January 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Alum News | Ling’s a ‘One-Person GIS Team’ at Volkswagen

Kenny Ling at a conference, standing in front of a poster illustrating how important geography is.

Kenny Ling

by Kristin Distel

Kenny Ling ’09M has landed a dream job for geography alums. He is a GIS Site Planning and Research Specialist at Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen.

GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, is an increasingly important area for sustainability research, as well as a career interest for many geography students and professionals.

Tackling Challenges Using GIS

“I am a one-person GIS team, so on an average day, I do everything from developing new models, running analyses, building web applications, to less exciting things like updating databases and managing vendors,” Ling explains.

He notes that because Electrify America is a start-up, created in response to last year’s Dieselgate scandal, each employee has a broad range of responsibilities. The company’s goal is “to develop a nationwide electric vehicle infrastructure.” Ling’s responsibilities especially focus on finding optimal sites for Electrify America’s coast-to-coast charging network. He notes that this is a significant challenge, especially given electric vehicles’ comparatively short driving range.

“Using GIS, I develop and optimize methodology to figure out which cities and highway routes to build in, and within those places, where we would achieve the highest level of utilization,” said Ling, who earned an M.A. in Geography from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University.

Helping Achieve an $800,000,000 Milestone

Despite the fact that Electrify America is a new company, it has achieved major milestones; Ling has been fundamental to at least one of these achievements.

Ling’s GIS expertise helped the company obtain approval for an $800 million California Investment Plan through the California Air Resources Board.

“GIS analysis played a big role in illustrating how this investment would benefit the state as a whole, as well as under-served communities, which was one of their key points of concern,” Ling remarks.

Fond Memories of ‘Friendly Faces’ in Athens

Ling is widely traveled and, in the past 15 years, has lived in three different countries and six different states within the United States. Athens stands out a special place, though, where Ling found both his career path and a wealth of lifelong friends.

“When people ask me which place is my favorite, I always say Athens, Ohio,” he remarks. “I think OHIO has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen, but it is the people that I liked most from my time there. I loved that I could go anywhere on campus and see a friendly face.”

Ling especially credits OHIO’s vibrant international student community as a highlight of his academic career and his time in Athens. “Even though most of us did not have cars, we always did fun things together,” he says.

Finding the Right Path at OHIO

“If it weren’t for the things I learned at OHIO,” Ling explains, “I wouldn’t be able to do my job today.”

Dr. Yeong Kim and Kenny Ling, posing for a photo

Dr. Yeong Kim and Kenny Ling

Prior to landing his current job with Volkswagen, Ling was employed as a Geospatial Analyst at Deloitte in Washington, D.C., as well as a Cartographic Product Engineer at Esri. He attributes his professional success to the strong academic foundation he obtained at OHIO. The broad range of courses and diverse training that geography students receive at OHIO have been invaluable for Ling.

“Cartography under Professor Margaret Pearce would probably be the course that set me on the path I am on today. Prior to that, I had never considered a career in maps and was actually planning on going into academia,” Ling remarks. “Dr. Pearce introduced me to the art and science of mapmaking, which led to me getting my first job at Esri.”

Dr. Yeong-Hyun Kim also served as one of Ling’s mentors, in addition to advising Ling’s thesis.

“In many ways,” he says, “Dr. Kim taught me how to think critically about geography.” In terms of coursework, he particularly cites Urban Geography with Dr. Kim and Population Geography with Dr. Brad Jokisch as foundational to the work he currently does with Electrify America.

“A key component of geospatial analysis is a solid understanding of the interaction between the built environment and the ever-changing demographic landscape,” he notes. “This holistic approach to how I tackle issues is something that I never would have had if it weren’t for OHIO.”

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