Dr. Camelia Kantor

Vice President of Academic Affairs, United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF)

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania), Master’s in Business Administration (Claflin University), Master’s in Education Management (“1 December 1918” University, Romania), Master’s in Geography-Regional Development (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania), Bachelor’s in French and English Literature and Grammar (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania), Certificate in Geoinformatics and Tourism Prospecting (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
I am a senior leader managing day-to-day business operations and assuming a variety of key roles to ensure long-term strategic results. My primary role is in educational and professional workforce development and outreach.

Some of my responsibilities include: academic accreditation management; workforce development through training, professional certifications, and bootcamp development, implementation, and evaluation; K-12 STEM outreach; K-12 through college-level curriculum development and dissemination; coordinating, editing, and writing educational publications and press releases; and supervising, leading, and managing all internal and external educational and professional development operations. In addition, I manage the education and professional development budgets (about $1 million/year) and the annual scholarships program (more than $140,000/year). Lastly, I represent the Foundation as a thought leader by developing strategies, serving as a USGIF delegate and spokesperson to other geospatial organizations, and presenting educational offerings and career pathways via webinars, panels, publications, social media, etc.

What attracted you to this industry?
After nine years of college teaching and four years teaching K-12, it was time for a change. I felt like I had hit a wall and reached a point from where I was only making a limited impact on students’ lives, and even less on my own personal and professional growth. When I read the position description for my previous role at USGIF, I felt like it had been written for me. I was particularly attracted by the idea of working for a highly respected non-profit organization committed to building, growing, and sustaining innovation in geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). I liked the idea of leading and managing a variety of programs. It is a very exciting job, full of learning opportunities, and definitely appealing to my personal work habits.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
Geospatial intelligence is a rapidly growing field with a lot of innovation occurring in emerging areas such as neural networks/artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, UAVs/UAS, automation, etc. But geography is at the core of all of it, with GIS, remote sensing, data visualization, human geography, and geospatial data management still representing the foundational competencies needed to become successful in this field. My formal education in geography coupled with my experience as a teacher and curriculum developer have proven extremely valuable in meeting and exceeding the expectations USGIF had for me.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
My work is fast-paced and diverse. It requires a strong capacity for adaptation, multi-tasking, quick thinking, and broad knowledge as well an understanding of where to find the information. While not obvious, these are areas where geography skills come in handy. We are great resource finders and tend to be multidisciplinary generalists (human geographers in particular), bridging the gap between “hard” and “soft” sciences. My expertise in geographic principles and geographic technologies were also fundamental in leading, evaluating, and/or approving professional certifications and curriculum development for GEOINT as well as in auditing GEOINT certificate and degree programs at the university level.

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?
Continuous learning skills are a requirement in today’s workplace. I tend to surround myself with people who are smarter, wiser, and more experienced than I am, and am very fortunate to be in a position to gain that access. Every day is a new learning opportunity for me. My formal education has prepared me to think critically, learn fast, forget fast (smiling), and re-learn. However, I live in such a multidisciplinary community that keeping pace with innovation can become quite challenging. I’ve (finally) come to the conclusion that one cannot be an expert in everything, and that with GEOINT becoming much more connected with areas outside of geography (computer science and engineering, for example) I will not be able to always lead or understand every change in every sub-domain of the discipline. Thus, a wiser me sees a need to try to at least gain basic skills and understanding in those areas (coding, for example) while relying on the real experts when it comes to cross-disciplinary projects. I read a lot, listen to podcasts, participate in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and even use YouTube to stay informed. There are so many resources and opportunities to stay engaged! It’s just a matter of finding the time and managing it properly.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes. Based on the project, the skills will vary. For example, internally, I’ve just hired a new Educational and Professional Development Coordinator, Christine MacKrell. I really wanted another geographer by my side who understands education and is passionate about it. Christine just graduated from college with a Master of Science degree in Geography from George Washington University and brings a young, fresh look into our work. But when I look for volunteers, I seek skills that would complement ours, that we might lack or have limited knowledge of such as hands-on expertise in remote sensing, geospatial data science and, very importantly, field knowledge of the GEOINT tradecraft.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
This is a niche job, so there are limited opportunities to find something similar. However, it has transferable skills that could be applied in areas such as academic management, industry or government training and professional development, management of curriculum design, events management, and business. The actual job is not what truly matters in my view, but rather the willingness to put yourself out there, network with the right people, seek mentorship, follow up with ideas, identify problems, and seek/find solutions. Do not just reach out to people on LinkedIn and ask how to get a job or seek mentorship without drafting a plan of your own. After getting a job, be the best you can be, take the initiative, try to do things that may seem too ambitious and, if you fail, learn from those failures and try again. It seems like a simple formula, but it is one now many people follow. While I am a strong supporter of work-life balance, the first years of one’s career should involve hard work and efforts to go above and beyond your usual responsibilities, take the initiative, and show what you can do. I’ve been there, done that, and am still doing it.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
GEOINT is a young discipline and a hot field closely connected to work in defense and intelligence. A quick search on Indeed.com returned more than 1,500 jobs specifically including the term “GEOINT.” In comparison, just over 1,000 students have graduated from USGIF-accredited GEOINT programs in the past 10 years. For those with security clearances or interest in obtaining a clearance, ClearanceJobs.com has a portal specifically designed for them. But GEOINT is now moving beyond the defense and intelligence sectors and the competencies are also valuable in areas such as law enforcement, emergency management, environmental science, business/real estate, financial risk assessment, and much more. The field of GEOINT keeps growing but required skills will continue to evolve.