By Maura Sullivan Hill
Kendis Scharenbroich M’00 can’t recall too many other female CEOs in her industry, but she’s more concerned about doing her job and the work she’s trained to do.
Scharenbroich, a self described knowledge seeker and fact finder, has worked in geographic information systems (GIS) for 20 years, since she graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a master’s degree in resource analysis (now the M.S. in Data Intelligence and GeoAnalytics program).
Today, she is the president and CEO at Pro-West and Associates, Inc., a consulting firm in Bemidji, Minn., that offers GIS services for cities, counties, and state and federal governments.
GIS involves using computer systems and software to capture, analyze, and display data related to geographic locations, to better understand patterns and relationships. At Pro-West, for example, they use GIS to collect and assess information about land use, roads, and property tax assessments. They have also worked with public health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic, tracking infection rates and providing data that has been essential in creating safe reopening plans and vaccine distribution systems.
After earning her undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, and mass communication from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, Scharenbroich learned about GIS from a mentor. As a visual learner, she says she “fell in love with it, because of the maps, statistics, charts, and graphs.” So she started looking at graduate programs in the field.
“Saint Mary’s stood out above and beyond all of the other programs that I looked at. They had a wide variety of courses, so not only did they focus on core GIS technology, but they also taught programming and had a focus on communications, public speaking and writing,” she says. “That breadth and diversity of the course work has served me well throughout my entire career. It felt like this was a place where I was going to be able to learn and grow professionally, and that was 100% the case.”
Scharenbroich started working at Pro-West in 2002, after moving to Bemidji with her husband. Her first job was as a GIS technician, and she rose through the organization to become CEO in 2019.
“When I started, everything that I learned at Saint Mary’s came into play: I was asked to create spatial data and do technical work, to write case studies for clients and present at conferences, to meet with clients and learn about their needs and figure out how to apply the technology,” she says. “I really enjoyed the diversity of the work, and the communication aspect of it, as well. All the courses I went through in Saint Mary’s program prepared me for that.”
Scharenbroich has Saint Mary’s graduates on her team, and says that the same holds true today: They are prepared.
“I am reviewing résumés every day from GIS programs across the region and the country, and the Saint Mary’s students always have a diverse background and relevant internships. They definitely stand out,” says Scharenbroich, who also mentors fellow GIS professionals through the Minnesota GIS/LIS Consortium.
Scharenbroich emphasizes that she never set out to be a CEO, but that she simply enjoys her work every day and is committed to it.
“Basically, over the last 19 years, I did my job,” she says with a chuckle. “I’m a knowledge seeker and fact finder, and I was always engaged with the job. I’m just so glad that I went to Saint Mary’s and got my education there.”