Blythe Spendlove ’18

Mastering GIS with ‘the best of the best’ 

Growing up in Valencia, California, Blythe Spendlove ’18 always excelled in science. At the same time, she loved art—and almost majored in art for her undergraduate degree.

She ended up earning her B.S. in conservation biology at Brigham Young University in Utah. As a junior, she took an introductory geographic information systems (GIS) class and fell in love with the discipline. “When I discovered GIS, I felt like I finally found my artistic outlet in my science field,” she said. “I love that I can do science, but also participate in the challenge of communicating that scientific information visually.”

Later, when Spendlove was considering a master’s degree, she realized studying GIS would also be a good career move, especially if she found the right school. “I didn’t want to go to a school that just taught students how to use GIS programs,” she said. “I already knew that. I wanted to dive deeper into the science of GIS. Ultimately, I chose the University of Redlands because I felt it would give me the best education.”

U of R stands out, she says, because the MS GIS program has a great mix of full-time and adjunct faculty, about half of whom also work at Esri: “With that mix, we get the unique opportunity to learn the underlying science of GIS and the latest technology trends from people who are developing GIS software on a daily basis.”

Spendlove says working with her advisor, Professor Fang Ren, was transformative, but notes many faculty members impacted her life. “Everyone is top in their field and incredibly knowledgeable,” she said. Her class learned the principles of cartographic visualization from Esri Chief Cartographer Charlie Frye, for example. Students were introduced to web GIS by Professor Pinde Fu, who is one of Esri’s lead developers and book authors for web GIS. “We not only learn from all these great people, we also get to know them and develop professional relationships with them,” she said. 

For her capstone project, Spendlove created a web application for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help prioritize areas for designation as Ramsar wetlands, which are of international importance. The tool automates the process by which users analyze factors, such as critical habitat for endangered and threatened species and important areas for birds, and produces a custom map of wetlands ranked according to the user’s priorities. The project is live and will soon be in use.

During her time working on this project, Spendlove received the Roger Tomlinson Award for Excellence in GIS, which recognizes strong research and academic capabilities in the field. Coincidentally, Spendlove was also the recipient of the Morrison Foundation Scholarship, which funds the use of GIS in a master’s project related to water conservation. “The scholarship was a huge blessing for me,” she said. “It funded my studies and enabled me to get the best education I could.”

Covering topics from GIS programming, remote sensing, and projections to project and database management, Spendlove says her MS GIS degree has enabled her to “really excel in and be at the forefront of this field.” In addition, she has enjoyed getting to know everyone in her program. “I'm surrounded by the best of the best, from the teachers to the students.”

Learn more about the University of Redlands, a leader in spatial education.