Mapping it Out: A Cartographer’s Journey

Although geographer is not something most kids dream about becoming, it is hard to find a geographer who is not completely enamored with their profession. My suspicion for the reason behind the love of career that most geo-spatial scientists have is that most of us have discovered the field of geography in an endeavor to comprehend an aspect of the world that we find particularly imperative or fascinating. Furthermore, in our pursuits to solve or better understand the mysteries that intrigue us, most of us have found the approach of geography to be, not just important, but necessary.  Since it is more likely that a study’s data is spatial than not, it makes sense that understanding most data through a geo-spatial lens would become a rewarding quest. Thus was the path that led me to become a cartographer.

Telling NPS park visitors about the bats that call the North Cascades home.

Telling NPS park visitors about the bats that call the North Cascades home.

My undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology and secondary focus on geology served as a great background for my first job out of college as a park ranger for the North Cascades National Park. Many park scientists, such as Anne Braaten, Roger Christophersen, and Jon Riedel and others were using GIS to understand the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades. This prompted me to enroll in the University of Wisconsin’s GIS program, which led to a summer of

mapping for the climbing department at Mount Rainier National Park and a permanent position with a small cartography firm in Bellingham, Washington, where I mapped for companies and agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and Green Trails. A strong desire to merge my cartographic skills with my human rights education from one of my very influential professors, Dr. Kathleen Young, prompted me to enroll in Western Washington University’s M.S. in Geography program, where I studied and mapped the impact and application of education reform. Also having a passion for statistical analysis, I worked for the university’s Resilience Institute as a geo-statistical data visualization specialist under the guidance of Dr. Scott Miles, another influential person in my journey as a cartographer.

Taking GPS waypoints for mapping Goat Peak, in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Taking GPS waypoints for mapping Goat Peak, in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Upon graduating, I was hired by Esri’s Professional Services department, where I currently work as a cartographer and data visualization specialist and have helped start Esri’s Cartography Lab. This means that I get to work on a wide range of cartography and dataviz projects for customers. For example, while at the Cartography Lab I have mapped efforts ranging from ridding the ocean from plastic waste, to basketball arenas – and a lot of other interesting cartography projects in between. I map for both print and the web. Currently, I am part of a team at Esri that is developing tools that will make it easier for cartographers like me to access data from the cloud using Illustrator and Photoshop. We were grateful for the opportunity to present our current prototype of this tool at the NACIS 2015 conference last month in Minneapolis.

The skills that I employ most frequently are equal parts statistical data analysis and visual design. In my time so far as a map maker, it is clear that meticulous focus on both of these sides of this balance is crucial to producing a high quality product. A rewarding part of ensuring good data design and visual design is drawing inspiration from previous successful mapping projects, which I seek daily.

I currently live in Bellingham, Washington, where I enjoy mapping my hiking and running activities.

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