13:30 PM

Alumna maps path to success with sociology, geography

Everyone who uses an app to park a car, navigate an airport, or share their zip code at check-out is using geographic information systems technology. Abrin Brooks' job ensures all that, and much more, are working smoothly.

Brooks, a University of Houston-Clear Lake double alumna, is the GIS coordinator for the City of Friendswood. "I'm part of the data hub for the city," she said. "I collect, analyze and display data, and then distribute that data using maps and apps."

That encompasses important local information, such as the city's sewer system, zoning changes, street data, and much more. "I also make apps for fun events, like the city's Christmas scavenger hunt. Citizens can use the app to participate in the hunt around the city," she said.

She said that she stumbled across a GIS class when she was at UH-Clear Lake pursuing her master's in sociology. "I was in an advanced statistics class and I loved it, and I asked the professor what I could do if I were a statistician," she said, "The professor introduced me to the idea of GIS, so I chose to take that course, and on the first day of the class I realized I wanted to make a career out of using this technology."

She learned about collecting data, analyzing it, and then making something that people who didn't understand statistics could easily read and understand — a map. "I was always the navigator," she said. "I took GIS classes as electives in graduate school and thought I'd be a social sciences statistician. Combining sociology with GIS is perfect for me because sociology is the study of people, and I'm showing them where things are for them — like water, parks, fire hydrants, etc."

She added, "I couldn't perform my job as well without the sociology degree, especially working for a municipality. People are my customers. This is where geography and sociology meet."

She said that the requirement of an internship for her master's degree was a game changer. "I interned with the City of Webster with their GIS division. My project was to create an app for damage assessments," she said. "Then Hurricane Harvey happened and we used the app I had created. The City of La Porte heard about it and offered me a job right after Hurricane Harvey, and I worked there three years."

Brooks returned to UHCL to be among six panelists for GIS Day, an annual event celebrating the technology of geographic information systems, providing researchers, professionals and students a forum to showcase real-word applications of GIS technologies that are making a difference in society. The event was held Nov. 17-19 and resources are available online.

"I was invited as a former student of (Associate Professor of Geographic Information Systems) Jeff Lash, to speak about how I apply what I learned in his courses to the real-world profession and how I secured a job in the field of GIS," she said. "I enjoy helping people learn all the things they can do with GIS. I also own my own company and provide GIS services for other cities that do not have internal GIS resources. All my professors prepared me in the field I was studying, as well as generally holding me to a higher standard. Dr. Lash is one of the professors who got me where I am today."

For more information about the Geography program at UHCL, go online.