April 9, 2014
Grace Beal

Returning to College for a New Career

Grace Beal earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Texas and worked for such high-tech giants as AT&T, Wang Laboratories, and NBI. But that was before it was time to be at home to raise three children.

“My computer degree was from a long time ago,” she says. True enough, at least by technology standards. “I stayed at home with the kids. I wasn’t sure I was up to date with my skills. I had to go back to school.”

Intrigued with Geographic Information Systems

It was at a high school job fair that she saw a company specializing in geographic information systems – GIS. “I said, ‘I can do this. It’s so visual. You see results right away’.”

And she found a GIS program at Front Range Community College’s Boulder County Campus – just a few blocks away from her home. A community college was a good fit. Grace’s family came to the United States from Taiwan when she was 18. She attended Austin (Texas) Community College for two semesters before going on to the University of Texas.

Certificate in GIS

Grace earned a certificate in GIS in May 2010 and right away started working for the U.S. Geological Survey at the Federal Center in Denver. The USGS is the nation’s largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency. It collects, monitors, analyzes, and provides scientific understanding about natural resource conditions, issues, and problems.

At first, Grace was in a temporary job digitizing material, but as that first summer went on, she became a physical science technician. “I do a lot of computer processing to help scientists gather data,” she says.

Working with Landsat Images

Much of her time is spent using GIS software and Landsat images to capture Colorado wildfire perimeters from the first decade of this century. Landsat is the world’s longest continuously acquired collection of space-based imagery of earth. For more than 40 years, these images have been used in emergency response and disaster relief as well as providing a record of change over time. For example, these photos from June 8, 2011, and June 8, 2012, show the result of the High Park Fire.

For the record, Landsat 8 was launched in 2013, joining Landsat 7, which has been orbiting Earth since 1999. Find out all about Landsat.

“I love this job,” Grace says. “I love what I’m doing. I’m excited to be part of the Land Remote Sensing Program.”

Lifelong Learning

The irony is that, when Grace recalls her GIS classes, she confesses remote sensing was her least favorite class – although she emphasizes she enjoyed all the classes. Now it’s her most favorite topic in the work world. She was ready for the challenge because the GIS software she learned on at FRCC is the same software she works with at USGS. “The GIS curriculum is superb,” Grace says. “I was well-prepared.”

“That’s why I felt comfortable when I got the job,” she says.

A good example of a lifelong learner, Grace also earned a certificate in Web Authoring last year and is pursuing a certificate in Programming. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community colleges.

About the author:

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College. He’s a retired soccer referee and newspaper editor whose subscription ran out.

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