Wednesday, March 8 marked International Women’s Day, as well as the first week of Women’s History Month, and the GIS Program is lucky to employ talented, driven, and hardworking women staff members and student interns.
We sat down to talk with three women staff members who each work on different aspects of the Program to find out what brought them to the GIS field.
“I had a friend who worked in the GIS lab and basically was like, ‘GIS is awesome, I love my job, you need to check it out,’” Alicia Shipley, GIS analyst I, said.
After interviewing with the former Program Coordinator Stewart Bruce, Shipley began working at the lab in 2013 first as an independent contractor mapping churches on the non-crime side.
“I did that for about three months and then they hired me as a staff member, my title was Staff Assistant. That’s when I started working on MHSO, the grant that I am still currently a part of. From there, I was a part-time staff member while I was finished up my English degree. I was promoted to GIS Technician for about a year, and then was promoted to a GIS analyst I, my current title,” she explained.
Before she started with the Program, however, Shipley was actually studying English at Washington College (later transferring to University of Maryland) and she did not envision herself working in a science or technology related field. As she became introduced to the discipline, she found it gave her another skill set.
“My track was English. That was it,” she said. “I was going to be a writer, which I still want to be, but now I have this other component of thinking spatially and more scientifically that I never thought I would have. Science and Geography were not my thing. Now that it is, I can say it truly gives me a unique skill set to be proficient in both English and GIS. I’m now trying to figure out how I can pair them together.”
Although GIS is grounded in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, Shipley still said that it is creative.
“As an English major, loving to write and being creative, I feel like GIS supplies me with that creative aspect and it’s unique,” she said. “I am able to tap into my creativity when designing maps. I also can bring the aspect of analysis from my English degree and use that to analyze data for the maps and products I create at the Lab. I never really knew the importance of GIS, but once I delved into it, I realized how much can actually be done. We have a goldmine here at GIS. And I feel like there’s always something you can work up to. It’s a never ending pool of learning.”
Kelsey Newcomb’s role in relation to GIS is a bit different. Before she started working with the lab, Newcomb had no real knowledge of GIS technologies and was hired as the Program’s Office Manager after she graduated with a degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Towson University.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned more about GIS,” she said. “I picked up bits and pieces from every staff member, especially from Alicia. I learn a little bit more every day.”
Her role at the lab is to do a “little bit of everything.” She handles all of the administrative tasks, maintains office systems, enforces procedures and policies amongst student interns and staff, and coordinates business operations for the Program. She also does some data entry for a few of the crime grants which allows her to delve into the GIS technologies more than she normally would with her daily tasks.
“I’m here to help everyone out and make sure that the lab runs smoothly,” she explained.
Newcomb started here fresh out of college, looking for a job when Bruce called her. She toured the lab and learned about the initiatives of the Program, which she was intrigued by.
“Initially I thought it was really cool, our purpose here, making sure the students gain real world experience. I knew I would enjoy being a part of it,” she said.
“I like everybody I work with here,” she continued. “I really, honestly, feel like I learn something new every day. It’s a really good work environment.”
GIS Analyst I Allie Gorman had worked with the Program all four years as an undergraduate student at Washington College before getting hired as a staff member after graduation. As a student, Gorman was concerned with getting a job and at the suggestion of someone working in financial aid at the college; she decided to reach out to Bruce, the Program’s Coordinator at the time.
“So I sent him an email, came in and toured the campus office, and that day I started,” she said.
Gorman graduated with a degree in history, but her time with the Program has helped her explore her interest in the crime side of GIS technologies, prompting her to complete a certificate program in Crime Analysis. Gorman enrolled at Portland State University, taking about six classes over the course of a year.
She said, “You learn about theory and there’s a few classes actually using ArcMap.”
In the past, the blog has featured Gorman’s work with domestic violence under the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) grant. In the past interview, Gorman said, “I’m really interested in learning how everything works in order to help identify issues or improvements that can be made.”
According to reports by the New York Times and Pathways to Equity: Women and Good Jobs, the ratio of men to women in STEM fields is relatively disproportionate and women are unrepresented in fields involving science and engineering. Shipley, Newcomb, and Gorman expressed that being a minority in this particular field should not stop girls from pursuing GIS if they are interested in it.
“Be willing to be different and stand out; be willing to let your passion take you wherever it wants to go. Don’t let the thought of it being a man-dominated world stop you from achieving things that you’re interested in,” Shipley said. “Make it be a reason to push you to improve your skill set and push you closer to achieving your goals.”
Currently the GIS Program has 31 female student interns, representing 62% of the student interns currently employed at the lab. We look forward to introducing and growing the technical capacity of more women through GIS technologies.