Student Spotlight

Monica Zhang

Monica Zhang is a recent graduate of the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Certificate Program. As a career changer, she is hoping to leverage what she learns in the program to transition into a brand new industry. We recently spoke with Monica to learn about what brought her to the program and what she enjoyed most as a student. Here are some highlights from our discussion.

On why she decided to take classes in the GIS Certificate program…
I decided to take classes in the GIS Certificate program after seeing some jobs involving GIS work that sounded interesting, but I wasn't really qualified for. My background is in wildlife biology, and learning more about how to use GIS to map and analyze data seemed like a good way to further my career as well as branch out, since GIS technology can be used in many different fields for different things.

On what interested her in the program…
The College of Extended Learning's program appealed to me because of the variety of useful classes, ease of scheduling, and getting to interact with instructors in person (as opposed to an online program). 

On her favorite classes in the program…
It was great coming into classes week after week and feeling like I was vastly improving my knowledge. The computer exercises were very helpful in getting us familiar with the programs and essential to the learning process since you need to be prepared for doing things on your own in ArcGIS (software). I also liked that each class came with a printed booklet, which made it easy to take notes during lectures and exercises and is a useful reference.

On her favorite instructors…
I learned new and useful things from each and every class, but I especially enjoyed the classes taught by Jerry Davis. The classes in cartographic design, remote sensing, building GIS web applications, and sustainable planning introduced me to a lot of new ideas and skills. The Managing a GIS Project class was also a good way to integrate all that we learned into our own projects.

On future opportunities after she graduates…
I definitely learned a great deal and met many instructors and fellow students, which should be useful moving forward as I look for career opportunities.

On advice she'd give to future program students…
Make sure to get enough sleep the night before and/or bring coffee. Take notes. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Try to understand why you're doing what you're doing and what each button click means. Also, save your work often!

What Students Are Saying


The GIS Certificate Program at San Francisco State proved to be an excellent choice for me in my career transition to GIS. In a relatively short period of time, I obtained a great deal of hands-on experience and a wide of breadth of knowledge in the field, not to mention a credential that served quite valuable. I found the instructors in the program to be up-to-date in their knowledge of GIS technology and possessing overall excellent teaching skills. The class materials are well developed, and I have referred back to them over the years as a useful resource. I highly recommend the GIS Certificate Program at San Francisco State!

The GIS certificate program prepared me well for a position working as a GIS analyst. I was hired as a paid GIS intern only a few months after finishing the program and am working towards a full time position. The courses in the certificate program are very applicable to real-world scenarios and the take-home course materials are a great reference to have as I apply what I have learned to tasks at me new job. A huge thanks to all the instructors for organizing an effective curriculum that provides people the opportunity to enter into a career in GIS with a solid set of skills to build on.

Molly Barth, GIS Analyst/Intern, Milliman, Inc.

When I was initially looking for GIS work in the Bay Area, it was the peak of the recession and no one was hiring. But I managed to get an unpaid internship with the Fish and Wildlife service with nothing but the certificate for experience. I lived in Australia for nine months and I was able to get a GIS/geocoding position from a combination of work experience and the certificate. At the moment I am doing a GIS masters program in London. I was accepted to pretty much every grad school that I applied for and I think that is largely due to having completed the certificate program.