B.S. Geographic Information Systems Graduate Climbs the Ladder with His Newfound Credentials

Joe Lettrick, GIS student at American Sentinel University

When Joe Lettrick found American Sentinel University, he sought a program that would offer him deeper education in enterprise geographic information systems (GIS), an area in which he had worked for 27 years.

Joe had earned his associate degree in mechanical design and drafting at Bay Valley Technical Institute after high school. He gained experience as a GIS and computer-aided drafting (CAD) project manager, and as a GIS analyst and supervisor for a city’s information systems division. Throughout his career, Joe moved between private companies, cities and a national laboratory, always designing, developing, managing and supporting enterprise GIS systems.

Earning the Education to Match His Experience
In 2009, Joe was encouraged by his employer at the time—Pacific Northwest Laboratory—to go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“I was looking for a very specific program that would match what I’d been doing for my entire career, and American Sentinel’s GIS program was exactly what I wanted,” he says. “The curriculum, the fact that the program was online, the flexible hours and the student interaction: it was a great fit overall.”

Over the next three years, Joe continued to work full time while taking three or four classes each term. He graduated cum laude in 2011, and not long thereafter, a job opportunity arose at Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU), where Joe would have the chance to supervise regional GIS staff and support GIS services associated with MDU’s enterprisewide GIS environment in eight states. “They really liked my enterprise experience, but the truth is that without a bachelor’s degree, I wouldn’t have even gotten an interview,” he says. Joe was hired in October 2012.

A New Opportunity
Joe’s boss, Dennis Hammer, enterprise GIS manager for MDU, says that it didn’t take long to realize that Joe’s education had paid off. “Joe brought excellent knowledge and skills to MDU,” says Dennis, who had the opportunity to meet American Sentinel’s GIS program chair when he and Joe attended the 2013 Esri International User Conference in July. “I believe that he received a high-quality education, by virtue of the knowledge he has. It is apparent to me that he made a good choice in American Sentinel.”

Equipped with his new degree, Joe’s new job responsibilities include managing people as well as technology. He is currently leading a major project, upgrading the GIS software and processes for four of MDU’s utility companies that serve more than 1 million customers. “It is literally the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken,” he says. “But I feel confident that I can do it. The great thing about this field is that it always changes. I find that exciting.”

A Plan for Further Education
One of Joe’s next big goals is earning a master’s degree in GIS, as he hopes to one day become an educator (after his GIS career). “At some point, I would love to teach enterprise GIS and maybe be that person to encourage people to check out this great field with so much opportunity,” he says. After a great undergraduate experience, Joe has his sights set on American Sentinel’s Master of Geospatial Information Systems. “American Sentinel has a strong GIS program. I wouldn’t be where I am now without my degree.”

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