Alumni Spotlight - Mike Schoelen ’14

Dec 9, 2019 11:00 AM

Current City: Washington, D.C.

Current Occupation: Solution Engineer, Esri

Why do you love FSU?

Frostburg gave me so many opportunities as a student that my friends at other universities never got a chance to experience. Rather than just reading a textbook in a 300-person lecture hall, I was able to travel, take fieldtrips, engage with University leadership, and build a strong professional network early on. I know other people who consider their degree as a check box – Frostburg offered so much more than that at an impossibly affordable price.

Why do you give back (time, talent and/or treasure) to FSU?

I was only successful at Frostburg because of the generosity of others. Without people giving their valuable time to mentor me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I might never be able to give a million-dollar endowment to the University, but I can give my time to repay what others gave to me.

Tell us about a class or activity at FSU that has had a surprising effect on your life.

The opportunity to travel to Uganda with the President’s Leadership Circle had a greater effect on me than I expected. Before that trip, I thought my impact on the world was negligible – that I was one in 7 billion people and can’t make a difference. That trip to Uganda demonstrated that as an individual, even a small action could change someone’s life, in that case by introducing them to safe drinking water. This experience ultimately led to my involvement with the Defense Health Agency and now Esri’s health team.

Favorite TV show

I will watch The Office and Community on repeat. If someone lends me their HBO password, I’ll also watch Silicon Valley – working for a company out of California, it is weirdly relatable.

What is your favorite memory of your time as a Frostburg student?

For a Geography division, we got into more shenanigans than I would have expected, particularly with Dr. (Phillip) Allen. We once tried a new lab experiment to model impact craters from meteors. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, so we attempted the experiment indoors. I’ll skip the details, but you can imagine what happens when a bowling ball is thrown from 6 feet high into a kiddie-pool of concrete mix in an enclosed laboratory. I believe that one was scrubbed from the curriculum.

What is a cause dear to your heart?

In 2018, I was mobilized to support emergency response efforts for the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif. For three weeks and 12 hours a day, I would ensure that crews had the tools they needed to collect data from the field, know when they were in a danger zone from mudslides and stay on schedule. It was just another job, until I went back to my hotel where most rooms were occupied by survivors of the fire. They would be talking about our emergency response maps that would show them when it was safe to go back to their home. Our work had an impact on their lives and gave them some sense of control and understanding.

People who know me know that I truly love geography. It isn’t just about making pretty maps, it is about effecting change in a community, whether by giving a wildfire survivor an indicator map of when their home will be cleared or by running simulations to ensure that it never happens again.

Tell us about a person or persons from FSU who had an impact on your life.

Dr. (Tom) Bowling taught me that the strongest voice in a room is not always the loudest, and that sometimes the most powerful action you can take is to simply listen with the intent of understanding. Ms. Kathi (Perkins) taught me that any tense situation can be dissolved with a smile and a laugh. And the friends I made at Frostburg taught me that no matter how many times you move, they will always feel obligated to help unpack boxes.

Who is your doppelganger (famous person you resemble)?

I think I look more like a John Krasinski, but I suspect I look more like Chris Evans at the start of Captain America before he becomes a superhero.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Is there a job where you just get to review hotels around the world for free? I would like that one. Otherwise, my current profession is one that I’ve been working toward since I was a sophomore at Frostburg – I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What person, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

I would have to answer with Jack Dangermond – the pioneer of modern geography, whether he admits it or not. Jack is an icon in the field of geographic information systems and shows that you can create a multi-billion-dollar company without losing sight of your values. Interestingly, he’s now my boss at Esri, so maybe I’m one step closer to lunch or something.