Picture a solar farm — a grid of dozens of shining panels of reflective glass, each one angled to capture the sun’s light at its peak and turn that light into renewable energy. Now imagine that solar farm is being built in your town or neighborhood, or even in your own backyard.

Molly McKnight, a December geography graduate, is helping to make imagining that a little easier, using geographic information systems (GIS) to help develop visualizations of potential renewable energy fields. The intention of the project, led by Professor Bill Carstensen, is for these visualizations to be used at planning and county government meetings to give communities and individuals a clearer sense of the impact that new energy projects would have on a landscape.

“We’re creating 3D models that would allow a user to type in an address and see what a solar panel field or wind turbine would look like,” McKnight said. “It’s a way of trying to come up with an interactive tool that would allow communities to better visualize a project.”

McKnight’s experience landed her a summer internship with Esri, the world’s leading GIS software company. As a technical support intern, she worked to help answer customer questions about the mapping and analytics software that the company provides to industries around the world. She also conducted research and testing of user workflows across software platforms.

McKnight didn’t venture far after graduation — she’s now working on a master’s degree in the Department of Geography.