First-year student creates hand drawn map of his hometown

Friday, November 2, 2012 - 10:22am


Sutherland and map

Michael Sutherland (at left) and his hand drawn map of Hellertown, Pennsylvania.

Photo Credit: Rachel Brown.

Nicknamed “the human GPS” by his mother for an uncanny ability to navigate almost any area he traverses, Michael Sutherland is a first-year GIScience major, who started here with something most students would never dream of completing until they had the necessary tools and education to do so: a hand drawn map.

Sprawling across his dorm room wall in West Halls, is Sutherland’s map of Hellertown, Pennsylvania. Looking closely, you can see the faded lines of the notebook paper on which he drew, to scale, pieces of his hometown.

Sutherland came upon his love for maps and drawing them when he was in sixth grade after misinterpreting an extra credit assignment and instead, drawing cities and imaginary towns on a scroll of paper.

“People find their passion through mistakes…it was a happy accident,” says Sutherland, in defense of his sixth grade misunderstanding, noting, “My teacher still gave me the credit.”

Sutherland is also an avid runner. During his senior year of high school he began making trails in a patch of woods near his house, and one day decided to map those trails. This seemingly small drawing was the beginning to the large map that gained him recognition in the Department of Geography and is now on display in the Hamer Maps Library of the University Libraries.

“Running and geography kind of go together because with both, you explore the world and map it out,” he says.

At first, Sutherland did not plan to map out his whole town, but after drawing that one patch of woods, he could not help but continue expanding. The overall process took over five months; Sutherland acknowledges he found the work tedious at times. (The longest shift he spent working on his pride and joy was six hours.)

The map of Hellertown is thoroughly impressive. It is hard to believe the amount time and effort it took to draw, scale, and color coordinate each intricate detail of the map. Sutherland says he was motivated to continue expanding his map after seeing a poorly drawn map of his hometown, which he claimed looked like a “five-year-old’s drawing.”

“It was an insult to cartographers everywhere,” decries Sutherland. “Hellertown needs redemption!”

Along with the intricacies of an accurate map, which Sutherland’s exemplifies, he also has added his own personal touches with funny labels such as, “best drinking fountain,” “where the cops hideout,”  and “the biggest attraction in town… I know that’s sad.”

Sutherland is hoping to attend the annual American Association of Geography conference held in Los Angeles, California in April 2013. If all goes well he may even present his map at the conference.

Like most first-year students, future plans for Sutherland are not concrete, but with his creativity, love for details, and passion for geography, he is sure to impress whomever he comes across.


Sutherland suggested being a national park ranger as a possible future occupation, for it would allow him to be out in the field a lot of the time.“Making maps, being outside, exploring,” he says. “Trying to find something that brings all those together is hard, but I’m confident that in the next four years I’ll find something that interests me, and I’ll go with that.”