Student Profile: Katie Piatt

Katie Piatt’s high school environmental science teacher assigned a paper on an environmental topic, “and it could not be on pollution or Love Canal,” she recalls.

“I started looking around and found something on emergency environmental response in GIS,” she says. “As I was doing this paper, I got really interested in it. One thing led to another, and lo and behold, I’m here at HU.”

Piatt is a native of Easton, Pennsylvania, in the eastern part of the state known as the Lehigh Valley. She applied to HU for its Geospatial Technology major–one of the only bachelor’s degrees in geospatial information systems offered in the nation.

In the major, students learn to use technologies to collect, store, query, analyze, visualize and present spatial information. Increasingly ubiquitous in daily life, GIS is becoming a key discipline in environmental, commercial, political, social, medical, military, and emergency response fields.

For Piatt, GIS is mapmaking. Piatt is a sophomore in 2013-14, expecting to graduate in 2016. She hopes to put her cartography skills to use in a county office or some other setting where she can help a lot of people. She has always enjoyed helping others, including her time as a member of Sing for America, a choral group that raised money for families of active military personnel.

“It was a fun way to raise money, and we were doing good things for a lot of people,” she says.

At HU, Piatt quickly found that her maps are helping others. A class assignment in designing a flood inundation map for Harrisburg–Pennsylvania’s flood-prone capital city –will hang in the Dauphin County emergency response center. The project is “a little bit scary,” because Piatt wants to make everything perfect, but it taught her to listen closely to the client’s needs.

“I feel like no matter who is asking you to do something, whether it’s your client or your professor, you meet that expectation and, if you can, try to go a little bit higher,” she says.

When she entered HU, she had no idea that she’d be immersed so quickly in real-world work, but HU’s close ties to businesses and state and local governments create countless opportunities. Piatt and some classmates are mapping Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine shafts for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The project, which also happens to be paid, involved scanning thousands of maps, some more than 100 years old, into a database and overlaying them with street markers.

The findings reveal whether homes and businesses are built over old shafts, in peril of falling into sinkholes.

Piatt has found that her classroom experiences are equally rewarding. Assistant Professor of Geospatial Technology and Project Management Albert Sarvis will always stop to answer any question, fully explaining new concepts to be sure that students comprehend. When she and her friends were struggling to understand the material for a test, Sarvis spent class time revisiting the subject.

“Being able to have that extra time helped,” she says now. “If we have a problem, our professors can talk to us one on one, and we don’t have 400 other people trying to get the professor’s attention.”

Piatt has been awarded Honorary Alumni and Provost Scholarships from HU.

“The way my mom puts it, any scholarship I get is helpful, she says. “I’m the middle of three kids that she has now in college.”

One of the most valuable parts of the HU experience has been the good friends Piatt has made. Some go back to her first day of moving into student housing. And when classmates achieves big milestones, such as completing internships, everyone cheers their success.

“One of the fantastic things about this university is that it has a very diverse group of people,” Piatt says. “It’s a science and technology school, and there are kids that you would peg for being science and technology, but there are also others you would expect would be in a music program at some other school, or maybe playing Division I sports. They’re doing what they love. It’s fantastic, and it helps you see things differently than you would have.”