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Jennifer Ciminelli

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Rice Rivers Center data manager and research coordinator
Formerly geographic information systems coordinator, Henrico County
M.S. in Environmental Studies, 2006

Jennifer Ciminelli always tells her students that it’s OK to be confused. After all, confusion is the first step toward knowledge. It’s the first step toward figuring out the right path.

“When I came to VCU, and they had me in the computer lab working with geographic information technology, I really had no clue what it, or I, was capable of,” Ciminelli said. “But that was OK, and along the way, in addition to giving me a very strong practical skill set, what VCU gave me was the self-confidence to fail and try again and not be stressed out that something I tried didn’t work. It gave me the resiliency I’d need to become a leader in my field.”

Prior to her return to VCU as Rice River Center's data manager and research coordinator, Ciminelli managed the use of geographic information systems for all of Henrico County, Virginia, and the range of purposes for which that technology can be used is truly astounding. At its most basic level, GIS technology is a mapping system, but it’s more of a living, breathing, dynamic map that can allow the user to layer supporting data and information to extrapolate more than just the distance between two points or changes in topography.

For example, in her thesis work as a student at VCU, Ciminelli developed a bald eagle nesting habitat suitability model along the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Using GIS technology, she was able to combine information such as land-use codes, forest density, distance to watersheds, human disturbances and amount of impervious surfaces in order to model, based on growth projections and other variables, what lands would remain viable for eagle nesting and what areas would become unsuitable.

That’s what Ciminelli means when she calls the technology dynamic. GIS technology can be used to track migrating fish populations and project watershed health and future management needs. Or, on the county services level, it can be used to project future land use planning and development needs, monitor mosquito populations or ensure that the right emergency services are dispatched during a fire call to match the parameters of a building or area in distress.

“It might seem weird that, as an environmental science major, I do a lot of work behind a desk, managing technology,” Ciminelli said. “But this technology is really ingrained in the environmental sciences. It’s used everywhere. You get to partner with so many people, and it’s a lot of fun to show them just how cool it can be.”

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