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Minneapolis

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Aaron Mielke

Senior GIS/Environmental Consultant

Checking out the mining equipment at Mineview in the Sky in Virginia, Minnesota
Fishing at Birch Lake in Ely, Minnesota
Hiking along the White River southeast of Seattle
Aaron Mielke realized early on that he was interested in the environment and science and planned to study environmental engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“I had an acceptance letter, a congressional nomination, and had passed the initial physical,” said Aaron. “Then I learned that I was medically disqualified because of a few too many concussions from wrestling with my brothers, playing sports, and being in the outdoors. It was disappointing, and I had to completely change my plans.”

Even though he had already agreed to go to a different university than his twin brother, Aaron went with him on a campus visit to University of Wisconsin–Madison. He liked it so much he applied on the spot. After studying environmental engineering for a year, he switched to forest science and natural resources management so he could to spend more time outdoors.

During his time as a forester, Aaron’s interests grew to include environmental review and impact analysis using geographic information systems (GIS) software.

“I had used GIS in college and enjoyed it,” said Aaron. “It’s a powerful tool for analyzing environmental impacts, but I needed to learn more to take full advantage of it, so I dropped everything to go back to school for a graduate certificate in GIS.”

After earning the certificate, Aaron combined his forestry experience and newly acquired GIS skills at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, where he trapped gypsy moths and other invasive insects, mapped where they were found, and developed management strategies to slow their spread.

In 2006, Aaron joined Barr and expanded the firm's use of GIS on many permitting projects, especially those involving linear transmission, gas, and fiber-optic corridors. Working at Barr has also allowed him to explore ways to use GIS mapping with new technology, such as accessing data through interactive websites and collecting field data using tablet computers.
 
“It was challenging but rewarding to figure out how to use tablets to log data in real time,” said Aaron. “We’ve used tablets on quite a few projects now, including one that documents and tracks contaminants in a residential area. It allowed us to immediately see results on a map and more easily catch errors.”

While working at Barr means less time outside compared to being a forester, Aaron still finds plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

“I like doing yard work and gardening,” said Aaron. “My wife and I enjoy cooking with fresh ingredients from our garden. And when I go hunting, fishing, and camping, I make my own GIS maps!”