Muskie School of Public Service

Student Highlight: Dianna Farrell

Dianna Farrell ’19 arrived on campus already equipped with a physics degree and eight years of experience flying helicopters for the Army. After leaving the military, Dianna and her husband had moved to Maine where she decided to use her GI benefits to pursue her interest in Earth sciences. An aviator and avid hiker who “lives by maps,” Dianna fell in love with the Muskie School’s multidisciplinary Geography-Anthropology (GYA) program: “Geography connects to virtually all Earth science disciplines – it was perfect.” So perfect, she earned this year’s Outstanding Student in Geography award.

Dianna’s experience at the Muskie School has been, in her words, “incredibly rewarding.” She has engaged in applied research – studying climate change in the North Atlantic with Dr. Matthew Bampton and glacial retreat in Iceland with Dr. Firooza Pavri. She has presented papers at conferences, connected with GIS professionals, interned with Friends of Aomori and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and this year, will co-author a journal article with Dr. Pavri.

USM’s Muskie School helped jump-start Dianna’s journey “toward reaching my potential.” Graduate school is in her future and perhaps a spot in NASA’s DEVELOP program. Ultimately, she hopes to use her research to “help shift the paradigm toward making a more sustainable world.” And fortunately for us, she intends to stay right here in Maine.


Q&A with Dianna Farrell ’19

Q:  What led to your decision to major in Geography-Anthropology (GYA) at USM’s Muskie School?

A: I am a transfer student from Oregon State’s Ecampus. I was pursuing an online degree in Earth Science but I really missed the personal interaction and wanted to connect to a local university. After speaking with Dr. Lydia Savage, I decided to transfer to USM in Geography because I realized that Geography, which is part of GYA, is closely connected to virtually all Earth Science disciplines. And Geography is a multidisciplinary field. I found this was very appealing because I am a multidisciplinary person at heart. I am interested in all the disciplines in Earth Science and I had a hard time focusing on just one.

Q: Have there been any standout faculty of internships that have shaped your academic experience or career development path?

A: My experience in the GYA department has been incredibly rewarding. I have had a variety of opportunities to participate in research, participate in conferences and give talks at professional events. These opportunities were very instrumental in preparing me for my career. They also helped me make contacts in my field. The faculty in the GYA department are so supportive. They encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and grow. Stand-out experiences include:

  • UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). In Fall ‘18/Spring ’19, I worked with Dr. Matthew Bampton on his research studying North Atlantic Climate Change and Human Resilience. I am fascinated by climate change and oceanic-atmospheric processes in the North Atlantic. The work with Dr. Bampton culminated with a poster for the 2019 Research & Education Symposium, a 10-minute oral presentation at Thinking Matters and a presentation at the American Association of Geographer’s (AAG) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Those events were key in helping me to connect to the GIS community in Maine.
  • Independent Study in Remote Sensing with Dr. Firooza Pavri. We worked on a project that we are both interested in: Using remote sensing to study landscape change and glacial retreat in Iceland. We created an independent study focused on utilizing more advanced remote sensing techniques. This class has been instrumental in advancing my image analysis skills and familiarity with remote sensing techniques. We submitted a poster to the Maine GIS User Group’s annual meeting, which helped me gain confidence and feel that I really had something to contribute.
  • Internship with Dr. Nathan Hamilton, Friends of Aomori. This internship was a great honor because I was asked to create a product that captured the depth of the relationship between the sister states of Maine and Aomori, Japan. The product was presented at the February 2019 Aomori Prefecture delegation’s visit to Maine with the Director General of Aomori Tourism. The final product, a story map, will be translated into Japanese and shared on websites in both the US and Japan.
  • GIS Lab at USM, Dr. Vinton Valentine, Director of GIS. Dr. Valentine runs the GIS Lab where students can work on projects and homework. He is always willing to help students through whatever difficulty they are having. He is incredibly knowledgeable in the field and always helped us, even if it meant working through email outside of lab hours.

Q: What are your next steps after graduation?

A: I have an internship with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, working at the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust (CELT). I will be doing some GIS work for them and learning to work with stewardship and volunteer programs. I will complete my Graduate Certificate in GIS this fall and am considering graduate school.

Q: Would you recommend USM and your program to others?

A: I would whole-heartedly recommend USM and the GYA program to others because I feel the material taught in the classes prepared me for employment in the field of Geography/GIS and, equally important, the faculty are very supportive of the students and do a lot to help connect us to organizations and companies in the field. They help you establish relationships, which are critical as you are just getting started in your career.

Q: Final thoughts on your experience at USM?

A: The faculty here in the GYA program truly care about their students’ success and sincerely want them to reach their potential. That was clear in all that they did. Participating in the GYA program here at USM – and I use the word ‘participating’ intentionally because the students need to actually engage and seek out opportunities – has helped me to find a career that really fits me and draws on my strengths and talents. I can’t stress enough how meaningful that is to me. The encouraging environment here helped me to grow as a person and really jump-started my journey toward reaching my potential.