Women In GIS: Susan Carson Lambert, Geographer

February 26, 2002

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What is your position in your company?

I am a Frankfort Kentucky based state employee serving on a detail to the U.S.Geological Survey as an Intergovernmental Advisor on the National Map.

What is your background?

I served as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Geographic Information from 1996 until February of 2002.The mission of OGI was to Facilitate electronic statewide geographic data sharing and it's use for better decision making, greater efficiency and economic vitality.OGI also prepared legislation for the general assembly regarding GIS issues as well as standards research & development, policy development, GIS education and training.The office also provided staff support for the Kentucky Geographic Information Advisory Council which addressed issues, standards, and policies regarding geographic information resources in the Commonwealth.The office was established by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1994.I served as the 2001-2002 President of the National States Geographic Information Council (a national organization of GIS coordinating bodies)

My career in mapping began as a land surveyor, field note reducer & draftsman, cartographer and then the natural progression led to being a hands-on GIS specialist.I served in the Federal Sector via the United States Geological Survey's Water Resources Division as a geographer and cartographer for 12 years.During my tenure with USGS I served on the Framework Working Group of the Federal Geographic Data Committee.The working group defined what basic digital geospatial themes are necessary to provide a minimum set of data layers for the maximum number of GIS users and applications.

I recently served on a national 25 person team headed by Visa International Founder and CEO Emeritus Dee W.Hock.The Drafting Team named the impending organization the "GeoData Alliance." The team brought into being a 'chaordic' organization that is a "bottom-up" initiative aimed at meeting the quickly changing demands for digital geographic information.

I am a graduate of the Geography Program at the University of South Carolina.Mightily influenced by Dave Cowen, Lynne Shirley and John Jensen and the rest of the South Carolina "GIS Mafia."

What does your typical day or week look like?

I read, research, write and talk on the phone a lot.This new assignment is one of education and garnering support and building influence in the state local and tribal sectors to engage the necessary partners in the creation of the National Map as envisioned in the report available at nationalmap.usgs.gov.I will be interacting with the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) and a group referred to as LLGIS (local leaders in GIS) which encompasses GIS leadership from the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the International City/County Manager's Association and several other National local government organizations.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?

I, like most of my public sector colleagues who are devoting their careers to geographic information (data development, sharing, analysis, archival and dissemination), think it matters a great deal.I think we share the notion that, if given a GIS-based decision support system that contains reliable data and information, and logical decision criteria that produce replicable results that can be trusted, then decision-makers can feel like they are making the best decisions possible with supporting and defensible information, from which they will make appropriate decisions that affect the Earth and its beings.

What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in GIS?

I agree with Commissioner Randy Johnson, from Minneapolis....the tipping point for GIS has arrived.Never before has our inability to access, share, and integrate disparate data been more apparent or necessary than with the security issues we are facing during this time in our history.Perhaps now we can capture the attention of elected officials to get proper programs and funding levels for interagency and intergovernmental programs that will enable true horizontal and vertical data sharing and integration.Every trade rag I pick up is espousing intergovernmental cooperation and data sharing.Hopefully good things will come from bad and we will really begin to identify those intersections of geospatial requirements between governments and commence multi-governmental partnering programs to leverage each other and our resources.

Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be in?

Land surveying and cartography.I love maps and have always been fascinated by them.I still can pick up a map - of any where- and lose myself in it.The colors and symbology, the geomorphology, the terrain (which you can read even without contours after a while) the road network which reveals a lot about how the place got there and why it exists still and its vitality as a place.Like most geographers, I'm a really curious person.I want to find Main Street in every little town I get near to so I can try to cipher how it got there and what still makes it a going concern.Was it a train or river town? The architecture gives away a lot about a place as well as its proximity to transportation modes, water, rail, and now roads and airports, where the population is, and where it is growing.

I understand what it took to put those lines, areas and symbols down on that sheet of paper - or on that screen - from behind an instrument as well as from a satellite or airplane.I also understand how the cartographer designed the map (or used a technical manual as a cook book) and executed the scribing and peel-coats to make the color separations for burning the negatives and plates - and how the pressman loads the press, ink and paper.I still love the smell of printer's ink because it means a press inspection and the end of a very long process.All of those processes are now automated and use digital pre-press - if we even take the geographic information to press.But a reminiscent trip into cartographic history is never a bad thing.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?

Personally that would be my family, Hugh Archer, my husband, and children Russell and Andrea.Without their backing I would be less able to perform well in the professional arena.

Professionally, I received the prestigious U.S.Geological Survey's 2000 John Wesley Powell award which is much coveted by civil domestic mapping professionals.The award was given to me for personal and professional efforts in the United States surveying and mapping community and for advocating of the collaboration, sharing, and use of geographic information to address environmental and hazard related problems, while supporting governmental decision-making processes and national efforts as a leader and proponent of partnerships and data standards issues. Only two certificates hang in my office - my membership certificate in the KY Association of Professional Surveyors and the John Wesley Powell award.

Would you recommend GIS to other women?

The women of the sixties and the men we came up with are now firmly in positions of power and influence.The men in our generation - for the most part - don't have the same gender biases as our fathers did partly because the men our age watched us and sometimes helped us struggle through a lot of gender bias as young women.My daughter Andrea (26) tells me she doesn't see gender bias in the workplace and asks what in the world that whole struggle was about.I smile and say....that's because the women of my generation bush-wacked a trail for our daughters so they WOULDN'T know about it.A good example of the non gender bias of the GIS field is - the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) elected THREE women in a row to lead that national organization of state GIS coordinators.'99 Karen Siderelis (NC) now the USGS Geographic Information Officer, '00 Sheryl Oliver, (IL) Chair of the Illinois Geographic Information Advisory Council, and '01 me - former KY Office of Geographic Information Executive Director turned Intergovernmental Advisor to USGS, National Map.My recommendation to young women entering male dominated fields of work is - don't make gender an issue.Just do the job.You can't argue with results.

Women in GIS series.


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