Chattanoogan: Andy Carroll – Very Spatial Places

Sunday, February 16, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey

The dream job for GIS manager Andy Carroll would be anything outdoors and he made sure to select a career that supported those passions. With his parents Danny and Aileen Carroll exposing him and his younger brother Matthew to technology, Andy had a knack for infusing the two.

Growing up in a hardworking, blue-collar family, Andy’s first job was helping his dad at his heating and air mechanical contracting company on Dodds Avenue.

“I would go around with a giant magnet and pick up scrap metal in the fabrication part of the business …it was child slave labor,” Andy jokes. “Pretty soon I was helping doing invoicing. My parents had a computer and my brother and I would actually teach them how to run the management software – especially dad, mom was pretty good at it but dad… it was funny. He is still that way even with his cell phone now,” Andy chuckles.

By age 10, Andy was busy making hand-drawn maps of trails he and his friends used discovering the surrounding areas of Chickamauga Lake, Wolftever Creek and the islands at Harrison Bay.

“I probably went fishing every day. A couple of my friends and I were always exploring along the shoreline. We had boats and we’d just go explore… it was one big playground,” Andy says.

 “Just being outside and knowing where you are in the relationship of the things around you …I didn’t know it at the time, but it was something really important to me. And I was fortunate enough to be able to discover that,” he says.

Andy grew up going camping, hiking and spent a lot of time at the state park. In fact, Andy learned a valuable lesson at age 13, when he and a friend were on an island in Harrison Bay and caused a news breaking incident.

“We accidentally burned one of the islands. My friend and I were getting ready to scout for deer hunting. It was a cold day and my friend fell asleep and the fire just started growing. Pretty soon the whole island was on fire. We took off in the boat and were scared to death, but we couldn’t do anything about it,” Andy remembers. “I have two boys now and I make a point to tell them how important a fire ring is and putting out your fire.”

Andy attended Furman University in Greenville, S.C., studying geology and environmental science. He started out as premed and realized after just one semester that it wasn’t for him.

“I had really good experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a while. I thought I was going to get paid to go hiking with a backpack for the rest of my life,” Andy says.

In the summer of 1998, Andy was fortunate to discover a prehistoric rock art site. “That event pretty much firmed up my passion for exploring the natural world and investigating human interactions and their place in the world,” Andy says.  

After obtaining his bachelor degree, Andy interned for TVA but realized that he wanted to further his education and found a master’s program at UTC in environmental science and digital mapping.

“Digital mapping was the big thing. That revolution happened when I was in college. We were still using paper maps. The GPS units were pretty much what the military or federal agencies were using, but by the end of college the geospatial Revolution took off,” Andy says. “Now your phone is the most powerful mapping tool more than most computers were in the late 90s. That got the ball rolling.”

Andy met his wife Rachel through church and friends and they dated on and off throughout college, but by the time Andy came back they were pretty serious and married in 2002. That same year, Andy was awarded the Unique Mapping Design Award from TNGIC. The couple has two sons Patrick and Henry.

After grad school, Andy was with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.  When asked if he found the job that would pay him to hike, Andy says, “Well I did, but I went hiking through the Chattanooga Floodplain in Alton Park. I was part of the clean-up and planning for the remediation of the Chattanooga Creek.”

Andy was a project manager and mapped out the contamination sites where the new EPB building was and Enterprise South (which was still the army plant) and worked on getting it all clean and remediated.

“I was always in touch with the university because we have such great resources here for all the mapping technology – even while I was at the state and, eventually it turned into a position that was funded by the US Geological Survey,” Andy says. “I got to get outside some, but it is mostly a computer software kind of thing.”

Andy was at TDEC for about two years and came back to UTC which had a conservation natural resource mapping lab in which he managed the students. “Congressman Wamp did a great job of getting us a lot of projects and partnerships with the US Geological Survey and funded several years of work,” Andy notes.

Over the period of those years, they built a master database where everything in the Chattanooga region could be mapped and he is integrating that into regional planning projects.

A big regional planning effort going on right now for the 16 counties surrounding Chattanooga is the ‘Thrive 2055 campaign.

“The university (and me in particular) is heavily involved in that. It is taking all the information and observations of the natural world, all the conservation plans and everything we have accumulated over the past 10 years at UTC and integrating it into a long-term vision for the year 2055,” Andy maintains.

“We are considering areas we want to protect and areas we want to develop. We have to build our economy, and growth is a part of that in how we balance those simultaneously. Getting the students involved is a really fun part of my job and I get to help take my love for the outdoors and conservation and integrate this into a bigger picture and process,” Andy says.

County mayors, various organizations and planning departments as well as the local foundations, such as Benwood and Lyndhurst and the Chattanooga Chamber have focused on this project.

Andy had a startup company called Second Site where he did mapping technology, but he sold it last December to his partner.

“I still have the entrepreneurial bug and I have some things in the works as far as taking the type of spatial mapping technology and helping us to make better decisions. There are a few software-kind-of-ventures I am thinking about, but right now I am just happy focusing my energy and time here at the university. Being able to share the experience and the learning opportunities with students is something I do appreciate and get a lot of joy out of,” Andy expresses.

Andy serves all the different groups on campus which they call Spatial Thinking.

“Sometimes you get these amazing students that come through and it’s great to see them succeed, but something I really treasure is when I have a student who is really not sure what they are going to do and they kind of discover the power of the technology used and spatial thinking and I enjoy watching that light bulb come on,” Andy says.

A few years ago, Andy witnessed that with a student who didn’t know what he was going to do and he ended up being accepted into one of the best graduate schools in the country for this kind of study. “It totally changed his life. Opportunities weren’t always in front of him and now he is out in California making things happen,” Andy beams.

Andy’s passion lies obviously in the outdoors, recreation and natural resources and in raising awareness. “I think there is a nature deficit disorder that is going on these days of increased urbanization and, technology needs to be balanced and leveraged to help us make better decisions with natural systems and not just locking yourself in a room with technology only,” Andy says.

“These are limited resources that are under pressure and I want my children and grandchildren and others to have the same opportunities that I have enjoyed and experienced.”

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