg.
Gorecki is a parent’s dream: a local STEM-savvy graduate who landed a STEM job in her hometown. Here she shares with our readers her path to successful employment. Her journey highlights many of the elements of a successful educational system: access to hands-on learning, AP classes and supportive mentors and peers.
FP: Gretchen, How did you end up in geographic information system (GIS) analysis?
GG: I was an environmental science and geography double major with a certificate in GIS. The certificate program was one of the options offered to me through the geography department.
I’ve always loved looking at maps. GIS is fun. It’s hands-on. What’s especially nice is that it is very broad. It’s applicable to all kinds of different jobs. For example, biologists use it to study animal migration, geologists use it to study landscapes, cultural resource historians and archeologists use it to create sub-surface maps for artifacts, engineers use it to create planning scenarios. You can take a universal concept and dabble in a lot of different fields.
I started at Marstel-Day as a GIS intern, I then became a researcher and am now an analyst. I work on species surveys and invasive species management.
FP: When did you get interested in science?
GG: I always was interested in science. I always spent a lot of time outside enjoying nature. I went to an environmental magnet school, DeerPark Elementary, in the 5th grade in Newport News, VA.
We did science experiments outside and the school was located near the Virginia Living Museum. During that time there were huge development pressures in the area, lots of tree cutting and habitats replaced by big box stores and that made a big impression on me.
I moved to Spotsylvania in 6th grade. I took advanced science and math classes, completing calculus and AP Biology. The double-period we had for AP Biology allowed intensive lab work and hands-on deep dives into the information.
I also started an environmental club at Massaponax High. We raised funds for the rainforest and other ecological causes. Through that I found teachers and students who were like-minded. In particular, Fernanda Kain (Biology) and Penny Anderson (Geography) were encouraging teachers.
FP: What advice would you give parents and students?
GG: It’s a myth that STEM subjects are boring or too challenging to try.
STEM subjects have such profound local and global implications and repercussions that its critical for everyone to have a solid foundation in the subjects.
Ms. Gorecki primarily supports Marstel-Day’s encroachment management and natural resource programs. She contributes to multiple Air Force compatible land use strategies, delivering iterative, Geographic Information System (GIS)-based analyses that rank segments of parcels or areas of land associated with installation-specific criteria.
Ms. Gorecki obtained a BS from the University of Mary Washington (UMW), where she double majored in environmental science and geography and received a GIS certificate. She is a certified GIS Professional (GISP). Formerly a UMW Ecology Club member, she is affiliated with the Delta Mu Chapter of Gamma Theta Upsilon, an international geography honor society. Ms. Gorecki is pursuing a MSc in biodiversity, wildlife, and ecosystem health from the University of Edinburgh.
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