Student Spotlight with Max Villanueva

Max Villanueva is an FAU alumnus who graduated in 2014 with his M.A. in Geography. Villanueva has been a GIS Specialist for the last three years at AES Northeast located in Plattsburgh, New York.

What are some of your core responsibilities?

For the most part, I am my own department. I produce figures, maps, and graphics to support our engineering groups and to an extent the architecture group. We are currently marketing our GIS services to municipal clients and other engineering firms with the goal to provide an essential service in our area of the state and Vermont. I also manage and have been developing our ArcGIS online and our clients' services through them through web development. Besides that, I also work to support data collection for our survey team and data collection and processing for our construction and our inspection teams, alongside the report writers. One of the unique aspects is that since I am needed across most of our other divisions I get to learn and worth with other industries besides what I learned in college and grad school. This includes engineering water and wastewater, architecture, surveying, and CAD design and drafting. I have a great team and love being able to help our clients solve their problems leveraging GIS and other spatial tools, and it really feels like I am assisting the community in by doing so.

How did FAU help prepare you for this role?

I would say by offering such a wide spectrum of courses to students to choose from since GIS and geography can really be paired together with most industries. Alongside the team building and supportive environment that the professors and staff create really encourage teamwork and understanding where your weaknesses are and how to fill those in working with other people.

What did you enjoy about your experience at FAU?

I mean the university really comes off as the goldilocks scenario, it's not too big, but not too small, with just the right amount of everything in terms of services and amenities. Especially with the faculty being both friendly and knowledgeable across the board as a major highlight. The surrounding location is stunning as is the campus itself, it always felt comfortable and clean. The ability to be able to work and study with my peers and faculty was a big bonus for a university of that size as well, there was never a shortage of opportunities to be able to apply what you learn into some type of actual work or research.

What research did you perform while at FAU? And how did the faculty help you through your thesis or dissertation?

I was fortunate enough to conduct research with Scott Markwith for the Okeechobee basin research. It was a lot of fun and amazing to see the changes in the local geology and flood/water flow patterns in person. It definitely emphasized the importance of data collection, consistency, and the quality of what is collected for research purposes.

What tips would you give to current students in the College of Science looking to pursue a career in your field?

I would say my career choice is extremely flexible, from when I first started to now. You can essentially combine geography with almost any type of industry you are interested in since most industries have questions related to "where". It is similar to being a jack of all trades but also has the potential to be something extremely specialized if you really want to. If you already like patterns, statistics, maps, geometry, or computers then you would definitely love geography. If you prefer biology, criminal justice, geology, sociology, or even business and political science, geography is still a major component of understanding those other fields and sciences, and it would be a great addition to those majors. Having that might actually give you an edge later on against those who only focused on that single topic of study as well.