By Emily Frisan
Since childhood, Brooke Hatcher has been fascinated with climatology. Growing up on a horse farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains shaped her love for earth, nature, and weather. Now as a geospatial/remote sensing lead, she measures changes on Earth and brings visualizations from data to life. From her job as a senior geospatial analyst at New Light Technologies to her volunteer storytelling work with URISA as vice chair of outreach, or her recognition by Geospatial World as a Young Geospatial Professional to Watch in 2024, Hatcher credits her positive experience in the industry to the examples of powerful women in the field, including her first professional mentors at MAXAR Catherine Ipsan and Amanda Monse, who showed her that she, too, can “become a master in this field.”
Hatcher discovered her passion for geospatial information systems in an undergraduate geography course. “Being able to visualize patterns and spatial analysis, like seeing the charts over time of rain gauges, was seeing nature in a new way,” she says.
Educational journey in and beyond the classroom
Hatcher received her undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Mary Washington. Like many geographers, she stumbled upon the discipline almost by coincidence. She excelled in history during high school but hesitated to pursue a career in the subject because she was unsure about potential job prospects. She began her undergraduate degree as a biology major but soon realized a career in the lab wasn’t suitable, either.
Hatcher began her professional career creating digital nautical charts for Leidos, which opened the world to features humans can’t see with our eyes, like hydrolines and ocean depth. Following her experience at Leidos, an opportunity opened at MAXAR where Hatcher would go on to create global products for clients, such as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. This was the first time she began to gain experience in Landsat and Sentinel 2.
“You’re seeing the ocean in a whole new way,” Hatcher explained. “It was really beautiful to have my first job working on digital nautical charts, then working at MAXAR with land cover and creating remote sensing products with five-meter resolution.”
After gaining a few years of professional experience, Hatcher decided to pursue her master’s degree in geography. After considering her options, she got her degree online at North Carolina State.
As a geospatial engineering consultant, Hatcher continues to learn and keeps up with the latest news and information in the industry. In her professional career, she continues to read peer-reviewed papers and professional blogs and consult tutorials on platforms like YouTube and Udemy.
From Local to Global: How Geography and Opportunities Expands Horizons
Hatcher’s career is focused on developing geospatial solutions and products for disaster response with FEMA and World Bank, working on predictive damage assessments, assessing the potential impact on communities and critical infrastructure, and sharing disaster geospatial data through interagency communication efforts. As a geospatial analyst and a geographer, Hatcher’s jobs involve collaborating with other experts in many other areas, including glaciology, meteorology, paleotempestology (the study of hurricanes), and specialization in biohazards.
The resulting collaborations are mutually beneficial. Geographers “need to know that information… [and] we help work with them to make their vision come to life. We’re translating for them by creating maps,” Hatcher states.
Specifically, FEMA hired Hatcher for remote sensing and image processing, creating products to assist during disasters. Remote sensing techniques can penetrate hurricanes or wildfire smoke to extract information about structures that have been damaged.
“It was so rad,” Hatcher recalls. “It reflects geography in a beautiful way.”
In her latest role at New Light Technologies, Hatcher frequently works with user interfaces (UI) and user experience (UX) to build web applications that help clients understand the community’s profile, such as which areas are going to be most vulnerable, and who are at the most risk of disasters. She explains, “We need to really make sure that the final product is visualized to a specific community, playing into the history and culture, so that it respects the community, and they understand it enough to feel comfortable giving feedback.”
Beyond the Map: Community Impact
Beyond technical skills, important geographic skills include being able to conduct and analyze qualitative and quantitative data. “We don’t always need maps,” she states. “The reason why we need some maps is because we can’t see anything when people are dying, or buildings are being destroyed.”
Therefore, even when making predictive risk products, qualitative skills are important to understand the ability to organize various types of data, understand the importance of scales, whether there are invisible boundaries, which ones take priority, and how this affects the results of the map or product. It’s essential to have a deep understanding of community demographics and vulnerability.
“After doing this for five or six years, I am convinced more than ever, the most effective data is at the community level. We can work globally, but it just strips so much quality and quantity of data. Also, when reporting or responding to a disaster at the community level, there is passion associated with it because that’s your home.”
Being a geographer, Hatcher finds it fascinating to understand why certain geographies are so unique in the world, and how they have shaped rare communities throughout history. “It is important to preserve these unique geographic properties, even outside of my job. I am passionate about creative traveling and exploring these unique places.”
From the Pacific Northwest, Cascades, or the nation’s capital, Hatcher hopes to use her geospatial and web design skills to inspire women to take risks, explore the world, and “make geography hip.” Although her goals are constantly changing, she is dedicated to finding her purpose, and path, and is passionate about capturing the stories, art, culture, problems, and risks of the small and unique communities.