Mapping A New Major

Professor Buffy Quinn is creating a new major at OCC. She is pictured on the 3rd floor of Ferrante Hall.

Professor Buffy Quinn plans to turn her passion into a new major which will be the first of its kind at any community college in the nation. She’s working on curriculum for the Geospatial Science & Technology, A.A.S. degree program. When approved, students will use drones to create geographic mapping and analysis of the earth and human societies. “Students won’t need to know chemistry or physics. They’ll just need to have a curiosity. If you are curious about the world around you, this will work for you. Everything will fall into place. I can teach the rest.”

Quinn stumbled upon her love of map making during her first year at the University of Southern Mississippi where she was enrolled in an architecture program. “I remember kind of floundering. I was never the smartest kid in class. I wanted to be excited about learning. One day I was flipping through course catalogs and I came upon geography. When I realized there was this thing called cartography where you made maps, I loved it. I loved the broad umbrella that geography gave and learning about other parts of the world. I found it and I just loved it.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree Quinn started her own engineering company and was its cartographer. She became interested in environmental work while making maps for landfill sites, solid waste masterplans and community development block grants. Her college education and professional success had lifted her out of the poverty she grew up in in Jackson, Mississippi. She was content with life until one conversation changed everything. “I met a man who said he was always going to be smarter than me because he was going to get a master’s degree. I just couldn’t have that. So I decided to go to graduate school.”

Quinn majored in Geography with a specialization in Climate Modeling at the University of Denver. One of her favorite topics was dendroclimatology where one constructs records of past climates and climatic events by analysis of tree growth characteristics. Quinn compared what she learned inside trees to journals and diaries kept by people traveling across the United States at that time. “I LOVED graduate school! It’s also when I started teaching. I never saw myself teaching. I thought I would always work in a dark room and make maps.” After earning her master’s Quinn went to work with the Environmental Protection Agency. She focused on Superfund sites and environmental justice initiatives, in the process gaining invaluable knowledge about environmental regulation.

In 2009 she started teaching Meteorology at OCC both in person and online. In her decade on campus she’s also taught classes focused on Sustainability, New York State Environmental Regulation, Natural Hazards and Disasters, and Geographic Information Systems. Her passion is the new degree program she’s creating, Geospatial Science & Technology. “We’re going to teach students how to turn data into something that tells a story with the end user in mind. They will learn how to manage data. We’ll teach them how to use images from drones and analyze them at the pixel level to look for patterns to detect vegetation loss, water quality and what type of pollution we have.”

OCCs Board of Trustees recently passed a resolution endorsing a feasibility study for the new major. Once it goes through the approval process both on campus and in Albany, Geospatial Science & Technology could be ready in time for the fall 2020 semester. “I want students to know this is a career they can that can take them to a new life. They can do it and I want to be that conduit. To be able to give that to somebody, that kind of stability and that kind of security, that’s why we’re here! I’m so excited at the prospect of this.”