Archeologist GIS Specialist Pursues MGIS — Enhances Career, Education

MGIS student Chris Leatherman shares how he bridged his passion of archaeology with geospatial information systems and what his plans are to incorporate the knowledge into building his own business.

GIS student Chris Leatherman at the Chinatown archaeological site in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Over a decade ago, Chris Leatherman was an archaeologist with the City of Deadwood, South Dakota, cataloging archaeological materials from the town’s long forgotten Chinatown district, now a National Historic Landmark. 2001 was the first time he came across geographic information systems (GIS) in use—and he was intrigued. “I sensed right away that if I could incorporate GIS into archaeology, I would have great career advancement opportunity,” says Chris.

So, Chris decided to learn everything he could about GIS. He enrolled in an M.A. in interdisciplinary studies at the University of South Dakota, which was a flexible program that allowed him to take a number of GIS courses (there and at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and South Dakota State University). He graduated about the same time that the next great thing came along in his life: his first GIS job.

A Big Move; A Career Evolution
In 2007, Chris applied on a whim for a GIS specialist position with the City of Gillette, Wyoming—and got the position. He is the liaison between the public works department and the GIS division, building databases and information products for public works and various other departments. “It was a pretty sharp learning curve at first, but the city is very generous in getting us whatever training we need,” Chris says.

In addition to taking advantage of the multitude of training opportunities, Chris also began taking software design and development coursework online through the University of Denver (DU) in 2012. Ultimately, he decided that he wanted to earn a master’s in GIS.

Searching for the Right Program
Throughout 2011, Chris searched high and low for the right GIS master’s program, and American Sentinel University was “exactly what I wanted,” he says. “The cost was affordable, the length of the program worked for me, and I especially liked that the program allows students to focus on an objective or idea through the capstone project. I want to start a consulting business one day, and the project is a great chance for me to explore that further.” Chris enrolled in American Sentinel’s Master of Geospatial Information Systems (MGIS) in 2012.

In the future, Chris plans to launch a consulting company that provides GIS services to private and public entities, building databases and collecting data. He has his sights set on becoming an expert in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) —and he’s working toward a professional certificate online at Phoenix-based Unmanned Vehicle University while he pursues his Master of GIS at American Sentinel. “I want to use unmanned vehicles to collect and provide data about archaeological resources to agencies and organizations building new projects,” he says. “My main focus area would be culture resource management, a branch of archaeology.”

An Invaluable Learning Experience
Chris has been able to combine his passion for archaeology with his GIS background. He presents at GIS conferences around the country to share what he has learned from his training, education and experience—most recently at the 2013 GIS in the Rockies conference this past October.

“I’m very focused on learning so I can better myself in my job today and gain as much knowledge as I can for the day that I am running my own business,” Chris says. “I’ve been very happy with the American Sentinel GIS master’s program so far. I have more than six years of practical GIS experience, but I am still finding there is still so much for me to learn. To me that means my investment is worth it.”

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