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Geography graduate lives out dream job during National Geographic internship

April 26, 2013
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Jon Bowen takes a break to admire the views during a 10-day field immersion trip to a remote island off the coast of Honduras. 
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Jon Bowen (center) with his fellow National Geographic interns Lowell Chandler (left) and Marshall Daly (right).

EAU CLAIRE — Jon Bowen, a 2012 geography graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, is in the process of completing a three-month internship with the National Geographic Society, one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world.

Bowen, a Green Bay native, said the idea of applying for an internship with National Geographic struck when he was working at his desk in Puerto Ayora, a town in central Galápagos, Ecuador, during a 2012 summer internship experience through UW-Eau Claire.

"I looked up and saw a National Geographic expedition vessel bobbing around in the harbor and quickly researched any cartography related opportunities within the National Geographic Society," Bowen said. " Sure enough, they had cartography internships. I worked with my mentor, Dr. Christina Hupy in the geography and anthropology department, to find more detailed information, and by October I had my full application packet ready to mail in."

The National Geographic internship was open to any undergraduate or graduate level student nationwide.

"I really thought my chances of being accepted were extremely slim," Bowen said. "But on Dec. 4 I got the email I had been dreaming of. Not only did I get an internship with National Geographic, but I got an internship in the maps division doing cartography. Exactly what I love doing."

Bowen said he participated in field seminar trips and research projects during his undergraduate career at UW-Eau Claire that helped prepare him for his work at National Geographic. His first research experience came in the fall of 2010 after he enrolled in an upper-level physical geography research-based course instructed by Hupy, which included a 10-day field seminar trip to a remote island off the coast of Honduras to construct a habitat model for an endangered species of boa constrictor.

"This class is normally reserved for seniors, but through my interactions with Jon in the department and his success in my GIS course, I knew he would be an asset on the trip even though he was only a sophomore," Hupy said. "Jon proved me correct in every aspect. Even though he was the youngest person on the trip, he was invaluable. I assigned him the most challenging field work and he passed with flying colors, an amazing attitude and a job well done."

Hupy said Bowen's work in Honduras was so impressive that when Deb Freund, an associate lecturer in the biology department, was looking for a geography student to accompany her as an intern on a summer 2012 trip to the Charles Darwin Research Foundation in the Galápagos, she didn't even hesitate to recommend him for the job.

"The biology faculty at UW-Eau Claire has a longstanding relationship with CDF and brings a number of biology interns there every summer," Hupy said. "This was the first opportunity for a geography student. They were looking for a student intern who had significant geospatial skills, a strong interest in conservation and the ability to work independently. I felt confident Jon would be the right person."

Bowen said he started out organizing geospatial information obtained by CDF over the years to determine what data was useful and what was no longer reliable and after the work progressed, he was brought in to help some of the supporting scientists create locational maps for their publications.

"Toward the end of the project, my team member and I started to piece together the puzzles of a working geospatial infrastructure for the station," Bowen said. "In an environment that doesn't necessarily have the funds or network to do online work, it posed a great challenge to explore alternatives. This started the talks about Google and how their mapping platforms may be able to help solve some of the geographical issues CDF faced."

Bowen's work in the Galápagos and interest in Google mapping inspired CDF to co-sponsor him to attend a "Geo for Good" workshop on the Google campus that exposed nonprofit organizations to Google's suite of geospatial tools. The UW-Eau Claire Office of Research and Sponsored Programs also sponsored Bowen's attendance at the workshop.

"The 'Geo for Good' workshop helped me gain a new perspective of geospatial tools," Bowen said. "In an institution, you learn the background and theory behind GIS and typically the mainstream GIS software on the market today. The workshop had shown that although there is a mainstream version to solving geospatial problems, there is also another market for those who are less analytically dependent and are looking for online Web mapping services. This type of approach for work in the Galápagos is critical because of the isolated wireless connection, limited licensing funds and large amounts of data."

The geospatial work and conservation experiences Bowen received in Honduras and the Galápagos prepared him for the work in his cartography internship with National Geographic.


"I'm working in the maps division creating a travel destination map for an outside client called American Prairie Reserve," Bowen said. "It's a great conservation effort starting up in northeastern Montana to build the largest wildlife refuge in North America. This experience gives me the rare opportunity as an intern to have my own project, as well as start a project and fully finish and publish it within one internship term. It's extremely exciting to be working with folks who publish the maps in the National Geographic magazines and those who have created any other National Geographic maps that are out there."

Bowen recently received an honorable mention in the 2013 National Geographic Mapping Awards for his work with Dr. Paul Kaldjian, an associate professor in the geography and anthropology department at UW-Eau Claire, on the mapping project "Peoples of the Middle East and North Africa … 40 Years On."

Bowen said he attributes his preparedness for real-world geographic work to the high standards UW-Eau Claire's geography and anthropology department sets for its students and the level of passion the professors have for their work.

"UW-Eau Claire boasts a campus like no other when it comes to the level of funding it provides for field seminar and research trips," Bowen said. "The Blugold Commitment funding that was put into effect when I was in school directly benefited me going to Honduras and the Galápagos for field work. Books are great tools to learn, but I feel UW-Eau Claire enriches its students with the opportunities to truly immerse themselves in their studies through both classroom material and real-world perspectives."

Having the ability to travel abroad to study geography and cartography increases one's confidence in their abilities, Bowen said.

Being there, living it and conversing on the same level with people who make decisions in those regions, inspires an extra boost of passion," Bowen said. "The experiences I had at UW-Eau Claire helped prove to myself that my abilities are needed in the world and with enough work I can truly get to the places I've dreamed about."

For more information about Jon Bowen's work in geography and cartography, visit his professional blog at http://bowencartography.wordpress.com/.

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