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Kate Grisi '16

Just three years after graduating from SUNY Potsdam, geology major Kate Grisi ’16 has already gone on to achieve great things. She received a master’s degree in geology and a certificate in geographic information science from the University of Texas at El Paso. She now works as a Geospatial Analyst for the Department of Defense (DOD)—a position where she is tasked with monitoring and assessing foreign military capabilities.

“I make GIS maps and I do a fair amount of imagery analysis too. I find working for the DOD to be an incredibly meaningful experience. It’s really cool to be working in Washington, D.C., and to be working for something that has a larger purpose. What we do on a daily basis, like the information that we provide to policy makers, is really important because that’s what they use to make decisions,” Grisi said.

During the summer of 2017, halfway through her graduate work in Texas, she landed an internship at the DOD. “I actually got the internship just based on my experience from taking two GIS classes at SUNY Potsdam,” Grisi said.

SUNY Potsdam now offers a degree in Geographic Information Science, but at the time Grisi was a student, the program was just getting off the ground and the course offerings were limited. Yet despite only taking two classes, she was able to get her foot in the door at the DOD. Then she completed a GIS certification, paving the way for a full-time job at the DOD in the summer of 2018. “I remember that Mike Rygel always told me that those certificates are gold and they’ll get you a job—and then what do you know, it got me a job,” Grisi said.

Rygel, the chair of the SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Geology, had a big impact on Grisi during her time in Potsdam. “Mike is the best teacher that I’ve ever had in my life! The absolute best. And the best adviser and mentor too. I really could not say enough good things about him,” she said.

In Rygel’s Sedimentary Geology lab she had the chance to look at trace fossils and examine sedimentary rocks around New York state.  “The labs are super hands-on! Mike made sure, even in the igneous parts of New York state, that we still got to see lots of great sedimentary rocks,” she said.

“It’s been awesome! That’s what I’ve always loved about geology, it will take you anywhere you want to go. Geology has given me the opportunity to travel all over the place. I’ve been to more than 40 states because of that degree,” Grisi said.

During her sophomore year at SUNY Potsdam, and then in a leadership role her junior and senior years, Grisi had the chance to travel out west for the Indiana University field camp—an intensive, six-week geology field school where she worked with Rygel. “It starts in Indiana and you travel all across the country stopping at various geological locations on your way out to Montana. We’d stop at places like the Badlands, Yellowstone and then you end up in Cardwell, Montana. From there, every day you go out in the field and you do real hands-on geology, like mapping. It’s absolutely amazing! It’s beautiful and there’s just so much that you learn when you’re in the field,” Grisi said. “Without that field school I would not have become half the geologist that I became. It was so in depth and challenging and it was the hardest thing I’ve probably ever had to do in my life. It was just an awesome experience with really great professors.”

Grisi also had the opportunity to visit Hawaii as part of a volcanology travel course at SUNY Potsdam. She hiked through lava tubes and went to the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the big island. “I love to hike, and you have to do a lot of hiking to be a geologist. Geology has been amazing for me. It’s allowed me to travel to so many different places,” She said.

Grisi was the recipient of the Mt. Emmons Scholarship at SUNY Potsdam, a prestigious scholarship that covered her tuition, room and board. “It’s amazing. It was a way for me to be able to go to college without having to deplete all the savings my parents saved for me and my brother. So, it allowed my brother to have a lot more, because he wasn’t able to get the same scholarship at his school. It also allowed me to graduate without any debt, which was huge,” she said.

When Grisi graduated from SUNY Potsdam to pursue a master’s degree in geology, she incorporated her GIS skills into her thesis work on salt tectonics. “I was studying something that was called a megaflop, basically just a large flap of rock that was adjacent to a salt dome. These have certain implications for drilling, for petroleum drilling in the Gulf of Mexico—they can be potential hazards or can be very costly to drilling operations. I got to spend many weeks and months in the mountains of Utah, investigating the fisher valley megaflop,” she said.

Grisi would head out into the field with her tablet in hand to map the mountains near Moab. “It was so much easier for me than other students who had no GIS experience.  You’re able to produce a much more professional product in the end when you have the ability to use that type of software,” she said.

Now Grisi uses that software on a daily basis to assist the U.S. government. From humble beginnings inside the walls of SUNY Potsdam’s Timerman Hall where she took her first GIS classes, she has advanced quickly and secured an amazing career in GIS.

Back at Potsdam SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Geology has seen a lot of changes since Grisi graduated. With the new GIS major now in the books, and a recent $7.4 million renovation to Timerman Hall, the geology program continues to impress.

For more information about The Department of Geology, visit:

Article by Jason Hunter