Internship Experience: National Holocaust Museum

According to a 2013 poll of GIS professionals on GIS Lounge, half of the respondents held a GIS intership at the start of their career. Andrew Fomil is a good example of how geospatial professionals use interships to get started. A young GIS professional, he has worked at ESRI D.C. (paid internship), American Geophysical Union, and Thomson Reuters, but he got his start with an NSF GIS Internship at the National Holocaust Museum. He is currently a graduate student finishing his Geography/GISc Master’s Degree at West Virginia University which he hopes like many students, along with his work experience and portfolio, to qualify him for more advanced projects and GIS management. Here he answers some questions about his experience.

Andrew Fomil worked for the U.S. National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.on Landscapes of Experience, a project creating maps and Holocaust History Animated Maps of Western and Eastern Europe from 1938 until right after WWII.  It was part of a series of case studies generated from a 2007 Summer Research Workshop on Geographies of the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. The projects explored the potential benefits of applying geographic methods, such as spatial analysis and visualization, to the study of the Holocaust

What was the project you worked on?

I worked on creating a map of Western and Eastern Europe from 1938 until right after WWII for the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.   It was GIS but not for a convential purpose. Remember, in 2009 things like Story Maps weren’t around yet. We were trying to use space and location to tell a story.

Now there are many opportunities to get involved working on GIS and graphic components on other projects. Many jobs like this are on a contract basis or an internship. Some are very exciting like helping to locate looted art.

How did you get involved with the GIS project for the National Holocaust Museum?

I saw a posting for the paid internship through the Geographical Science Department at University of Maryland – College Park. It later turned into contract work based on the internship.  I worked with Marc Masurovsky, who had NSF grant money and could fund me through the museum.  The team was multidisciplinary with historians, archivists, computer scientists, and a lot of people had language skills they could use to translate documents.  We all had to work together.

The job involved making decisions using previous knowledge, as well as GIS experts consulting on other projects and provided advise on capturing high resolution historic map graphics and georeferencing. It was the first project using geospatial methods creating new historic maps, creating, data, and meta data displaying historical maps and building features into it. Our work was used in the Aushwitz Birkenau Evacuations movie, a digital humanities and history project.

How was the job challenging?

It was challenging being one of the few people on the specific project that knew GIS and how to push the project forward. The people I needed to work with were often remote and we all had to work together. This is common for many projects like this.  The maps we were using were historic and in other languages from Poland, Germany, Austria, France, and other countries.  I translated the Soviet map documents from Russian.

What did you find geospatially interesting?

It was interesting to see how things changed over time. The utilties especially – roads, transportation corridors. It is what got me interested in my current master’s thesis work.

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