Brent Sams

Education: Ph.D. in Horticulture (University of Adelaide), Master of Geography (Virginia Tech), B.S. in Geography (University of North Alabama)  

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/ 


Describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.  

My current role as a Viticulture Research Scientist at E&J Gallo Winery is to design and execute research projects focused on understanding how fruit chemistry/quality change over time and space. I am interested in these changes from the within-vineyard scale to the regional scale. To accomplish this, I (with a lot of help from others) use a wide variety of field measurements (fruit zone light exposure, vine canopy temperature, soil cores, and many others), proximal sensing (electric conductivity, elevation mapping), and remote sensing (satellite, UAV, commercial aircraft). I spend a good deal of time analyzing how these measurements are connected.  

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

The interaction of geography and computer science is essential for my role, along with many others in my department. At the project level, I work with different types of datasets that must be organized so that they can be analyzed and interpreted together. I rarely start any of this in GIS, but in a statistics package/program. I don’t have a background in computer science or coding/programming, but these have been very useful skills to develop. Once I have a product/model/application, it needs to be available for use by our stakeholders. This can be a dashboard, a database, or other digestible format which usually implies additional knowledge of other programs or applications. Probably the most specific use of geo-computation in my role is in the geostatistical analyses of grape samples collected from different densities and locations.  

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

Recently, we’ve been working on a project to combine data from multiple vineyards to add statistical robustness to the spatial analysis of low-density grape samples. To validate the method, we divided up the vineyards into fishnet grids to create a Monte Carlo simulation that would iterate through many different combinations of field samples based on their locations.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

We were interested in how wine grape chemistry changed over time and space, and at specific locations from the within-vineyard scale to the regional or statewide scale; how farm management and the environment are connected; and how we could use all of these variables to make predictions about where to find the best fruit. All this information needed to be synthesized and made into something that could be analyzed by a computer. Sometimes in the quantitative analysis world we are faced with qualitative variables and how to incorporate things like, “How does this vineyard manager decide when and how much water to irrigate?.” These then need to be summarized into something we can include in a mathematical model.   

What types of data did you acquire to support your project?  

For this project, we were mostly interested in the chemistry of grapes processed in a lab after the sample location was tagged with a GPS unit. In a related project and at the same locations, we measured soil texture, the fraction of useful light into the fruit zone of the canopy, and yield.  

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

Everything starts with the synthesis of what’s been done, where, and how. Experimental design and sampling strategies are also necessary. There are a lot of measurements specific to grapevines that we used, but general statistical knowledge was also necessary for writing reports, publications, etc. I use R and R Studio quite a bit, as well as several GIS applications with a bunch of different spatial analyses. One specific example is the use of k-means classification with raster datasets to assess patterns that exist between different layers such as interpolated chemistry maps with soil maps or imagery.   

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?  

There will be a few publications from this data set, as well as reports to internal stakeholders. You can find those publications below:   

  • Sams, B., Bramley, R.G.V., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N.K., Ford, C.M., and Pagay, V. (2022) Remote sensing, yield, physical characteristics, and fruit composition variability in Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture 73, 93-105. 
  • Sams, B., Bramley, R., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N., Ford, C. and Pagay, V. (2022) Characterising spatio-temporal variation in fruit composition for improved winegrowing management in California Cabernet Sauvignon. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12542 
  • Sams, B., Bramley, R., Aboutalebi, M., Sanchez, L., Dokoozlian, N.K., Ford, C.M. and Pagay, V. (2022) Facilitating mapping and understanding of within-vineyard variation in fruit composition using data pooled from multiple vineyards. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12556 

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results?  

I’m an applied researcher in the private sector, so while the publications are nice, I really want to know if something works. Does it help us do something, save us money, or even make us more money?


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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Suparna Das

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Utah), M.A. in Regional Planning and Development (Jawaharlal Nehru University), B.S. in Geography (University of Calcutta) 

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.  

I’m currently responsible for supervising an expanding group of talented statisticians, behavioral health scientists, data analysts and epidemiologists. Together we manage data collection efforts, disseminate various products (reports, publications, briefings, policy documents) and advise behavioral health policies for the administration. The Treatment Services Branch (TSB) is responsible for three major behavioral health data collection and surveillance systems: Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and Behavioral Health Information Surveillance Systems (BHSIS) and provide all statistical support for Buprenorphine Waiver Notification Systems (BWNS).  

Before joining SAMHSA in March 2021, for close to seven years I was working as the statistician and viral hepatitis epidemiologist for DC Department of Health (DOH). I was also part of the COVID-19 Task force for DC from 2020–2021. 

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

Geo-computation, from my understanding, is the “art and science of solving complex geographical (spatial) problems through computation” (Source unknown). I want to take this opportunity to iterate that Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Geographical Information Sciences (GISc) are NOT interchangeable. I strongly believe that we as geographers can do a lot more than make maps. This belief has been the central tenet of my career in public service. We can assist decision-making in the most scientific method with our understanding of space and spatial changes over time.   

As a graduate student in India (Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU)) and the U.S. (University of Utah), I was lucky to have received extensive training as a spatial scientist and demographer. This expanded my understanding of population sciences and geo-computation, which I apply every day in my position to improve health outcomes for people. 

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

I have several projects that are currently being implemented where I am using geo-computational methodologies, but we will have to wait for them to be released through SAMHSA. For me, it is impossible to resolve mental health and substance abuse disparities and encourage health equity without spatial thinking and geo-computation. SAMHSA (specially CBHSQ) understands that and encourages discussion on applying geo-computation while also supporting and encouraging researchers to use https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ for analytical and geo-computational purposes, among many other projects.  

From my previous position at DC DOH, where I spent close to seven years, I was able to implement several geo-computational projects. I published as much as I could to make sure people knew about administrative data collection and the impact of geo-computation in policy. One project example is DC’s effort to End the HIV Epidemic (EHE).  

I was proud to have been an integral part of the EHE implementation with the DC DOH, which has achieved the first of its 90/90/90 goals (https://www.dcendshiv.org/) of 90% of people living with HIV being aware of their HIV status (and now aiming for 95%). We were committed to implementing evidence-based policies to improve care for people living with HIV and create access to prevention and tools to stop new infections.   

I used spatial analysis to find high-risk areas that needed immediate attention, resource re-allocation, and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to reach the EHE goals. I was responsible for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Network Strategy (SNS) to identify new HIV diagnoses for DC.  

For M&E, I was responsible for programmatic data collection, program monitoring, evaluating the programs and the outcomes, providing technical support and assisting in resource allocation. I then mapped the outcomes for the community-based organizations (CBOs) for improvements. The project was instrumental to a separate proposal for using geolocation-based applications to identify new HIV diagnoses for states to implement.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

My questions as a public servant always have a two-tier approach:  

In the first tier: What is the impact of my project on the lives of people and what outcome do I want to answer through this project. I restrict my projects to non-exploratory but policy-oriented questions.  

In the second tier: My projects span demography, GISc and spatial epidemiology or health geography. I do not have any projects or have been part of any project that does/did not entail extensive statistical/data management-based coding.  

What types of data did you acquire to support your project?  

I always use administrative data collection for my projects within my role as a public servant. These data collection tools inform policies within the administration. I encourage researchers in academic settings to use them as well. There are several administrative data sets available which can be instrumental in framing accurate questions. I also encourage researchers to read annual reports to understand their needs. SAMHSA has several such data collection efforts which are publicly available through public use files https://www.samhsa.gov/data/ 

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

A large part of my job is to make sure that administrative data is collected without any glitches and plan how to enhance data collection so that it will assist health related policies in the United States. The scope of each ongoing project is different, thus, as a supervisor, my job is to assign it to the appropriate subject matter expert (SME) who would be responsible to evaluate, process and analyze the data.  

As for projects that I take interest in, they are ones that have a large spatio-temporal aspect to it or have predictive capacity.  

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?  

I have communicated my results to multiple stakeholders, ranging from scientific audiences, panels, political stakeholders, community-based organizations, legal groups, media (including interviews), administrative leaderships, and the public. The communication strategies I use differ based on the audience. I have generated reports, technical documentation, maps for program evaluation for resource allocation, publications, and conference proceedings.  

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results 

I look at the impact of my project on improving health outcomes for people and its scientific validity – in other words, I’m looking at the impact of my results on implementing evidence-based policy. 


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

 

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Nicolas Saravia

Education: Master of Geography (University of Bristol)  

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/

 


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position.  

I currently analyze transportation businesses and their innovations. On the side, I help micro-mobility start-ups by advising their leadership on how to improve their businesses in areas such as capital raising, operations, and data science. Most of my career has been at the intersection of operations, data analysis and business intelligence. I’ve also written tech patents to solve physical infrastructure issues with IoT and machine learning. 

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

In my opinion, the ability to think spatially is a geographer’s greatest strength — the world is full of challenges that need 3D thinking to solve them efficiently. Through the course of my career, my strategy has shifted from viewing geocomputation tools as means on their own, to a more auxiliary, albeit important role. In many real-life business scenarios, one can solve spatial problems without geographical methods; however, in my case, geocomputation tools such as GIS, spatial statistics, and web mapping have certainly enabled me to find the needle in the haystack faster than otherwise and in a way that is visually compelling and factual.  

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

In businesses where you have physical assets, there is a real need to analyze the human and physical factors that affect the management of these across time and space. Human geography variables like population density, traffic patterns, and infrastructure may affect demand depending on the type of business. In my career, I’ve also focused on measuring the impact of physical geography and meteorological variables, everything from elevation to distinct weather variables and natural disasters.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

The main questions I asked seek to answer how the different variables affect demand and supply in a business’s geography, which ultimately may impact the bottom line. I also look at how to optimize operations based on the analysis of the human and physical factors that affect the area. Additionally, I ask which methods should we use to predict external factors, and how do we balance speed and quality in results; how do we automate certain repetitive tasks without impacting costs; and what software/tools do we use to handle latency based on the amount of data we are processing?  

What types of data did you acquire to support your project?  

Being able to find reliable and open data is 90% of the battle in many startup jobs. In my case, I have heavily relied on free NOAA data for different weather variables and OpenStreetMap for infrastructure data (QGIS has a great plug in for that!). In larger companies and in consulting, there is sometimes the option to purchase big data, such as traffic flows. Familiarizing oneself with the nuances and quality issues of a dataset and being able to process that data with automation to remove any noise, will generally set up things for better decision making.  

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

The foundational skill that is most practical in operations and data analysis is SQL.  Start-ups generally rely on open-source software and tools to get the job done without impacting the team’s budget allocation. QGIS has been especially useful throughout my career, both for visualizing data and in running algorithms like k-nearest neighbor or performing spatial randomness experiments. Having had a prior understanding of the statistical methods that the tools run helps me understand what they are visualizing. This is significantly more important than knowing where the tools are located (which is more readily searchable).  I generally have used the R language for statistical analysis of geographic data, and Python to automate repetitive tasks. Some knowledge of JavaScript has been useful, especially when visualizing results on a map platform like Leaflet. General business intelligence programs like Looker, PowerBI, or Tableau (this one has Leaflet plugins) are also good to have in the toolbox, especially when delivering results to executives. Having these listed on a resumé can open doors.    

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example?  

Throughout my career I’ve had to write standard operating procedures, technical whitepapers, and websites; however, much more frequently I’ve had to summarize large amounts of information in concise emails and bullet points, with a quick chart or map. I’ve found that results are most effectively communicated when they are direct, with clean and clear visualizations.   

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results?  

At a dataset level, keeping in mind sample size and implementing proper data cleaning and further investigating any observation errors. A/B testing is a great way to evaluate insights and decisions. It is always important to review results once they are in and do a proper post-mortem digging of what has changed in the data and measure the adjustments. 


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

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Tracy Whelen

Education: M.S. in Geography (University of South Carolina), B.A. in Geography (Mount Holyoke College)  

The following profile was compiled by Brendan Vander Weil (Texas State University) for the Encoding Geography initiative. To learn more, visit: http://www.ncrge.org/encoding-geography/ 

 


Please describe your job, employer, and the primary tasks you perform in your position. 

I am a Geospatial Consultant and participant in the Business Insights & Analytics Leadership Development Program at Travelers Insurance. Travelers is a leading property and casualty insurance company, offering a wide range of personal and business insurance products primarily in the United States and Canada. 

I recently completed an enterprise rotation in Enterprise Data & Analytics, working on data management and quality assessment of enterprise geospatial datasets and ad-hoc geospatial business consulting requests.   

I am currently in a rotation for Claim Business Intelligence & Analytics. My work includes geospatial information delivery and analysis for Claim senior leadership and field offices. Part catastrophe response, part improving everyday claim handling processes.  

Prior to joining Travelers, I received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography (Mount Holyoke College and University of South Carolina, respectively). In between my degrees I worked as a GIS Specialist in a remote sensing lab at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position? 

All the data I work with has a spatial component to it, and we often work with thousands (sometimes millions) of records at a time, necessitating strong geography and computer science skills to efficiently store, process, and analyze data, and to deliver actionable outputs.  

Relevant courses from my education that I use today in my job include: 

Geography 

  • GIS/spatial analysis (intro and advanced)  
  • Remote sensing 
  • Spatial modeling  
  • Web GIS  
  • Basic human and physical geography 
  • Electives: Meteorology, hazards geography, business geography 

Computer Science 

  • Introductory scripting (if statements, loops, functions, etc.) 
  • Python 
  • SQL 
  • Data structures 
  • UI/UX design 
  • Javascript (web app development)  

Math 

  • Discrete math (basic logic and set theory)  
  • Statistics (non-spatial and spatial) 

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work?  

Geographic concepts that I use in my daily work are important for things such as asking what business problems have a spatial component to them or analyzing the spatial relationship between two or more datasets (e.g. spatial joins and other geospatial analysis). I also need to understand a wide variety of spatial data formats, how to convert between them, and what formats are most appropriate for a given use case (e.g. basic raster and vector formats, enterprise SQL databases, APIs, published feature services, etc.). Finally, I need to know when to use geographic coordinates versus a projection (and what an appropriate projection might be).  

What is an example of applying geography concepts and skills in order to analyze and solve problems in your work? 

One of the many risks Travelers seeks to mitigate are natural hazard events, such as wildfires and hurricanes that climate change may make more extreme. Sustainability at Travelers means performing today, transforming for tomorrow and fulfilling our promise to our customers, communities and employees. Where these two come together is how our Claims department responds to natural hazard events, especially large wildfires or damaging wind events. The following videos capture the spirit of what we do, and the geospatial component of Claims catastrophe response. 

 

Note that Travelers is organized along an Agile structure, with cross-functional teams continuously delivering improvements. While there are always new products and applications being developed, there are also lots of long-term operational systems being continuously used and improved upon. Often employees build on past work and may not see a large project or system from beginning to end. My team’s catastrophe response work is an example of this type of long-term system, and my answers are on behalf of the team.  

What types of geographic questions did you ask and think about in your project? 

The broad business question underlying this issue is, “How can we optimally respond to catastrophe events, meeting customer needs with the most efficient use of business resources?” Underlying questions include: 

  • What location has been/will be impacted? 
  • What is our exposure in the area? (i.e. number of policies, associated financial exposure) 
  • Where have claims already been reported? 
  • How many claims might we expect? 
  • What types of claims do we expect to see from this event? (e.g., wind, water, fire, etc.) 
  • What types of damage occurred, and how severe is the damage? 
    • Will this impact our ability to respond, either because an area is inaccessible or because local offices or employee homes have been damaged? 
  • Where can we acquire the necessary data from? 
  • Can we develop models to more efficiently review post-event imagery as part of the catastrophe response process? 
    • If so, what features are we trying to spot in the imagery?  
    • How does this vary by event type? 
    • What might be appropriate modeling algorithms to use? 
    • What are some of the challenges the model might encounter? 

My team does not directly answer all these questions, but we need to be able to provide appropriate data to the senior leadership and other decision makers or support staff who can build a final answer.  

What types of data did you acquire to support your project? 

  • Business data (e.g. claims, policies) 
  • Event data – wildfire boundaries, hurricane wind footprints, precipitation measurements, tornado damage reports, etc. 
  • Aerial imagery and derived model output 
  • Property geometry data (e.g. building footprints, parcel boundaries)

What types of content knowledge and skills (both geographic and more general) did you use to evaluate, process, and analyze the data you gathered for your project? 

In the moment skills that we use on this project for responding to a single catastrophe event include: 

  • Querying databases (spatial and nonspatial joins, filters) 
  • Combining and reformatting a variety of data formats  
  • Running models in python scripts 
  • Common sense/data quality checks 

For long-term projects, the output of which gets used in catastrophe response (multiple team effort), the skills we use are: 

  • Internal model development in partnership with data scientists  
    • Curate input data (image locations, image clipping geometry, training data, etc.) using SQL and python 
    • Evaluating model results against other sources of truth 
  • Evaluating new 3rd party datasets (accuracy, timeliness, availability, cost, other potential sources for the same information)

How did you communicate the results of your project (e.g., writing technical reports, making maps and geo-visualizations, creating graphics, data tables, etc.)? Do you have a recent product or publication to share with us as an example? 

We publish web GIS content as both data layers and maps, creating different versions for different user groups in order to control access to sensitive information. We also use frequent email communication, whether it is one on one, small group with specific questions and answers, or larger list-serv communications (with standardized templates) at key time points during catastrophe response (e.g. web map published, imagery collected, etc.). Additionally, we communicate results through spatial SQL data pulls (tabular format)  

See the below list for examples of broader enterprise or external communications about projects and programs mentioned in this interview. 

  • Travelers 2021 Q3 Earnings call. Note CEO Alan Schnitzer’s introductory remarks including, “location intelligence at the parcel level” and our “AI Assisted Claim Damage Detection Model was a key part of our Ida claim response” 
  • Interview of Adam Sobek (Travelers AVP of Geospatial) at NearMap Navig8 Conference 2020 (Travelers’ use of imagery, including for catastrophe events) 

What are the criteria that you use to assess the quality of your results?   

Most important criterium: Has the business need been met?  

Other important criteria: 

  • Validate data quality 
  • Spatial scale and level of accuracy  
  • Minimizing false negatives, minimizing false positives.  
  • Minimizing process (time, number of steps)

The business need at hand dictates which criteria are important, which varies from question to question. Examples include: 

  • Level of address accuracy needed to plot individual policies versus summarize at a zip code level 
  • Some analytics results are only valuable if they can be completed faster than more manual processes out in the field. 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. 2031418, 2031407, and 2031380 (Collaborative Research: Encoding Geography – Scaling up an RPP to achieve inclusive geocomputational education). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation 

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The Future Is Here: Sophia Garcia and the Intersections of GIS, Redistricting, and Social Justice

Photo of Sophia Garcia padding a raft in river rapids

We’re celebrating the accomplishments of geographers during Geography Awareness Week (November 14-20) and beyond. Find out more about this year’s theme, “The Future Is Here: Geographers Pursue the Path Forward” at our GeoWeek StoryMap, and follow the celebration at #GeoWeek or #GeoWeek2021.

Photo of Sophia GarciaSophia Garcia, the GIS and Outreach Director for Redistricting Partners in Sacramento, CA, understands how maps can start necessary conversations. In her current role, she sees redistricting efforts and community involvement as the “perfect intersection of talking about community, uplifting the community and letting them know what’s happening.” In her work she focuses on the imperative that we bring light to the redistricting process, engage communities, and empower them to get involved.

Garcia graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Wellesley College in 2015, and now works for Redistricting Partners from her base in Bakersfield, California. Garcia came to her current role from her previous work as a GIS Analyst for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, where she saw firsthand how she could uplift the work of her colleagues and community organizers through mapping. GIS software has great potential to start a dialogue and Garcia knows this:

Data is more than just numbers; there’s a story behind what’s happening.

Although she grew up with a father who worked in the GIS field (she attended her first ESRI User Conference when she was 10 years old, and mainly remembers the refreshments), Garcia did not see the full potential of GIS until college. Along with her classmates, she was tasked with figuring out how people living in a certain census block could do something sustainable surrounding food and grocery shopping. After knocking on doors and having conversations with people in the neighborhood, she found that not everyone had access to the nearest grocery store because of factors such as affordability, distance, and access to transportation.

Photo of Sophia Garcia padding a raft in river rapids
In addition to her work with GIS and redistricting, Sophia is a skilled rafter and rafting guide.

 

Because of the geographic nature surrounding the factors of access to food and sustainability, Garcia had an “aha moment” and realized the stories of everyone she had talked to could be conveyed using a map. She started to work with GIS on the project, and eventually went on to intern with the GIS departments in Kern County to learn more about the different ways that the departments utilized GIS.

At Redistricting Partners, Garcia has been very successful in using mapping technologies and outreach to emphasize the real-world implications of redistricting, and advocate for a more fair process. She was part of the group that sparked the passage of the California Assembly Bill No. 849, which mandates rules to increase transparency in the redistricting process in cities and counties across California. This bill, which Garcia hopes to see similarly implemented in other parts of the country, requires localities to have specific redistricting websites and mandates redistricting to be talked about during long public meetings, among other components.

When asked how younger geographers can explore new, interdisciplinary possibilities in geography, Garcia urges them to find a project they are passionate about and make use of mapping technology which is often available from ESRI to college and K-12 students. She recognizes that you can categorize pretty much any data geographically, and urges young geographers to “find whatever you’re passionate about, or mad about, or excited about, and learn to map it, make it as a poster, share it with someone, and you can have a discussion about it.”

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Joanna Thompson-Anselm

Education: Honours B.A. in Geography and Urban Studies (York University), Bachelor of Education (York University)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
My job as subject head is to ensure quality geography programming for all students in our building and to mentor staff to develop their own professional geography knowledge to stay current with pedagogical demands and content.  I work with staff and students to determine what current geographic issues are of interest and important to them and then help develop a program that is responsive to those interests.  It is really important that we are continually reviewing geotechnology’s part in helping us inquire more deeply about geographic issues, but also transferrable and other geography-specific skills that are needed for students to be employable in the 21st century.  To create a robust program that serves the whole student, this requires ongoing professional development both in teaching and learning strategies as well as current trends in geography.

What attracted you to this career path?
I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a geography teacher until I met my high school geography teacher, Mr. Meikle.  The way that he engaged us in anecdotes, case studies and simulations that made me realize that my passion was really about understanding why people and things are different in different parts of the world.  I am inspired daily to work with staff to come up with engaging ways to have students learn important skills, but at the same time have fun and be excited to ask more questions about the world they live in.  As value in our subject area has been dwindling in my community over the past few years, I’m more impassioned than ever to work on creating relevant and meaningful geography tasks for the students I work with.  Students and parents need to understand that geography brings together all other disciplines and includes very employable skills in a globalized world.   As Michael Palin, past president of the Royal Geographical Society, has remarked: “Geography explains the past, illuminates the present, and prepares us for the future.  What could be more important than that?”

With regards to working as a course writer for Queen’s University, this is the newest chapter of my life. I’ve chosen to explore this in order to help people find their own passion to develop quality geography programming in our schools.  I believe that in order for geography to be more recognized as a valuable subject area, it should be taught by teachers who are inspired to look at it in new and different ways. My goal is to develop a culture of creative and critical educators who will engage their students in meaningful work that will make an impact on their communities.  I want to encourage teachers to try something new that will allow their students to explore and be challenged by geography content and skills.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
My degrees in geography and education have given me the credentials to teach geography in Ontario, but most of my education has been on the job and through professional development offered through the York Region District School Board or OAGEE (Ontario Association of Geographic and Environmental Educators) and through the networks I have created for myself.  In our discipline, content is changing daily and approaches to teaching are changing equally rapidly in response to technological development, student engagement and workforce demands.  Continually trying to find ways to showcase that geography teachers are relevant is an ongoing educational and marketing experience!  I have recently presented on gamification in the classroom to a group of educators at the IDEAS Conference at the University of Calgary, but the learning of gamification came from professional reading and collaborating with colleagues.  The learning and education of a geography teacher never ends!

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
These days I find myself using a lot of spatial analysis skills to come up with my tasks and hooks for students and to help them dig more deeply into their own geographic inquiries.  For example, the ability to use spatial skills to interpret a thematic map or analyze an aerial photo to see if a location contains the features I am looking for to develop a task to engage my students is critical.  The geography teachers in our department often look at spatial data to ask or answer questions about content we are working on, and sometimes we look at it together and are excited by the information we have found that we can now share with students!  We often use our geographic thinking concepts of interrelationships, spatial significance, pattern and trend and geographic perspective to help students see the complexity of geographic problems and how they are interconnected with other subjects like science, business and urban planning.

One important general skill I use on a daily basis is communication, which I use in a variety of contexts from discussing programming needs with our administrators, to teaching students about the applications of geotechnology, to speaking with parents about student progress and needs.  Data management and critical thinking skills are also essential when organizing groups of students, plotting curriculum standards into themes for student learning and scaffolding that learning for best success.  Lastly, I routinely use the skill of time management – forgotten by many of us!  With all the responsibilities that come along with my job, it’s important that I make agendas, checklists and review my goals for work, home and recreation to keep a balanced life.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
My geography/urban studies degree mainly focused around human geography, urban dynamics and some physical geography foundations.  Cartography was not a mandatory course, so I left university without much learning about GIS.  Now I feel that it is my duty to be informed about various geotechnologies, specifically public domain ones, so that I can build a more relevant and accessible program that develops employable skills in my students.  Google Tourbuilder, Timelapse, Earth, and Maps have all been useful platforms for which I’ve had to learn the capabilities to be able to instruct my students directly or pair them with a problem solving task.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
In the public education system, subject heads are not allowed to be involved in the hiring process.  However, once teachers have been hired and assigned to our department, it is then my job to mentor them and offer professional development opportunities.  I really value teachers who have a sense of excitement about geography and a drive to be creative in their activity planning, assessments and lesson delivery.  It is always exciting to work with someone who is equally invested and interested in taking risks in the classroom with their program delivery.  They don’t even have to be geography teachers, just people who are willing to learn, refine, collaborate and take risks to improve student learning experiences in geography.  I also value working with teachers who have strengths that complement my own.  For example, it is a huge asset to have someone who is more proficient than I am in geotechnology and Google Apps so that I can learn from them in building my own competencies.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
I would highly suggest seeking mentorship from an in-service geography teacher who knows how to network, find resources, is well connected with outside organizations and loves their job.  These are the qualities of a person who will be able to give you sound advice and encourage you to become the teacher you want to be.  I would also suggest taking pedagogical risks in the classroom and exercising your creativity.  Work ethic and creativity are also things that can really set people apart.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
It is difficult to say what the career opportunities look like for geographers in terms of being a geography teacher or instructional leader, as so much of it has to do with the particular school board.  In the Toronto District School Board they have subscribed to the model of “super heads” in which an instructional leader is responsible for supporting curricula from multiple subject areas.  In my school board, geography subject heads are still distinctive, but there is growing concern about how long we can stay that way without being amalgamated into a “social studies” subject head that would include other departments.

As for being a geography teacher, I believe that the future is bright.  The headlines everyday speak to global issues such as those associated with climate change, genocide, globalization, and geopolitics.  People are beginning to recognize the importance of geographers in helping to bring together all of the pieces from different disciplines in order to help solve these complex problems.  I hope I can play an important role in that!

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Melanie Vanderhoof

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (Clark University), M.A. in Geography (San Francisco State University), B.S. in Biology and Society (Cornell University)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
I lead research that uses diverse sources of satellite imagery to help us understand how ecosystems respond to stressors, such as a drought, flood, or fire. I am responsible for proposing research ideas, leading data acquisition and analysis, publishing results in peer-reviewed journals, and collaborating with others.

What attracted you to this career path?
I started my career in the private consulting industry as a biologist. Although I loved the field work, I quickly got bored with my position. What is so attractive about my current career path is that I can take every project as an opportunity to learn something new and push myself outside of my comfort zone, either technically or within the fields of ecology and hydrology. I also really enjoy the flexibility to pursue research that I find interesting and that I hope is relevant and useful to other scientists, land managers, and society at large.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
To me, geography is a way of thinking. Instead of thinking about a topic in isolation, geography embraces complexity, looking for patterns across space and time, making connections across disciplines, and seeking to understand the global context in which a phenomenon occurs. This perspective drives my approach to research. I tend to include as many different types and sources of data in a single analysis as I can. I think of it as throwing all the data in a pot and stirring it until I start to understand how each dataset informs the others and fits together into a single story.

More directly, my most useful courses were technical courses that explored remote sensing and ecology as well as courses that pushed me to think critically about research and knowledge.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
I use my geographic skills in remote sensing and GIS the most often in my work. Other general skills and information that I rely heavily on include writing, statistics, programming, ecology and hydrology.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
The field of remote sensing continues to evolve rapidly as “big data” approaches have become the new normal. My skills in programming were inadequate from my academic training, entirely due to my own initial aversion to programming. My programming skills in JavaScript, Python, and R have improved over time mostly from self-teaching as well as learning from colleagues and collaborators more skilled in programming than myself.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes, I participate in hiring, screening and training new employees. In research we are always trying something new, which means that there tends to be less structure and more trial and error in any given project. I look for people who show a demonstrated interest in science and the natural world, are resilient, responsible, and enjoy problem solving and being creative.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Go for it! I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be both a geographer and a scientist! To someone who was interested in a job like mine, I would advise them to find an area of research that you can get excited about, get involved in research projects with different scientists, talk to as many people as you can who have jobs that you might want, and publish!

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
I think geography is an exciting place to be right now. Most of my friends and colleagues in the field have successfully obtained jobs either in academia or with the federal government. And skills in GIS, remote sensing, data analysis, and machine learning are currently widely marketable.

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Tim Fullman

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Florida), M.S. in Interdisciplinary Ecology (University of Florida), B.S. in Animal Biology (University of California, Davis)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
My job can be broadly defined in two buckets: 1) conducting novel research to better understand wildlife species and their behavior as a means of informing management and conservation, and 2) reviewing and commenting on development proposals or other management actions to advocate for use of the best available scientific information in decision-making.

My current research focuses on caribou movement, habitat use and response to human activities in northern Alaska. In partnership with scientists from federal, state, and regional agencies, industry, and non-governmental organizations, I conduct primary research to identify key caribou migration areas and seasonal habitats and to understand what impacts development may have on caribou populations and the people that rely on them. This information is shared with policy makers to inform decisions about new development proposals, helping to identify where negative impacts to caribou and people can be reduced and what areas should be avoided to provide habitat for caribou and other species. We also publish our findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals to share the information with the broader scientific community.

When new development proposals or management plans, such as environmental impact statements, are made available for public comment by the government, I review them to see how the current state of science regarding caribou is represented. If there are statements or conclusions that appear contrary to scientific understanding, then I make this clear as part of public comments submitted by my organization or other partner groups. For example, during the recent planning process to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas leasing, I provided thorough review and numerous comments about ways that impacts to important caribou calving and post-calving habitat was misrepresented and made suggestions for improvement. The hope is that such efforts will lead to stronger final decisions that balance the needs of people, wildlife, and a healthy environment.

What attracted you to this career path?
In many ways I stumbled into my career field. As I was nearing completion of my Ph.D. I sought a job as a professor. I applied for various jobs, but nothing came of it. Then I saw a posting for a large herbivore ecologist to study caribou movement in Alaska. I had never been to Alaska, nor studied caribou, but having studied elephants in southern Africa I knew something about large herbivore movement, so I applied and got the job. I am so glad that I did!

Working for a non-profit conservation organization has been an excellent fit for me. I get to do research that is tangibly applied to make a difference for conservation. I also have greatly appreciated the flexibility and emphasis on work-life balance shown by my organization. With two young children, I am grateful to avoid the publish or perish mentality faced by friends in academia. I still do scientific research and publish, but do not face the same pressures of possibly losing my job if I do not publish enough.

I also get to step into other opportunities, like serving on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group. This advisory group of Alaska Native subsistence hunters, reindeer herders, hunting guides, transporters and conservationists works together to ensure the long-term conservation of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd and the people who rely upon it. I have also been able to pursue my interest in building bridges between the scientific and faith communities in Alaska, such as with a series of talks by Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about climate change, energy development and Anchorage that I helped organize in 2019. These opportunities add variety to my work.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
I pursued a degree in geography to add a spatial mindset and tools to my wildlife ecology background. This training served me well and was a large part of why I got my job, even without having experience in Alaska or with caribou. Over the last six years working in Alaska, I have met several other geographers working broadly in the field of conservation for universities, agencies and non-profit groups. Our ability as geographers to think spatially about challenges and solutions is very important to enabling us to serve as problem solvers, especially when it comes to land management over broad spatial scales. In addition to the spatial perspective, the specific tools I honed during my geography degree continue to be critically important in both my research and other conservation activities. Whether it is analyzing spatial animal movement datasets or creating maps of areas where caribou calving habitat is expected to be lost under different development proposals, my geography training features strongly in my current work.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
I use GIS skills regularly – obtaining/creating spatial data, analyzing it with respect to other data, and creating visualizations to share with colleagues or for publications. I also spend a great deal of my time working in R to conduct analyses, many of which are spatial in nature. While not an exclusively geographic skill, this is one that I learned while earning my geography degree. General skills include scientific writing and communication, strategic thinking and problem solving, and public engagement – from meeting with resource managers, to stakeholders, to community members in the region where I do my research, to members of the general public.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
Yes. Wildlife ecology is a rapidly changing field, with new tools and technologies being developed frequently. One of the most important things I took away from my geography Ph.D. is learning how to learn – the ability to teach myself new things. Now, I may need to learn a new statistical approach, or about a new remote sensing data source, or how to use a platform like Google Earth Engine, yet the baseline of skills I have built during my academic training and the wide array of resources available on the internet, along with the knowledge sets of colleagues who are willing to share their expertise, have been invaluable in allowing me to attain these things.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
I have served on one hiring committee as well as in the onboarding of new employees. Specific skills vary widely depending on the position. In general, however, we want someone who is passionate about the mission of our organization to unite people to protect America’s wild places. We want someone who thinks strategically and creatively about how to fulfil that mission. We also want someone who cares about doing these things in an equitable and inclusive manner, recognizing that this unfortunately has not been the case too often in the past.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Build a strong toolkit that includes both analytical skills and a demonstrated ability to communicate clearly in both written and spoken formats. It is important to show what you can do through experiences working with people in communities, even as you conduct research. This shows that you can not only do sound science, but also engage well with stakeholders and other interested parties. In the past, getting hired in many non-profit groups was strongly influenced by who you knew and the connections you had. While this still may be important for many organizations, I am noticing a trend away from this in my organization and some others. There is a recognition that such a perspective reinforces the lack of diversity in many conservation organizations and that we need to be more intentional about casting a wider net and really focusing on must-have skills, rather than prior relationships, when making hiring decisions. This could create new opportunities for job seekers. In light of this, search widely for potential positions that may fit your interests and do not give up even if you do not have specific experience in the field to which you are applying. If you have the necessary skills you still could be very successful in a given role.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers? At our organization, jobs for researchers are relatively rare. We have hired only one other scientist in the six years that I have been here. There are, however, other opportunities for geographers. For example, we hired both a Cartographer and Enterprise GIS Manager since I started working for The Wilderness Society and have two GIS analysts on staff. While people seem to like working for our organization and turnover is low, there will undoubtedly be other opportunities from time to time in the future. Other organizations may have additional opportunities, both in scientific and non-scientific positions. For example, one of our partner organizations posted both permanent positions for GIS analyst/data managers and short-term positions for staff to work on a specific project over the last few years.

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Xiaohui Liu

Website: https://xiaohuiliu.com/

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Southern Mississippi), M.S. in Geology (Bowling Green State University), B.S. in GIS (Shandong University of Architecture and Engineering, China)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
My job as a geospatial analyst and health disparity researcher aims to identify geographical/environmental factors leading to health disparities, and novel ways to characterize and explain them. Health disparities exist as a result of multiple social, environmental, geopolitical, and economic factors, so a geographical or spatial perspective is indispensable in examining, analyzing, and addressing these disparities.

My routine tasks include proposing research questions, designing research methods, identifying datasets (both spatial and aspatial), conducting analysis, and preparing research manuscripts. My research questions are mostly developed based on identified research gaps and my curiosity about where health disparities exist, among which populations, how they change over time, as well as the potential reasons that cause these disparities. Given the complexity of these questions, integrating and analyzing data from multiple sources is always necessary. For instance, spatial data, survey data, census data, social media data, and biomarker data are often used to support my research.

What attracted you to this career path?
Geography became my favorite subject in middle school. Being the student with the most geographic knowledge in my class helped me build great confidence, which eventually led me to explore a career in geography. After choosing GIS as my undergraduate major, my determination to choose a career as a geographer was enhanced by the joy of creating knowledge from data. Ever since then, I have been consecutively involved in multiple projects funded by U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. National Science Foundation, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research to apply my geospatial knowledge and skills to analyze, model, and visualize problems resulting from the interaction of social and physical environments.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
My training in geography has helped me to identify research topics with spatial components and provided me with the skills to conduct research independently. I have also become proficient in performing desktop geospatial analysis, building web-based applications, and developed a self-motivation to keep learning new skills. I believe that all the learning and training experiences have improved my competency in the job market.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
Spatial thinking is the core of my geographic skills. On top of that, I am always ready to learn and adopt new approaches, i.e., spatial data science practices, which have helped me to work more efficiently. I use oral and written communication skills daily. I also appreciate teamwork and being able to learn from others.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
Yes; the skills I learned at school have only provided me with a foundation, while those I learned and developed through my work have been key in helping me thrive. I actively seek information from all sorts of platforms to help me understand research trends and position my research focus, i.e., signing up for National Science Academy professional training workshops and subscribing to the latest research publication mailing lists. At the same time, I have sought out additional opportunities for learning new technical skills, including learning on Coursera, Data Camp, Data Incubator, among other platforms, to keep up with the latest geospatial science technologies and tools. I also signed up for all the workshops that were relevant to my research at AAG annual meetings when I was able to attend them.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes. Being involved in screening and training of new employees has helped me realize that a clear vision of career development and self-awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses can often make candidates stand out. A solid domain knowledge, technical proficiency, and experience are equally important qualifications.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
My advice for geographers who are interested in being a geospatial analyst/researcher in an interdisciplinary field is to follow your own passion and always balance your expertise and passion when making career choices. It’s likely that the first few jobs may not be ideal for many people, so being able to follow your heart when making career changes is very important. Be flexible and always be willing to learn — this is extremely important in interdisciplinary work.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
I’m very positive about the career opportunities for positions like geospatial analysts in government organizations like the NIH. Given the fact that a lot of social and environmental issues have spatial components, implementation of geospatial solutions could greatly help address these issues. In the era of fourth industry revolution, we also have more spatial data, and more powerful, mobile, and easy-to-use tools to identify new spatial knowledge and solve problems. With that said, we need a workforce willing to roll up their sleeves to make the world a more sustainable and harmonious place.

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Yasuyuki (Yas) Motoyama

Education: Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning (University of California, Berkeley), Master of Public Administration (Cornell University), B.A. (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
As a background, the Kauffman Foundation was a philanthropic entity to promote entrepreneurship. I summarize my tasks into three categories: The first is research. Kauffman Foundation was one of the few foundations with internal research functions. Second, it was engagement with policymakers and practitioners. There was a philosophy that we had to make an impact on society by using our research products, which meant we had to engage with people who were on the front line of making and promoting entrepreneurship. I gave a number of presentations and consultation to policymakers and entrepreneurship support organizations. Third, it was grant management. As a foundation, we provided grants, and I was primarily in charge of research grants to academic institutions.

What attracted you to this career path?
A unique combination of the three functions describe above: research, engagement in policy and practice, and grant making to academic institutions. A possibility of making a real impact on society.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
Traditionally, entrepreneurship was studied by business and economics disciplines, which only perceived entrepreneurship as an individual or corporate phenomenon. Lately, people have been finding that entrepreneurship is actually a local phenomenon as every entrepreneur is supported by entrepreneurship organizations, mentors, peer entrepreneurs, etc. in a regional context. In other words, a geographic or spatial perspective was important, and geography-trained researchers were needed.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
I used some GIS-related skills, but perhaps the most important one was knowledge of various kinds of data related to entrepreneurship and its geographic context. For example, it’s important to know not only the availability of self-employment data in the Census or American Community Survey, but also the geographic scale that you can analyze. Then, the Business Dynamics Statistics by the Census Bureau provides different entrepreneurship data with a different geographic scale.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
Most academics are theory and publication oriented, and I find that geographers are more so than other disciplines, such as city planning and business administration. When it comes to the question about how we can apply that knowledge to policymakers, I was finding that my graduate school prepared me little. By interacting with mayors, governors, as well as intergovernmental organizations, such as Council of State Governments and National League of Cities, I had to learn how policymakers think and what kind of information can benefit them or lead them to action.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes, I was involved in the recruitment process for entry and midlevel positions. I think what we looked for were three traits essential for general social science researchers: The first one is curiosity. What kind of problem or question do you have? What are your methods for analyzing tentative answers? The second is flexibility. Unlike the academic world where there are standard research products and protocols, foundation research can evolve into different dimensions, so every researcher needs to identify different needs and audience for every research project. The third is interpersonal skills. Most of the work including research and engagement was team work, so you need to be able to communicate effectively with people of different backgrounds.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Most foundations do not have a standard recruitment process or publicized job market, so you need to think outside the box and be creative. Many foundations may not post job openings, but hire in a highly opportunistic way when they see a good candidate. So do your homework by researching every foundation and every foundation officer that you can relate to. If you see a potential fit, approach it proactively, and you should usually contact the director level people.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
The job market for foundations is not large. However, it is one of the few places that do not experience a major decline during an economic crisis, thanks to large endowments by founders. So while it may not be big or growing, it is a relatively stable market.

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