Women In GIS: Rachel Loehman

March 15, 2000

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What is your position at GRAM?

I'm a GIS Analyst for GRAM, Inc., working at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM.I provide GIS support to earth scientists and engineers working with the Environmental Restoration project, the mission of which is to remediate contaminated sites across Kirtland Air Force Base.I've been with GRAM for about 6 months, although I have been at my present job for about 3 1⁄2 years.For the first 3 years here I was employed by the Labs as a student.

Rachel Loehman

What is your background?

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Archaeology from the University of New Mexico, and worked for four years as a professional archaeologist.I originally became interested in GIS and remote sensing as methods to enhance the current levels of archaeological exploration and interpretation.One thing led to another, and I enrolled in the graduate program in the Department of Geography at UNM.I received my Master of Arts degree in Biogeography/GIS Technologies in the summer of 1999.While pursuing my graduate degree I worked first as a GIS technician for an archaeological firm, then analyzed and mapped traffic crash data for a State of New Mexico contract; for a semester I taught Introduction to GIS lab classes for the Geography Department.In addition to my employment at Sandia National Laboratories, I also worked for the Indian Health Service and the Earth Data Analysis Center, implementing GIS and remote sensing research and analysis; this eventually became the topic for my Master's thesis.

Would you recommend GIS to others?

I would recommend GIS to anyone who has an interest in spatial statistics, systematic distributions, landscape analysis, and some sense of graphic design.The field is constantly changing, and requires people who are motivated enough to at the least adapt to changes, and preferably to anticipate them.GIS can be very useful for defining and exploring relationships between objects distributed in space, and to some degree in time.Ideally a GIS professional should possess analytic capabilities and interests compatible with these types of uses.In addition, it is helpful to have some knowledge of the field in which the GIS analysis will be applied; for instance, if one is working with ecological or biological data, some background in these fields is helpful.Anyone interested in pursuing a career in GIS may want to get some basic training in a classroom setting; they then shouldn't hesitate to take a job that suits their interests, and learn as they go.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?

For the most part my accomplishments outside of my professional life are the ones of which I'm most proud - and these include things like rock climbing, kayaking, and backpacking skills.With regard to GIS-related accomplishments, the one of which I'm most proud is the successful completion of a model for disease risk, which I developed within a GIS using remotely sensed data.The write-up of this research, which became my Master's thesis, is very well-regarded, and I've presented parts of my research in a number of contexts.

What does your typical day or week look like?

My days and weeks vary according to the amount and types of work requests that I receive.Typically I work on several projects at a time, one of which may be very long-term, with no set deadline, the others of which may be shorter and with more immediate deadlines.These projects may include spatial data analysis or manipulation (example: hydrologic cross-section), data compiling (example: names of wells or sample points within a given site boundary), map generation, or a combination of any of these services.Most work is implemented using typical GIS software (ArcInfo and ArcView), as well as other software including Surfer, Grapher, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Office products.I try to keep my time in meeting at a minimum - typically no more than an hour per week.With the exception of email, which I use both for personal and professional communication, I have very few document-writing obligations.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?

GIS is exciting because it is so rapidly changing.Software updates typically provide increasingly more analytical and graphical tools for mapmaking and data manipulation, which expand the usefulness of the technology.As GIS becomes a more well-known and accepted means of analysis and display, it is applied in a greater variety of contexts, and may provide interesting new methods for problem-solving.The goals I work toward in my use of GIS are to develop GIS and remote sensing tools to aid in ecological conservation and preservation.For me, the possibility of using spatial analytic software in combination with the number-crunching potential of large and fast computers presents exciting possibilities for the discovery of the spatial dynamics of the natural world.

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

The ability of GIS software (and hardware platforms) to incorporate large, multi-spectral image data sets.Unlike many of my peers, I don't think that Internet-based GIS is the new frontier, because the Internet is in general too unregulated a context for rigorous research and exchange of information.

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


Email: raloehm@sandia.gov
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