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geoLab hosts inaugural January Series, strengthens alumni network through mentorship program

Over the nine-week winter break, which was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the geoLab hosted its inaugural January Series, a collection of eight seminars designed to help members build new skills. Ranging from topics such as web scraping to a resume workshop, these 45-minute information sessions were taught by students and alumni of the geoLab and were kicked off by a panel about designing your own research project. 

Director of the geoLab Olivia Hettinger ’23 organized the series in December, after realizing the two-week longer break gave her the time necessary to focus on geoLab work. Becoming the director her freshman year, Hettinger has attempted to build a strong community within the geoLab, along with strengthening their alumni network. 

“The January Series is part of a wider effort within the geoLab to become a more encompassing, holistic organization,” Hettinger said. “We are a research lab, but we are also a social group; we are also a network. And, we are a group of peers who want to learn from one


Hettinger herself taught a seminar on networking, where she discussed the general importance of networking and common networking mistakes, accompanied by screenshots of messages she personally has sent on LinkedIn. 

Jason Lin ’21, who leads the roadRunner project, taught both a basic web scraping class and an advanced web scraping class. 

“I had positive feedback from the second seminar especially, and people felt as if they had learned something, which is definitely what I wanted to see happen,” Lin said. “I feel that these skills are important, because they can help us automate our data collection procedures in the lab as a whole, and save hundreds and hundreds of hours.  Work smart, not hard.”

The kick-off event was a panel discussing designing your own research projects at William and Mary, hosted by Heather Baier ’20 and Ethan Harrison ’20. Both Baier and Harrison did extensive research through William and Mary and the geoLab when they were students. 

“The point of that panel was to spur student-run research initiatives at William and Mary, as student-run research is the bread and butter of geoLab,” Hettinger said. “It was really important to me that people continue to want to pursue their own personal ideas within the context of the geoLab. So a part of this panel was trying to give people the impetus and let them know that we really want to hear from them. We really want to hear their ideas and show them how they can bring them forward to us.”

The idea behind creating the January Series was inspired by a seminar Baier ran the previous year regarding how to request information using the Freedom of Information Act. Hettinger noted how many geoLab members found the session extremely helpful and interesting. Baier currently works as a research scientist for William and Mary’s Applied Science department. 

“We've never had a full alumni class until this year… the geoLab is only four years old,” Hettinger said. “It's a personal goal of mine to have an extensive geoLab alumni network and to be recognized by companies where alumni now work.”

Along with the January Series, Hettinger also created the geoLab mentorship program over winter break. The mentorship program hopes to pair current geoLab members with a geoLab alumnus who works in the mentee’s interested field. 

“It’s a one-on-one relationship,” Hettinger said. “So that geoLab members can have a person to ask their questions to, or review their resume/LinkedIn, and to help them network and get started with their professional career. A lot of our students are younger in the lab right now. We have a lot of sophomores. This is a pivotal year for starting to network and starting to understand where the opportunities are that they are interested in.”

Currently, the program has paired seven students with seven alumni, though Hettinger expressed her desire to grow the program.

“I want to see just more mentors and mentees,” Hettinger said. “And as we have more alumni and students graduating, that becomes more feasible. And as more students get involved, more students are going to become interested in it.” 

Hettinger modeled her program after the mentorship program at William and Mary’s Center for Finance at the Mason School of Business. As a student at the business school, Hettinger was paired with two alumni mentors, who made her feel more comfortable with networking and her professional presence. 

Hettinger described her mentors as “wonderful people,” who made a large impact on her.

“I want these geoLab mentor relationships to last past just the scheduled time of the semester,” Hettinger said. “I still have relationships with both of my mentors, and I want to maintain them. And so I want geoLab students to be maintaining their relationships with their mentors.”

Both the January Series and the mentor program are part of Hettinger’s initiative to strengthen the geoLab community. Along with these professional development events, Hettinger also has been organizing socially-distanced geoLab picnics, scheduled fitness classes, and Zoom study halls in an effort to continuously foster community.