As the daughter of two immigrants who strove to build their family a foothold in the U.S., Maritza Salinas, '20, grew up knowing the value of hard work, education and finding your own path.
It was a non-traditional journey that brought her to UNI, where she won a full scholarship and numerous accolades. After high school, Salinas pursued a journalism degree from the University of Iowa, but after two years there she knew it wasn’t for her. She withdrew in the fall, worked the corn harvest and took a technical support job working overnights as she finished an associate’s degree at a community college.
Friends encouraged Salinas to consider finishing her education at UNI because of its scholarship programs for minority and non-traditional students. Salinas won a full scholarship and decided to pursue a degree in geographic information systems, which, like journalism, would allow her to tell stories in a way people could understand.
"I knew I wanted to study geography after working on the combine in the fields, and working at the call center told me I liked technology. I just had to find a way to combine the two." Salinas said. "When I found GIS at UNI, I was really excited because I was like 'Ah! Finally, it exists!'"
One of the best things for her about UNI was that it truly helped prepare her for a future career in GIS by giving her experience working with industry-standard remote sensing software like ArcGIS, ENVI and ERDAS Imagine. Salinas was also able to work at the Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC) as a geographic information systems intern.
“She has been a great asset to the IWRC. We knew we wanted to start integrating some GIS elements into our programming, but we weren't quite sure how we were going to do that.” said Joe Bolick, director of the IWRC.
“When we brought on Maritza as a GIS intern, she was able to take our ideas and bring them to life. She is a prime example of what it takes to succeed in this world, and she is going to continue to do great things moving forward.”
This real-world experience has helped Maritza to start making a difference before she had even graduated. Using the skills she learned at UNI, Salinas created a COVID-19 web application that shows each county and their reported cases. It also provides links to resources such as food assistance programs, tutorials for cloth face masks and mental health programs.
After graduation, Salinas is staying at UNI to pursue a master’s degree in geography. Prior to the cancellation of the program due to coronavirus, she was selected to take part in NASA’s highly selective DEVELOP program to work on the Satellite Beach energy project over the summer.
To see Salinas' COVID-19 tracker, visit https://arcg.is/u9iSj.
For more stories about CSBS faculty, students and alumni, visit csbs.uni.edu/magazine.