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High-Tech Drones Meet Ancient Archeology in MSGIS Grad’s Colorful Career

Kris Reinicke MSGIS program at CSULB

PHOTO: MSGIS grad Kris Reinicke using GPS to document historic mines in the Mojave Desert. 

The multi-talented Kris Reinicke goes by many titles: GIS Manager, Archaeologist, and Drone Pilot, among others. A graduate of CSULB’s Master of Science in Geographic Information Science (MSGIS) program, Kris took a unique path of education and experience to build her diverse skill sets, eventually attaining her current position as Senior Environmental Specialist with the Cultural Resources Team at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). 
Kris’ undergraduate majors in International Studies and Anthropology, with a minor in Latin American Studies, prepared her for graduate work in Archaeology at the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in San Juan. By the time she was back in her hometown of San Diego and working for a small firm, Kris had also earned a certificate in GIS and was proficient in the industry standard Esri software. She presented her research from Puerto Rico at Esri’s annual GIS software user conference, where Kris discovered the MSGIS program. 

She found the MSGIS program affordable and flexibly scheduled for full-time working professionals like herself. The decision to enroll in 2015 was clinched after a conversation with the program director, Dr. Suzanne Wechsler, who convinced Kris to “marry your two loves: the geospatial with archaeology.” The only downside was a rough commute between San Diego and Long Beach, but the support of her classmates and resulting access to a large professional network made the experience worth it.

“I had to take the program very seriously because it's a cost to your body, to your car, to your pocketbook,” she said. “I was committed.”

The course in Enterprise GIS Development became a key experience for Kris, as she learned how to build geodatabases that enhance operations for any organization—from schools and hospitals to governments and utilities—along with building the confidence to communicate how GIS can be instrumental in a company’s success.

“GIS is very central to my team’s work,” she explained. “We use web maps to conduct reviews of cultural resource locations’ intersection with proposed projects. The use of geospatial data and tools is essential to make efficient decisions in the effort to protect cultural resources.”

Kris had previously utilized GIS on another innovative project, when CSULB’s Anthropology department recruited her for a field trip to Easter Island in 2016. There, they mapped locations of ancient artifacts including the moai, mysterious stone statues created by the Rapa Nui people. Kris and her fellow researchers contributed to the geospatial database of the moai and other monuments on the islands.

Kris on Easter Island in front of the moai at Tongariki platform

“The Easter Island work was a really good fit for me because I had already studied Archaeology,” said Kris, who documented the work as her MSGIS Applied Research Project. “We were flying these fixed-wing drones and taking imagery, then processing it back on the CSULB campus. I got to learn that aspect of being a drone pilot. Later, when I came back, I realized flying drones is a trending skill in GIS, and went on to get a 260-hour certificate in operating drones as well as unmanned underwater vehicles.”

“The MSGIS program really accelerated my career,” Kris continued. “Having a master's degree helped me meet requirements to become a Registered Professional Archaeologist. One year after getting the master’s, I started getting into my dream job.”

In addition to her work at SDG&E, Kris also serves on the Advisory Board of the San Diego County Archaeology Society. Kris and a team conducted a field project for the Anza Borrego Foundation as recipients of the Begole Archaeological Research Grant, which helps protect and preserve the cultural heritage of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Using drones and other GIS techniques, she created aerial imagery for the park’s archeologist to keep track of any disturbances to recorded cultural sites and respond accordingly.

“The MSGIS program is important because a layman can do a lot of digital mapping on their own using Google Earth or open-source software these days, but in order to make a career out of this, I think having the master’s degree is really great,” she said. 

“GIS is a really rewarding career that you can find interesting work in almost any industry,” she stated, “and it's good money, it's a good future. Magically, with the master's degree, I felt the door of opportunity was opened to me.”

Click here to learn more about CSULB’s Master of Science in Geographic Information Science program.


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