Frank Romo – Public Safety Data Manager & Geospatial Consultant, Michigan

Photo of Frank RomoPosition: Public Safety Data Manager — 911 & Emergency Services Technician

What was your favorite class in K-12? My favorite classes in school were history and geography. I really enjoyed learning how maps and diagrams were used for reconnaissance during war times to give armies the upper hand on the battlefield.

How did you first learn about and/or use GIS? I first learned GIS while studying at Columbia University. One of my first major projects was using GPS units for data collection and crowdsourcing information immediately after Hurricane Sandy. This was a transformative experience for me because it taught me how GIS can be used during times of crises to solve real-time problems for people in affected regions.

Name one thing you love about GIS and/or geography (I know, just one!): The best thing about GIS is its ability to empower residents and promote social justice in local communities. In the past, I have used GIS to address issues of inequality in cities surrounding topics like pollution, toxic hazards, racial segregation, food insecurity and public safety. GIS can be used for social good and help people fight to improve the health and well-being of their communities.

Why did you want to volunteer as a GeoMentor? I chose to become a GeoMentor because I enjoy teaching people about the power of GIS. I have taught as a GIS instructor for over five years now and find it very rewarding when I can empower students to use GIS. I chose to become a GeoMentor because I want to embrace the opportunity to teach, pass on my knowledge and share my skillset with the next generation of GIS leaders.

If someone asked you why they should learn about GIS and/or geography, how would you respond in one sentence? GIS is a fun and useful tool that can be used to positively impact the world around you!




AAG Snapshot: How to Make the Most of your Student Membership

Over 40% of AAG members are students and it is this 40%+ that I want to speak to and encourage to make the most of your membership to the AAG. While I am currently an AAG employee, I started with the organization just like you, as a student member. It’s how I got started in the geography community beyond my university and it is from that personal experience as a student member (combined with additional AAG insider knowledge gained since then) that I want to talk to you.

If you become an AAG member just for the savings of attending the Annual Meeting, financially it’s already worth it for you. Joining saves you $70 for a student member versus a student non-member Annual Meeting registration. Given that the cost of membership itself is only $38 to $49 for undergrad or grad students, it’s a bit of a no-brainer! But don’t stop there in terms of benefiting from your membership. Use your membership to find financial and educational resources as well as social and professional connections to help you advance towards your goals.

The following are just a few ways to take advantage of your student membership:

1. ATTEND THE ANNUAL MEETING: If you do join the AAG in order to get the Annual Meeting discount, let’s start here in terms of making the most of your experience and membership.

  • Talk to people. Sounds simple? Sure. Sounds scary? Yes, that’s true. Worth it? Definitely. Attend sessions with the ‘stars’ in your field, the people whose research you read and cite, whose lab facilities or activities you drool over. But don’t just observe their presentations, go up and talk to them! The meeting is a great atmosphere and opportunity to talk as colleagues. We all love geography and we love talking about it. Make a connection. Attach a real person, a voice to the research you are interested in. You never know when you’ll get a new idea, make a new connection, or encounter a new opportunity by simply making the effort to talk to people.
  • Get your presentation mojo. There are a wide range of talks and presentations at any meeting. I promise you that at some point during the Annual Meeting you’re going to walk away from a session and think, “I can totally do that…”, or even “I think I can do BETTER than that”. So do it! Realize that you have the potential to present, you have the knowledge to present, and then do so the next chance you get! The Annual Meeting can make you feel like a little fish in a big pond, so if that is overwhelming, consider attending and presenting at AAG regional division meetings. These meetings are smaller and can be a great first dip into the pool of presenting your research.
  • Scout out and apply to competition sessions. If you are going to present, why not present in a session where you would WIN something? Not only an award, but also sometimes money as well! Specialty groups sponsor various student competition sessions every year, and honestly, sometimes they don’t get a lot of applicants. That means better odds for you to win! It’s also a great setting to meet fellow students. I once walked away with $500 to offset my travel costs plus some great new contacts and research feedback! Check out the lengthy list of winners from specialty group accolades in previous years and note just how many ‘Student’ awards there are. Also, keep in mind that there are student award opportunities both in presentation competitions at the Annual Meeting and through application processes throughout the year. You often need to be a member of the Specialty or Affinity Group to participate in their competitions or win one of their other awards, which leads me to my next point…..


  • Join AAG Specialty and Affinity Groups. The AAG has 70 specialty and affinity groups (SAGs) for different sub-disciplines and communities, including affinity groups for undergrad and grad students. I’m confident one or more will be in an interest area of yours or a community of kindred spirits and experiences. You can join many of these for a discounted student price. NONE of them cost more than $5 for you! It’s a low cost/high return opportunity because amidst our membership of nearly 12,000, you can find YOUR people, others who share your interests, your research approaches, and/or your career aspirations. Not only can you connect with others via the SAGs’ online Knowledge Communities, but you can get even more involved – be on boards, committees, assist with newsletters. Add some service to your CV while making more connections to help your career. Also, SAGs give out about $50,000 to students every year! Most often you need to be a member of the group to receive their award, but again, membership is $5 or less. In other words, the cost of your go-to coffee shop beverage order (I’m partial to London Fogs myself) gets you YEAR long access to YOUR people and the ability to win financial support.
  • Be a part of AAG leadership. In addition to serving in positions for SAGs, a recent amendment to our AAG constitution means there will be a student member on our AAG Council, and a voting member at that! This is an opportunity to get really involved in the future direction of our organization and make connections with the leaders of the AAG.

3. UTILIZE STUDENT RESOURCES. There are so many resources available now that weren’t when I was a student. No, I’m not that terribly old; it’s that the AAG is constantly developing new things for you!

  • Guide to Geography Programs. Researching geography programs? Check out the AAG’s Guide to Geography Programs – available online as an interactive PDF and web map. When I was researching graduate schools, I ordered this in bulky book form and tackled it with a highlighter, which was quite gratifying, but costly and cumbersome. In this now free digital resource, you can find lots of information to compare schools and programs for geography, rather than searching for geography amidst the full array of programs available at schools. The Guide includes most geography programs, but if you find your school isn’t listed, please encourage your department leadership to do so. The AAG does annual outreach to departments for inclusion in the Guide.
  • Student Opportunities Site (SOS). At some point, you are probably going to be looking for a job. Consider the Student Opportunities Site (with the memorable and suitable acronym of SOS) as a specialized job board just for you, student geographers. It lists internships, grad assistantships, and post-doc opportunities pulled from postings from specialty groups, department chairs, organizations, etc. There is no cost for positions to be advertised on the SOS. If you are considering graduate school, seek out assistantships and get school paid for!

Honestly, it PAYS to be a Student Member of the AAG in many different ways. Be sure to take advantage of it and utilize your membership to reach your educational and professional aspirations.

Questions? Contact me (Candice) at cluebbering [at] aag [dot] org.

The AAG Snapshots series, first launched at the 2017 Annual Meeting, provides insight on and information about different aspects of the projects, programs, and resources of the association. Do you have suggestions for future Snapshots content from AAG staff? Email cluebbering [at] aag [dot] org.



AAG Staff Participate in Esri Education GIS & User Conferences in San Diego

AAG Staff participated in and exhibited at the annual Esri Education GIS and User Conferences July 8th-14th in San Diego, California. The conferences are a great opportunity for the AAG to conduct outreach to the GIS community, engaging with current AAG members, signing up new AAG members, advertising the Annual Meeting for both attendees and potential exhibitors, and communicating our program efforts in the areas of geography and GIS education.

The AAG-led GeoMentors program, a partnership with Esri, is particularly featured every year in an effort to grow the program with the audience of 16,000+ GIS users. Program Coordinator Candice Luebbering presented as part of the opening plenary for the Esri Education GIS Conference and GeoMentors program materials were featured throughout the week at both the Education GIS and User Conference AAG spaces.

The GeoMentors program was mentioned in the well-attended opening User Conference plenaries, including promotion of the program by Esri’s Chief Scientist Dawn Wright (6:33 mark of video; followed by 4-H students presenting their work done with the help of GeoMentors) and multiple mentions by Esri President Jack Dangermond. Through the week, 68 new GeoMentors registered to be part of the volunteer community, many signing up on-site. These new participants put the GeoMentor community over the 1,500 mark! The conferences also allow AAG staff to interact in person with current GeoMentor volunteers, improving our engagement and connection with this important community.


EsriEsri ConnectEDGeoMentor


GeoMentor Spotlight: Paisly Di Bianca, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

GeoMentors are volunteers who help schools and teachers introduce GIS and associated geographic concepts into classrooms across the country. The GeoMentors program is a joint effort by Esri and the AAG to develop a nationwide network of volunteers to support the U.S. Department of Education’s ConnectED Program, for which Esri has agreed to donate free GIS software to all K-12 schools in the U.S. Each month we’ll feature at least one of our GeoMentors to learn more about the wonderful talent and enthusiasm of our GeoMentor community that is available to assist K-12 schools with GIS and geography applications in their classrooms. Interested in being a GeoMentor? Visit our program website and register today!

For our inaugural GeoMentor spotlight, meet Paisly Di Bianca from the U.S. EPA!
 Paisly Di Bianca

Position/Affiliation: Environmental Protection Specialist/GIS Coordinator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Office, Chicago, Ill.
What was your favorite class in K-12?: In grammar school I loved our culture studies classes; in high school I devoted my time to studying Spanish and photography.

How did you first learn about and/or use GIS?: I’ve always enjoyed learning about new places. Before I “discovered” geography, I did my explorations through studying languages and Anthropology. After I graduated college, I worked as an Academic Advisor at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). I found myself telling students to study what drew their interest. I decided to follow my own advice and enrolled in NEIU’s MA program for Geography and Environmental Studies. I took a Cartography course as an elective; the instructor suggested I try a GIS course. I was hooked and never turned back. The work I do now for the EPA includes training staff on using geospatial technologies.

Name one thing you love about GIS and/or geography (I know, just one!): Maps!

Why did you want to volunteer as a GeoMentor?: I never had anyone tell me how cool Geography was when I was in K-12. My hope is help expose young people to Geography sooner rather than later it so they can develop an appreciation of how it can apply to their careers in the future.

What kind of GeoMentor volunteer opportunity and experience are you looking for?: Since I am a GIS Specialist, I would be available to do workshops for students and/or teachers on how to use Esri’s tools (ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS Online). As a Geographer, my research areas of interest are East Asia (focus Japan), urban geography, and linguistics so I could talk about those topics as well. I have experience teaching Pre-K through college so I am accustomed to working with a variety of age groups.

If someone asked you why they should learn about GIS and/or geography, how would you respond in one sentence?: Everything happens some place on the Earth so you can’t go wrong studying Geography!

Email address: dibianca [dot] paisly [at] epa [dot] gov


If you are a GeoMentor and interested in being featured, please contact us at geomentors [at] aag [dot] org.  We are excited to learn more about our GeoMentor community members!

If you’d like to learn more about being a GeoMentor, visit our program website and register online. We welcome the entire geography and GIS community to volunteer their skills and experience as GeoMentors. Advanced GIS skills are not required for you to be a great asset to K-12 classrooms and we provide numerous training materials.

Help promote geography and GIS in K-12 education. Be a GeoMentor!!


Contact: geomentors [at] aag [dot] org

Follow: @AAGGeoMentors