This site is really about illustration with a geographic theme rather than real geography. Only a few of us work with GIS. Think about a site about drawing cars. There will probably be a few automotive engineers and mechanics with interest in art on the site, but it will mostly be artists with interest in cars. The same is true of the Cartographers' Guild.
If you want to gain some experience working with map data, you could try contributing to OpenStreetMap. I learned quite a bit from it and I like to think it helped a little bit in getting me the job I have now. I also think my pretty fantasy maps made here at the guild helped so I heartily encourage to to stick around.
If you want to get some experience using GIS, there is a lot of open source GIS out there. QuantumGIS is a good starting point for a desktop GIS. If you want some more web/server orient software to try playing with, GeoServer, PostGIS, OpenLayers, and Leaflet might all be worth looking at. (For full disclosure, I'm a software developer at a company that develops and supports GeoServer, PostGIS, and OpenLayers, and I work on the GeoServer and GeoWebCache projects myself). You'll almost certainly be focusing on the ESRI software stack (ArcGIS, ArcSDE, ArcIMS, etc) in your courses so a bit of variety will give you some perspective, help you avoid vendor lock in, and give you some extra items on your resume.
I also recommend you get familiar with a site called GIS Stack Exchange. Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange It's a question and answer site for GIS. If you have technical questions about GIS and can't find an answer in documentation, go there. The other Stack Exchange sites are also worth checking out.
It would also have helped if you had mentioned where you/your school are. Not everyone is familiar with the abbreviation 'NOLA' for 'New Orleans, Louisiana"; I'd never heard it until a conference there last November. It's also good practice to make sure all relevant information is in the body of a post/email/message/whatever. Don't treat metadata like the title, headers, etc. as part of the message.