Student Spotlight: Gary Parent
Gary Parent was in his forties when he decided to pursue his undergraduate degree at the University of Maine Presque Isle in order to get a good job. A native of Aroostook County who lives in Fort Fairfield, Parent says he has long been concerned about the region’s sustainability. “I would like to remain here and help provide a future for my children so the County’s rich history can be preserved,” he says.
About to enter his senior year, Parent already is contributing to
the region’s future—and gaining marketable skills—as an SSI undergraduate researcher. He is one of several UMPI students who have helped rural communities in Aroostook County to transfer paper tax maps into a digital format, which will enable them to more easily and efficiently manage their data with free Google Earth software.
“Many of these smaller communities don’t have the fiscal ability to purchase software or pay a salary for someone to complete a project like this,” says Parent, who has worked on maps of five towns in Aroostook County including Easton, Mapleton, Chapman, Castle Hill, and New Sweden.
Parent and his fellow students have been working with Chunzeng Wang, associate professor of earth and environmental science at UMPI, who is overseeing mapping of land ownership in the Aroostook River watershed and creating a GIS database that links land use to land ownership. “Gary’s role was basically providing GPS and GIS service to our team,” Wang says. “He helped a lot in developing our large land parcel GIS database.”
Wang’s work is part of an SSI research project on sustainable development of the Aroostook River watershed led by Jason Johnston, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at UMPI. The SSI researchers are studying various aspects of sustainable development including historical and current land use and its impacts, promoting the region’s unmotorized trails, and identifying the best land for producing biofuels in ways that minimize potential effects on grassland birds and other wildlife.
Students working on the project have the rare opportunity to gain hands-on experience in helping to solve real-world problems. For Parent, who also has done GIS mapping for Fort Fairfield, this has made all the difference. “As a 45-year-old, it has taken me a long time to find my niche,” he says. “Using the skills I have learned at UMPI and through some connections I have made through this work, I hope to start a career in a field that focuses on sustainability. This project has definitely given me a head start on that.”