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Alumni Highlight: MSIS Alum Roger Justus Offered Dream Job on Graduation Day

Featured alumni: Roger Justus

Current position and location: Data Services Librarian at Miami University

Location: Oxford, Ohio

In May of 2022, Roger Justus was playing the job search waiting game. He’d left behind his 25-year career in IT to find a vocation that would “feed his soul,” and friends and family had encouraged him to explore librarianship. Ultimately, he chose to return, to some extent, to his roots: His first passion and his undergraduate degree were in geography, which led him to the pathway in geographic information sciences through the MSIS program. Fortunately, the same day Roger walked across the stage as a graduate, he received a phone call with a job offer.

Now, Roger serves as the data services librarian at Miami University.

What is your educational and professional background?

When I went to college, I got my first degree in geography and was thinking about working for the federal government. When that didn’t happen, I ended up going back to school and getting my teaching degree. Oddly, the first job I had out of school was at the library in my university. I went to Western Carolina University, and I helped them build their first PC computer lab on campus in the 90s. Then, I taught computer classes at a middle school in Hickory, North Carolina. Around this time, a cousin of mine said, “You know, you can make 16 times the money you’re making by working in actual IT.” And I fell into an IT career for the next 25 years. A couple years ago, I decided to do the program at UT and got my information sciences master’s degree and graduated in May. And then the day I graduated, I got a phone call from Miami University, and they offered me a great job. I started July 1 of this year.

Why information sciences?

When I decided to get out of my previous career, I’d been managing people a long time. I wanted to do something that was more about me and less about managing, something that feeds my soul more than anything else. And I started looking around and asking friends and family, “What do you think?” Several different people brought up libraries because I love to read. And after a couple of them said this, I started looking around, and I found the program at UT. Specifically the geographic information pathway caught my eye since I was a geographer before, and I still love maps and have dozens of maps everywhere. So I said, “Well, that sounds like fun. Why don’t I go back to school?” I applied, got in, and ended up with Dr. Bishop and had a great time.

One of the nice things about the program at UT is you can look at the courses, whether they be in public libraries, academic libraries, data, or UX, and you can kind of pick and choose a little bit about what you want to learn. I thought that was really a cool way of doing it.

How do you feel like your professional background came into play?

For me, having the technology background certainly helped. When I started looking at the technology involved in geographic information system, or in databases, or in web design, I had a grounding in that already that I was able to bring in and say, I understand what those tools are terms are. It was interesting. Even though I may have worked with databases for twenty to thirty years before coming to UT, you don’t—working with it in a business environment anyway—learn the theories and the practice that have kind of built into this technology, so that was neat to see that aspect of it as I went through the classes.

What were some of the most important aspects of your SIS experience?

I was vice president of the Society of American Archivists student chapter for UT Knoxville. I tried to attend all the events that the other student organizations did, too, because they had such great speakers a lot of times. You got so many different viewpoints brought in from the different organizations. We had the guy who curates the horror movie collection at the University of Pittsburgh. Wow—that was a lot of fun. A business librarian was brought in to talk about how to get into that field, which was interesting and very topical when you’re starting to look for a job to hear about the other jobs in the library world.

Pivoting to your current position, what does your day to day look like?

My current title is data services librarian, and I have a cross-functional job. I do some instruction. I am a subject librarian for the computer science department, math department, and some of the engineering units. I’m also involved in a lot of grants work and in creating data management plans.

How did the SIS program prepare you for your current position?

The SIS program did a really good job preparing me for the lingo/language of the job. I don’t go into a meeting feeling like I’m five miles behind everyone else, even though I just started the job.

What are some key things you learned in the MSIS program that factor into your success currently?

Certainly, a lot of the things around the geography world, how metadata is done, how the geographic information systems work, and how research is done around those things was also really well done and thought out. I hadn’t been in school for several years when I entered the program, so getting back into it was a good lesson for the future.

What advice would you give to someone who’s new to the MSIS program?

Don’t worry about making the decision about where you want to go on day one. I was fortunate, I’m a little more experienced than some folks, and I had an idea of what I wanted to do. But, there were people in the program with me that started in the geographic information sciences pathway and then ended up in public libraries. The way the SIS pathways work, you don’t have to take classes in one thing, though you can. Even though I was in the geographic information sciences pathway, I did coursework in other areas. Ultimately, you can kind of pick and choose your way around, and then you’ll find what feeds your soul and pursue that down the line.