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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Member Profile: Marissa Isaak Wald

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

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Member Profile: Greg Hill 

Photo of Marissa Isaak Wald

Marissa Isaak Wald opens up the world for her geography students at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), often starting from home. Whether it’s case studies of New Mexico’s rivers and mountains or lessons on the reasons and means for human habitation in the Southwest, Wald often initiates local and regional study, using current events to widen the scope, showing her students how to use spatial thinking and tools to understand and act on issues at all scales: climate change, urban development, war, and, especially in the last several years, public health. 

CNM offers an Associate of Arts degree in Geography and Environmental Studies, one of at least 210 geography degree-granting community colleges in the United States. It also has transfer agreements with many 4-year universities, including a cooperative relationship with the University of New Mexico, which accepts CNM students to continue toward a geography bachelors’ degree. As one of two full-time professors teaching geography, Wald teaches world, human, and physical geography. 

“I think of all my classes as recruitment tools into the field,” she says. “What’s the best way to recruit? You share the absolutely most fascinating parts of the discipline. So in 2021, in political geography, we spent a lot of time on electoral geographies, and Census, and these kinds of questions, because it was the issue of the day. This year, I might spend more time on geopolitics because we have war in Ukraine. I take whatever I find most interesting and help my students dive deep into it with me. We [geographers] are our own best recruiting tool.” 

Wald also cares about the elements of her classroom beyond subject matter. One empowering skill she works on with students is how to ask good questions. 

“It is a muscle that’s atrophied, for a lot of students, whether beaten down in prior education settings or just because there was no opportunity, so they need a lot of practice, and they don’t know it from the beginning.” She encourages students to think deeply about “what is a good question? What are answerable questions? What questions are located in place? I want students to think spatially, find relationships between seemingly unrelated things, and to understand systems that affect our whole planet.”  

Such critical inquiry calls for an atmosphere of trust. “I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships, and how important they are in higher education, and how we sort of pretend that they aren’t.” Wald draws from bell hooks’ work on connection and power in the classroom, and also recently completed a fellowship year in which she studied trauma-informed scholarship.  

“An epiphany that I had last year,” she recalls, “Was that we used to teach with the assumption that some percentage of people in our classroom have experienced trauma; now we must teach with the assumption that we are all traumatized individuals.” Wald works to make her classroom a welcoming place for people of vastly different life experiences. ”You need to create relationships of safety before you get into geographic thinking.” 

COVID-19 has made that classroom ever more varied: “I teach physical geography, lab, world, regional, human geography, in all the modalities: in-person, online, hybrid, real-time hybrid, asynchronous, all of those things.” In one semester, each of Wald’s five classes might be in a different modality, with up to 30 students per class. To make it all work, “I try to focus on the core contributions of the discipline.”  

Wald says that when she went on the job market, she consciously applied only to community colleges. One reason was a love of teaching—community colleges emphatically focus on teaching and learning. Another was professional boundaries and work-life balance, without the added pressure to pursue and supervise research for publication. The students, of course, are a big part of why she enjoys the work. 

“I have brilliant students,” she says. “And my students have incredible lived experience. Just recently I taught a firefighter who worried about missing work during fire season.” Wald has taught members of the military, people in their 60s returning to school, and 16-year-olds earning dual degrees. Her students are also diverse in background and ethnicity, a common feature for many community colleges. 

She’s enthusiastic about the keystone role of community colleges in equitable access to education. “Community colleges are the on-ramp to higher education for many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other minoritized students,” she said. “If you’re interested in attracting more diverse students to become geographers, community colleges need to be part of the mix.”  

Prospective instructors need to understand the crucial role today’s community colleges in higher education, before seeking out a career at a CC. “This job is not a second-place prize for someone who would rather be at a four-year institution,” says Wald. “You have to learn what community colleges are before you decide to do this. People should approach getting a job at a community college with the same rigor with which they approach a job at a four-year college.”  

“Being a teacher is a radical act,” she says. “I think of myself as a radical actor for many reasons, such as giving students opportunities that wouldn’t exist for them otherwise, and letting them into the ‘secret language and hidden curriculum’ of higher ed,” for example, by teaching them the ins and outs of requesting a recommendation letter. 

Wald keeps a poem by Shel Silverstein pinned to a wall outside her office, sending out a friendly signal to those who might need or want a place in her classroom: 

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some fla-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in! 

Find out more about the rise of community college geography programs. 

Check out AAG’s Community College Affinity Group and 80+ other specialty and affinity groups. 

    Share

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