Andrew Bernish has 100 chickens to thank for his career.
The chickens were the start of a poultry farm he helped establish in a rural South African village while serving in the Peace Corps. The project got him interested in community and economic development, which in turn, led to an interest in planning. His studies then introduced him to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), often used for mapmaking.
Flash forward 10 years and Bernish, an MDOT planner, just received an award for one of his maps. He won third place in the 2020 ArcGIS Maps for Adobe Competition, sponsored by the software company Esri, for a map of Talbot County kayak launches. Last year, his work at MDOT was honored with a Special Achievement in GIS Award from Esri.
“He’s really talented,” said Anthony Puzzo, state government lead at Esri. “I think he helps present Maryland DOT in a newer light in the stuff he produces. “In this day and age, you have to make a really nice product” to help with branding and generating interest.
He called Bernish “a rare unicorn” who is skilled not only in graphic design, but also in storytelling and analytics.
Many of the maps Bernish has produced can be seen on the MDOT GIS Open Date Portal. Some of the maps are static, others are interactive. He’s tackled topics as diverse as smart ponds and transit–oriented development and worked on projects ranging from how to get more children outdoors to a survey of pedestrian and bicycle traffic volumes. In addition, he’s made maps for MDOT’s attainment reports and Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP).
The favorites of Michelle Martin, MDOT’s deputy director of transportation planning, are maps Bernish is working on that show truck parking locations around the state. She said the maps have a lot of detail, yet are easy to understand.
“Andrew is a great resource for the department,” she said, “providing maps and graphics that help both employees and customers.”
Bernish enjoys the constant challenge of mapmaking. “It’s not stagnant,” he said. “There’s always new tricks to learn, new design methods, new software.”
He always liked maps, but more to show his travels when he was growing up than as a career. He majored in psychology as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then after the Peace Corps he got a master’s degree in community planning at the University of Maryland.
In addition to his work at MDOT, the married father of two young children has taught sustainable urban planning at George Washington University’s graduate school for the past eight years. He discusses mapmaking briefly with his students but doesn’t get into the finer points of the discipline.
He’ll have more time to delve into the subject in another class he’s slated to teach in the fall, a graduate level course on GIS at the University of Maryland.
One of the lessons he learned early on in mapmaking is that too much detail can muddle the message. The most successful maps, he said, mix readability with usability.
“A good map can stand alone by itself,” he said. “You don’t have to have someone else describe it to you.”
Marshall Stevenson, an MDOT SHA consultant for GIS program management support, said Bernish has a “unique skillset” and an “artistic touch.”
A lot of people have the tools to produce the types of maps he creates, Stevenson said. “But they don’t have the eye for it.”
Additional information about statewide public launches and water trails: https://dnr.maryland.gov/boating/pages/water-access/boatramps.aspx https://dnr.maryland.gov/boating/pages/mdwatertrails.aspx
https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/dnr_nearyou1.aspx (Click on the map to enable it, then click on water trails in the drop down menu of map features).