Hyden Reports from His Alaskan Internship

John Hyden, UW-Milwaukee GIS Certificate recipient and proud parent of a UW-Whitewater student!

John Hyden, UW-Milwaukee GIS Certificate recipient and proud parent of a UW-Whitewater student!

As my time here at the MatSu Borough draws to an end, I must take a moment or two to reflect and internalize all the little things that has given me a deeper understanding of what I learned in my academics as well as new skills acquired during my tenure.

The biggest and most important experience was just spending time watching the workflow in a typical GIS department. The team work that I witnessed was phenomenal. There were at least three major projects in progress at the same time as all the other routine daily chores that had to be done, such as addressing for new and existing building lots and maintaining right of way drawings and database.

The three major projects were:

  • The Borough was preparing new voting districts to match the new ten year census and this required a major contribution of time from the GIS department. I was not involved in this effort.
  • Over the years, the GIS database had become spatially out of sync with the associated background imagery. Lot lines and other boundary lines no longer lined up with the aerial photographs used as backgrounds for the map books used by emergency responders. As a result, it was becoming difficult to tell exactly where people lived and where right of ways and easements were located. A “survey team” was tasked with finding the sub-foot locations of section corners and lot corners using a Trimble GHX professional mapping grade GPS. These locations were then used to gently “rubber sheet” or re-align the GIS data in AutoCAD/ARCMap to a more proper alignment. I was allowed to help the survey team for a couple of days and in that time I gained a wealth of knowledge about plat maps and how to use a metal detector properly. Ask me sometime what a Basis of Bearings is, and I will be glad to tell you all I learned from Suzy, Jeremiah and Mason.
  • The last major project involved new LiDAR and orthorectified aerial photographs. In partnership with other government agencies and academic institutions, the Borough was in the process of purchasing new one foot and half foot resolution four band Ortho-photographs and LiDAR maps. This was the project with which I spent most of my time. The photographs had to be visually inspected for such things as excessive building tilt, excessive shadows/cloud cover, missing pixels with no data, edge matching between tiles, smearing, unusual artifacts, and general appearance. Believe me, I have seen enough photos of trees to last me a good long time. But thanks to Jim, Susan, Heather and Phil, I gained a valuable understanding of and how to interpret ground cover from an aerial photographic perspective and how aerial photographic tiles are spliced together.

    The last two projects listed above were basically done to support of the 9-1-1 emergency responder effort in the Borough. Knowing exactly where people live in the Alaskan bush can be a very daunting task and can take up precious time during a life threatening situation.

I found the working atmosphere in the GIS Department to be the most professional in which I have ever worked – and I’ve had the occasion to work in many offices. Interns many times find themselves ignored by other staff members but I found this not to be the case. All staff members were very kind and considerate of me. Even though I am sure I asked way more questions than I should have and I must have seemed like a pest or at least a minor annoyance, everyone treated me with respect. I take with me fond memories of everyone who touched my life at the MatSu Borough Office and I send a big thank you to you all!

Finally, I want to thank Shannon and Jim for giving me the opportunity to work in the Borough office and for the kindness shown me when I had to deal with an unexpected death in my family. This whole wonderful experience would not have been possible if they had not said yes to my request.