A Career Opportunity of a Lifetime

My Experience as a Young Professional in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I’ve always wanted to travel outside of the United States, but my college aspirations put that dream on hold. Little did I know my future employer, DRMP, Inc., would provide me with my first opportunity to travel to another country and for a career assignment of a lifetime—right out of college.

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DRMP GIS Analyst Meaghan McCarthy stops to take a selfie while walking along Ferry Landing Beach in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

In January, exactly one month after I graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) in December 2022, I traveled with three of my DRMP colleagues to Guantanamo Bay (GTMO), Cuba, to assist with a survey project for two weeks.

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A stairwell leads to Glass Beach in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

I started an internship at DRMP while I was a junior in college. After interning at the firm for 1.5 years and graduating from USF with a Bachelor of Arts degree in geography, DRMP immediately hired me on as a full-time GIS Analyst. One month later, I was headed to Cuba.

Passport Ready

As a GIS Analyst, this was an opportunity for me to get an interesting insight into survey field work. I felt the work I performed at GTMO added depth to my role on the firm’s GIS team, as well as introduced the potential for more collaboration between DRMP’s GIS and surveying and mapping group.

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A view of Windmill Beach in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Even though I had never traveled abroad, I decided to get my passport in 2018 while I was a junior in high school because my family and I talked about planning a trip to Ireland for my high school graduation.

However, those plans fell through after I decided to enroll in summer college courses right after high school and then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. I also wanted to have my passport in hand to be prepared for any future job opportunities that might become available to me outside of the United States.

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A sign at a fishing and boating dock in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, warns visitors to, “Beware of, well…just beware.”

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A road sign alerts drivers to slow down for iguanas in the area

Fast forward to December 2022, I received a call from my boss, DRMP GIS Project Manager Kelly Marton, GISP, asking me if I had a passport because the firm needed me to assist on a survey project in GTMO. I was so excited for this career opportunity. I recall calling my mom up to tell her there would be some international traveling opportunities at my job at DRMP, and when I told her where I was going, she was flabbergasted.

Expanding My Capabilities

Seeing the differences between my previous field work and designated survey field work gave our team perspective on how GIS can be applied to other survey projects like this one.

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DRMP GIS Analyst Meaghan McCarthy assists with a survey project in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

One of my favorite things about being under the survey and mapping group at DRMP is the opportunities given to junior employees like me to fulfill unique roles and expand our industry knowledge, as well as our personal career goals through these opportunities.

It was exceptionally beneficial for me to work alongside DRMP’s senior-level experts on this project, such as Senior Vice President/Federal Services Director Kyle Brown, PE, and Senior Project Manager Randy Tompkins, PSM, PLS.

Survey Analyst Landis Downs Plane

DRMP Survey Analyst Meaghan McCarthy’s colleague, Survey Analyst Landis Downs, gets ready to board a chartered flight with McCarthy from Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to assist in a survey project.

Even though I was not specifically part of the survey field crew when going into the project, Randy and Kyle were keen on facilitating my learning while I was on this trip. They easily could have asked another more experienced field worker to assist, but they wanted to give me the opportunity to explore my current role and look down the different paths that are available to me here at DRMP.

A Memorable and Valuable Experience

When traveling to GTMO, I appreciated the small things that came with this trip, which might not seem like a big deal to frequent fliers and world travelers. For example, I have taken many long flights to the western part of the United States, such as Colorado and California, but I had never experienced an in-flight meal.

To get to GTMO, we had to fly out of the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla. It was only a 90-minute chartered flight through United Airlines, and I was impressed they served me an in-flight meal on such a short flight.

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A ferry boat transports passengers throughout Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

When we got to the GTMO Naval Air Station we had to check our luggage onto a ferry, which looked more like a barge, and then take the boat across the bay to where we were staying. It was quite an experience, and I enjoyed taking in the beautiful scenery of the pristine beaches with mountain views in the distance.

When the leadership announced I was going to GTMO during DRMP’s Christmas party last year, everyone thought it was a joke. To this day, when I talk about my GTMO experience with colleagues who I haven’t seen in a while since the trip, they’ll remark, “Wait, you really went?”

As the surveying profession experiences fewer young people choosing this line of work as a career, it’s important for employers to attract young professionals to our field with exciting career opportunities like this one.

I look forward to working with other young professionals in the future, and my goal is to become a resource for a variety of projects and mentoring opportunities. Working on unique projects like the one in GTMO will allow me to become that well-rounded professional that junior employees seek for mentorship, and I am excited to be continuing along that path.

Meaghan McCarthy serves as a GIS Analyst for DRMP’s Survey and Mapping/Geospatial Market Sector and is responsible for assisting with geodatabase design, GPS field collection efforts and map design.