Mapping out His Future

When Alec Jones ’20 was growing up, he gained hands-on farming experience through the hard work and discipline of feeding calves early every morning at his family’s dairy operation in Hyde Park, Vermont.

Living on a farm influenced his decision to major in environmental science at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. He was used to “working outside, working with the environment, seeing the different yields of crops, seeing how that type of thing works,” he says.

A Culture of Hands-on Learning

Since he’s been at NVU, Alec has gained hands-on experience doing research with one of his professors — work that led to a full-time, paid summer internship and then to the part-time job he has now at Vermont Electric Cooperative in Johnson.

“NVU is definitely doing their part. Everyone in the science department gets great internships. You just hear about them all the time, where different people go for different work,” Alec says. “Even if it’s not a job you think you could see yourself doing, it gives you experience, builds your resume and lets you know if you like that type of work.”

In Alec’s internship at the electric co-op, he worked in the vegetation management department mapping where contractors cut trees or sprayed herbicide. He used the geographic information system (GIS) mapping skills he learned at NVU-Johnson in a year-long independent study with geology professor Les Kanat. In that project, Alec used drones to take photos, which he put into 3-D models and added to a map using the GIS platform.

The ability to use a GIS is “a very powerful skill to have in any science field. A lot of jobs have that mapping component. Being able to use a GIS for a full summer and now part time during the year is very important,” Alec says. “And being in the environment of a pretty big electric company in Vermont shows how business is done in that field of work.”

Individual Attention from Faculty

He and Professor Les presented their research at the Geological Society of America conference in Burlington in 2018. The conference “showed me how to present professional research,” he says. “Being able to present what we found and get feedback from other professors in the field was eye-opening for me.”

Alec has gained valuable experience presenting research and attending workshops on drone technology at other conferences, including the Northern Vermont University Symposium in 2018. For the 2018-19 academic year, he received the Cyrus B. McQueen Memorial Research Prize, awarded by NVU-Johnson to students conducting research in the sciences.

Les’s mentoring connection with Alec is common between NVU faculty and students. “He has been a huge influence on my career at NVU so far,” Alec says. “The community at NVU is great…All of the professors you can go up to and talk to. It’s just a really friendly community. The students are also. Upperclassmen that have gone through the science classes, you can stop them in the hallway, and they’ll help you with anything.”

Opportunities to Learn through Teaching

As an NVU tutor, Alec reaches out to help other students, too. A certified tutor through the College Reading & Learning Association, he discusses homework assignments, time management, and problem-solving with students in science and math courses. He learns from the tutoring. “Going through material with students who don’t understand it helps me understand the material even more by explaining topics and ideas,” he says.

Alec has office hours, and some of his tutoring is done on a drop-in basis, similar to faculty who invite students to drop in at their offices.

Accessibility is important. “All of the professors’ offices are always open,” Alec says. “If you have problems, you can go to them. They really make you feel like they want you to succeed in finding a job.”