Urban Morphology and Professional Badminton Player: Getting to Know Marzena Wicht

Marzena has been part of the NRI team since May 2018, first as a GIS intern and now full-time as a GIS Project Manager and Specialist. She is responsible for overseeing GIS contracts and providing on-site customer support, particularly in Poland where her Polish origin and vast knowledge in Polish spatial planning are a huge asset. We recently had a chance to discuss her impressive academic career and how she is applying all that GIS expertise in the field.  

How did you come to work for NRI?

A couple of months after beginning my master’s degree I found the opening and it was a great match! Actually, there is a funny story involved…

Please share! 

So I found out about the job opening through a mailing group I had subscribed to. The only issue was there wasn’t any job description. So I googled the company to see who they were and if my expertise could help and I immediately thought, ‘This is just what I want to do with my career!’ So I wrote a very broad cover letter and sent it away. Shortly after I was invited for the interview and at some point during our conversation I asked, “Is there actually a job description?” and Lori [Lori Spingola, COO] referred to the job advertisement I responded to. It turns out there was a technical error when posting the position and the second page of the PDF was never uploaded! So I “blind” applied but in the end it worked out great for all of us 🙂

What I find fascinating about GIS is that it incorporates so many different disciplines and you can model such diverse phenomena; the sky is the limit!

When did you first know that GIS was the topic you wanted to spend your career working on?

Well, during my bachelor studies at Warsaw University of Technology (WUT) we started working with spatial analyses pretty early on and seeing the power that lies behind it, I started exploring it on my own. My consecutive theses (Bachelor and Master, and PhD actually as well) were strongly based on various spatial analyses. What I find fascinating about it is that GIS incorporates so many different disciplines and you can model such diverse phenomena; the sky is the limit! For example, the City of London started using GIS to model bottlenecks at specific places in London that are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

What brought you to Germany initially?

I ended up in Germany because I fell in love with my husband [who is German]. I graduated from urban planning in 2012 at WUT and the same year I started my PhD. Shortly after, in 2013, I had the opportunity to move to Germany to continue my PhD research. I first came for a year within the Erasmus exchange to Frankfurt University for Applied Sciences, where my husband was working as a scientific research assistant. The following year, I received a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) to continue my PhD research here, which I completed in April 2019. While I was continuing my research I decided to do a parallel masters program in Geomatics at the University of Applied Sciences in Karlsruhe, which I am completing this September.

We can use the science of urban morphology to find ways to find and support natural wind paths to bring fresh and cool air from the surrounding suburbs to improve air quality.

Wow, that takes discipline. Not everyone is built to handle such a large academic load. What was the focus of your dissertation?

The detection of urban ventilation corridors with the means of GIS/remote sensing derived urban morphology.

Urban morphology?

It’s a pretty broad field but from a geo-perspective the term refers to the urban canopy, so basically everything that is on the surface of earth. In this case, when we are talking about urban morphology I was basically studying the structure of urban environments, trees and buildings and how that affects wind flowing through this space.  

Lets take Stuttgart, for example. It lies in a valley and due to this peculiar positioning it is very poorly ventilated so there is a large amount of small particle pollution that accumulates and creates poor air quality. We can use the science of urban morphology to find ways to find and support natural wind paths to bring fresh and cool air from the surrounding suburbs to improve air quality.

All in all I love research, exploring the unknown, and learning – which is why I am really happy to be able to work on some research projects at NRI.

What is JURSE?

It is an international biennial conference revolving around orbital and airborne remote sensing data. I applied for one of ten scholarships as part of their annual competition. I became a finalist and had the opportunity to travel all expense paid to Dubai for the conference. I had the honor of receiving third place in the competition, which just reaffirmed that I was researching an important topic.

[For more information visit www.jurse2019.org]

Can you share an accomplishment you are particularly proud of?

I’d say I am proud of my PhD Thesis and the publications preceding it. This used to be a small project I was doing on the side while pursuing urban flash floods research, when I went to couple of conferences in 2016 and got lots of positive feedback about this topic. That encouraged me to go further down this path. When I was awarded Best Student Paper Award at the JURSE 2017 conference, I knew I had to make this topic my number one priority. All in all I love research, exploring the unknown, and learning – which is why I am really happy to be able to work on some research projects at NRI.

I have learned over the years to always try to find a moment just for myself.

Any free time left for hobbies? 🙂

To be honest, it is hard to say. I have been studying for 12 years now and always working on the side, so I am not exactly sure what free time is. Even now that I am finished with my PhD, I still have to finish my masters while working full time. That occupies my day almost to the fullest. But I enjoy living such an intense life. I am actually thinking what will I do once my master’s is over? Will I go crazy ;)?  I have learned over the years to always try to find a moment just for myself. As I used to be a professional badminton player in my teens, I usually spend my free time doing something active: hiking, yoga, swimming, you name it. Once I am finished with my master’s I would love to go back to horseback riding – I love it!

You are at the beginning of a promising career. What is the next big step in front of you?   

I think first and foremost is to meet the expectations and fulfill the trust Scott [Holbrook, CEO] has put in me by making me responsible for the management of new projects. I really love the idea that I can be a part of this company’s growth and help to create it by employing Scott’s vision.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, Marzena, and all the best in this new chapter.  

Find more information about Marzena and the NRI team on nri-site.com. This interview was conducted on September 4th, 2019 by Katina Schneider

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