I am the new Director of the Technology Projects Division for Michael Baker Corporation (mbakercorp.com).For one and a half years prior, I was Associate Director. I started as a GIS programmer / analyst and worked my way up as people left and positions were advertised or became vacant.
What projects have you worked on?
I have worked on the revision to the consumer price index (CPI).I was on the development team that revamped what is now Community 2020 from HUD into a windows version.I helped the Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division mapping for court cases including some for FAA & EEOC (Federal Aviation Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).I have worked for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for the last 4 1⁄2 years on everything from disaster mapping, hurricane modeling software, digital flood insurance rate (DFIRM) maps and the revision to them, creating database standards for DFIRMs, and multi-hazard mapping.
GIS is used to create maps so the people collecting information for the CPI know where they are going.Almost like people working for the Census use maps to figure out where they are going.
What data are used?
At the time I was working on it, there was still discussion on using Census data and sending updates of the maps to the Census Bureau or using a third party data source such as GDT.
Is this the first time GIS was used to compute the CPI or has it been used in the past?
From what I learned, maps in general had always been a part of the CPI, but this was the first time a mapping production system was being set up using GIS.
Community 2020 is a software tool that HUD sends out to people applying for various programs that they offer.For example, it is used to apply for CDBG (Community Development Block Grants).Groups that are applying for these programs generally have to show a map indicating the area they are going to do their work at.For example, if a group is trying to get funds to update a vacant lot into a playgroud, they would need to show a map with the lot indicated and any other features in the neighborhood around it.
How does it involve GIS?
The application was originally built on MapInfo DOS and I was part of the team that ported it into MapInfo for Windows.The application has since been redone since I left HUD and is built on Maptitude.I think they are currently redoing it again to build it on the ESRI product line.
Is there a web site or demo of the Windows version somewhere?
Civil Rights is a huge user of GIS for redistricting of voting districts, water rights cases, etc.I also did mapping for school redistricting, airport landing routes that affected low income housing, employment opportunities in relationship to public transportation, and others.
In which court cases was it involved?
Our mapping group was never notified of the exact court cases so we wouldn't have any problems.However, any court cases dealing with redistricting for voting areas normally used maps or some type.
How did the mapping support those cases?
Normally the maps showed demographic information with old and new districting boundaries and the changes to the population.
[Editor's note: The use of GIS in the Department of Justice is briefly mentioned in "The Civil Rights Division at Thirty-five, A Retrospective" available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/overview.html .]
Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?
You can use GIS in any field.I've worked for numerous federal agencies, two local governments, and a couple of private firms, always as a contractor.There's always something new and interesting you can do with GIS.I love showing people who never thought their data could be put on a map some ideas of what they could do.
I also love teaching people how to use GIS.One of my happiest moments was when I ran the computer labs in geography for a state university and taught the GIS labs.I taught a new computer user some basic steps.To then see that same student explaining things a week later to another student was great. It made me realize that she actually learned it and retained the information enough to teach one of her classmates.
What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in GIS?
Web based mapping will really take shape so people can add their own information to stuff they create on the web.Also, maps will be standard on PDAs and cell phones.No more looking for that folded up street map in the car when you're lost.
What is your background?
MS in Geographic and Cartographic Sciences.Numerous courses in GIS software and programming languages.
Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be in?
I wanted to be a veterinarian.As a white woman it was nearly impossible to get into vet school without a large animal practice.I started looking through the college catalog and found out you could get a degree in geography.Since my dad was a navigator in the Air Force I thought it would be a breeze - and it was.During my first year of studies in geography (year four undergrad), I learned about GIS.For my final year undergrad, I worked my way into two graduate level GIS and quantitative methods courses.I got the highest and second highest marks in the two classes.The rest is history.
What does your typical day or week look like?
Fifty hours a week minimum.Usually 25-30% of time in meetings with client (FEMA), 25% of time e-mails and reviewing / writing / editing docs on mapping specifications / standards for FEMA, 25% time internal meetings or working with staff to get projects done, 10% time hands- on working on web based mapping solutions, 15% time meetings with management or others here in office.
What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?
I am very proud of my new position.I worked very hard to get here after many people at the firm thought I didn't know what I was doing because of my gender.
Would you recommend GIS to other women?
YES!!!! Start with an interest in geography or computers.