If you have ever given more than a passing thought about how Google maps can know where you are, and help you navigate to even the remotest location in the country, the answer is data. Lots and lots of data. Behind that data is a team of computer scientist, like Sam Blasiak , a recently minted George Mason University CS PhD, who is working to analyze, organize, and synthesize that data into the most comprehensive consumer mapping application available.

Blasiak is quick to explain that he has nothing to do with how the user sees and interacts with the application. He is officially a software engineer but his work is more like a data cartographer working behind the scenes on a portion of the application.

Google Maps is a fitting professional home for a person who has navigated his life through unexpected turns and destinations. Blasiak first earned a BA in English from Colorado College and then enlisted in the Army. While on active duty, he enrolled in an MS program at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. During his program, he was deployed to Afghanistan where he was an Army Gunner and driver. “My job involved interacting with the local Afghans, talking with them, drinking tea, and seeing how they lived.” From Afghanistan, Blasiak came to Virginia working in a variety of technical positions before enrolling in the PhD program at George Mason University.

He received the GMU Presidential Scholarship that is awarded to only one PhD student per program in an admission cycle. His interest in machine learning led him to work with Professors Huzefa Rangwala and Kathryn Laskey and together they published several papers on data mining and machine learning. He gives credit to both Rangwala and Laskey for his success and to the CS Department for providing him with a challenging environment. And now his challenge is to help the rest of us find our way safely back home.