Bradlee Matthews had a message for the 16 high-school-age students gathered in the Butte Field Office conference room: GIS can not only change your life, it can save it.
Going off a list of “10 Ways GIS May Be a Part of Your Life,” the GIS specialist for the Butte Field Office, told the teenagers that Geographic Information Systems is an integral part of our everyday lives—whether we know it or not. It guides our cars through its Global Positioning System, it’s in our bathroom tracking water and sewer monitoring systems, it helps deliver the pizza to our front door, and it can get 911 emergency responders to our house to save us from a heart attack.
Matthews, in other words, is a GIS cheerleader and he was there to get the students from Acadia Montana enthused about pursuing careers in GIS and the Bureau of Land Management.
The students from Acadia, a residential treatment center for young people ages 8-18, visited the Butte Field Office on Nov. 16 as part of the annual GIS Day.
Though this is the first time the Butte office has hosted this event, it’s been celebrated on the Wednesday of Geography Awareness Week every year since 1987. This year, more than 80 countries participated in a truly global event.
Matthews has been with the BLM for four years and said he organized similar events in the public schools in North Dakota. So, when he arrived in Butte in May 2011, it was practically a given that he’d start an annual celebration here in western Montana.
Butte’s GIS Day primarily consisted of a free-form workshop using ArcGIS to map an area of the students’ choice either in teams or as individuals.
“I have found during past GIS Day events that allowing the students to jump right into ArcGIS has proven very educational for them and their creativity really shines,” Matthews noted.
He was assisted by volunteers from within the Butte Field Office who talked about how they use GIS in their day-to-day activities— from mapping to complex analysis of the natural environment.
Matthews said he personally gets a lot of payoff from working with the youth.
“If you can get through to just one student and make them interested in GIS, then the whole day will have been worth it,” he said, then added, “Basically, the theme of the day was ‘Training Replacements,’ because, let’s face it, the BLM has an aging population.”
By the end of the day, Matthews had met his goal. One of the Acadia students said she was already considering a career change into the GIS field.