Alaska GIS Professional Development Day - February 15, 2016

A full day event to be conducted at the 50th Annual Alaska Surveying & Mapping Conference


The goal of the Alaska GIS Professional Development Day is to enhance collaboration between GIS professionals, while at the same time focusing on topics of value to the profession and delivering helpful outcomes on which participants can act immediately to be more successful in their professional pursuits and beyond.

The idea for the event grew out of a 2015 conference session entitled "The (not so) Secret (but very necessary) Skills of GIS Professionals", in which Michael Knapp, Anne Johnson, Becci Anderson and Scott Norton demonstrated that there is much more to being a GIS professional than just having specific technical or domain expertise. When putting together professional development events, such as user group meetings and conferences, attaining a balance between technical/domain expertise and soft skills can yield significant rewards in terms of professional growth and the resulting quality of professional experiences. This is particularly true with respect to communication and collaboration, which are central to the purpose, planning and execution of the Alaska GIS Professional Development Day.

With assistance from David Howes, a keen supporter and orchestrator of GIS professional development activities through, an esteemed group of Alaska GIS professionals have worked together for several months to develop a rich and innovative program of collaborative opportunities. While the group will present some material during their sessions, they will do so purely as a means of initiating and guiding engagement with as many participants in the event as possible. In other words, this is your chance to meet and help others in your professional community, to gain and provide new and valuable professional development insights and to create and nurture professional relationships that will have a wide range of long-lasting and far-reaching benefits.

Please join us for what promises to be a rewarding endeavor and, all being well, a precursor to many other similarly worthwhile gatherings in the future, for which you can build on the collective outcomes of the day to do helpful things for others.

Collaboration Leaders

David Howes, Ph.D., David Howes, LLC
Luke Boggess, GISP, URISA Alaska
Patricia Gallagher, State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys
Sydney Thielke, M.S., GISP, USDA NRCS Alaska State Office
Paul VanDyke, Kodiak Island Borough
Angie Southwould, National Park Service
Terri Morganson, Esri
Mike Hendricks, Ph.D., State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys
Tobin Lilly, GISP, HDR, Inc.
Tom Duncan, Fairbanks North Star Borough
John Bean, M.S., GISP, University of Alaska Anchorage
Michelle Pearson, AECOM


8:00 am - 8:30 am: Arrival and Networking

8:30 am - 8:40 am: Introduction
      David Howes

8:40 am - 10:10 am: Enhancing Professional Development
      David Howes, Luke Boggess, Angie Southwould, Terri Morganson, Michelle Pearson

10:10 am - 10:40 am: Break

10:40 am - 11:25 am: Addressing Overloads
      Paul VanDyke

11:25 am - 12:55 pm: Lunch

12:55 pm - 1:40 pm: Teaching GIS When You Are Not a Teacher
      Sydney Thielke

1:40 pm - 3:10 pm: The Art of the Helpful GIS Presentation
      David Howes, Angie Southwould, Tobin Lilly, Tom Duncan

3:10 pm - 3:40 pm: Break

3:40 pm - 4:25 pm: GIS Train Wrecks
      John Bean, Mike Hendricks

4:25 pm - 5:30 pm: Mentoring Fun and the Road Ahead
      Terri Morganson, Michelle Pearson, Patricia Gallagher

Session Details

Enhancing Professional Development

David Howes, Ph.D., David Howes, LLC
Luke Boggess, GISP, URISA Alaska
Angie Southwould, National Park Service
Terri Morganson, Esri
Michelle Pearson, AECOM

The general goal of most professional development activities is to help ourselves, our organizations, our professional communities and the general societies of which we are a part be as successful as possible. Given this inspiring and worthy aspiration, it makes sense to consider the many ways in which we can enhance these activities yet further. In this session, four established GIS practitioners with rich experience in the professional development arena, will lead a conversation on this topic by offering their perspectives and engaging their audience. The purpose of the conversation will be to develop a set of constructive recommendations that, when implemented, can have wide-ranging and long-lasting benefits not just for the geospatial community, but for any collaborative endeavor.

Addressing Overloads

Paul VanDyke, Kodiak Island Borough

Are you overloaded? Too much to do? Not enough time? Work can be such a pain sometimes! In fact, it’s an overwhelming feature of modern life, especially in the workplace, that we suffer from information, technology and emotion overloads. So, what can we do to relieve the pain that these overloads tend to inflict? In this session we will discuss some LEGAL pain-relief techniques that we can employ in the workplace. Together, let’s think about what creates our overloads, discomfort and unhappiness, what we can do about them and how we become empowered to face adversity head on. We’ll take an honest and uplifting approach to solving the workplace issues that hinder our personal growth and success. Please join us in this constructive endeavor.

Teaching GIS When You Are Not a Teacher

Sydney Thielke, M.S., GISP USDA NRCS Alaska State Office

You took the classes, got the job and you are now employed as a GIS professional. You know how to use the software, you know how to run the analyses and you know how to synthesize your results. And then it happens… you find out you have other duties… you have to teach the rest of your office how to use GIS.

In many organizations the GIS shop is small and the GIS employees not only have to do the GIS work, they have to teach other non-GIS employees the basics (or more) of using GIS. It can be a difficult experience for people who you do not have experience teaching. This session will go over the basics of how to assess your staff, set realistic goals and avoid recreating the wheel. We will end the session with Q & A to discuss individual situations people are dealing with.

The Art of the Helpful GIS Presentation

David Howes, Ph.D., David Howes, LLC
Angie Southwould, National Park Service
Tobin Lilly, GISP, HDR, Inc.
Tom Duncan, Fairbanks North Star Borough

As GIS professionals presenting at meetings, conferences and other gatherings, we are all keen to convey to our audiences the details of our projects, experiences and capabilities related to our work. As healthy as this model can be, we have the capacity to go further in enhancing the professional development value of our offerings. In this session, a group experienced in presenting on a wide variety of GIS-related topics for a diverse range of audiences and purposes will impart their thoughts on what works well and what doesn’t work so well when it comes to delivering GIS-related presentations. They will also engage with attendees of the session to complement their ideas with feedback and audience contributions. The presenters will emphasize the importance of downplaying what could rather colloquially be referred to as a “what I did last summer” approach and, instead, focusing on how helpful messages can be drawn from the topic at hand and provided in as clear and simple a way as possible. If we can all strive for an approach of this nature we can continue to increase the standard and value of GIS meetings, a noble and worthy goal with many positive benefits.

GIS Train Wrecks

John Bean, M.S., GISP University of Alaska Anchorage
Mike Hendricks, Ph.D., State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

Conferences typically highlight project success. One can feel that everyone else painlessly completes their projects and you alone are the GIS bumbler. The reality is that all GIS projects and tasks encounter bumps along the rails, end up in the wrong place, or fall entirely off the bridge in a fiery heap. From these big and small failures, however, you and your organization often learn the most and you go on to achieve other impressive results.

This interactive session is designed as a medium for you to leave your ego at the door and dare to share your past or present GIS failures with others. You can also just come in to listen and learn from the mistakes of others and pretend your GIS projects are flawlessly heading down the tracks. Though if you are brave enough to share you may get some help from the audience that sets you on the right track.

Mentoring Fun and the Road Ahead

Terri Morganson, Esri
Michelle Pearson, AECOM
Patricia Gallagher, State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

Dislike networking, but want to meet other professionals, exchange ideas and get some helpful advice? If so, our mentoring activity is for you. Whether you’re established in your field and have much to offer as a potential mentor or you’re just getting started in your career, we’ll provide an opportunity for you to chat with your fellow professionals about the ideas that were raised throughout the day. With new people, your friends and your colleagues, you’ll be able to explore the many ways in which you can enhance professional development for yourself and for others. We’ll also introduce the NEW Alaska Geographic Information Sciences Young Professionals Network (AGISYPN) and explain how you can get involved.

As a fitting end to the proceedings, the session and the day will conclude with an open discussion, in which participants will share their takeaway action items and discuss the road ahead for activities to support the Alaska Arc Users Group (AAUG), URISA and the many other great facets of the Alaska geospatial community.

Collaboration Leader Details

David Howes, Ph.D.

Geospatial Information Scientist & Owner, David Howes, LLC

David runs his own GIS consulting business, David Howes, LLC, specializing in GIS tools and processes. With 25 years of academic and private sector GIS experience, including a Ph.D. in geomorphology from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an M.Sc. in GIS from the University of Edinburgh, he is a regular supporter of and orchestrator of GIS professional development activities and, with Jason Pardy of Voyager Search, helps other GIS professionals in various ways through their venture.

Luke Boggess, GISP

President, URISA Alaska

Luke fell into GIS as the stars aligned with the new Millennium and in 2007 became El Presidente of URISA-Alaska. He has been Chair of URISA's annual national conference, GIS-Pro, and twice been Chair of the Alaska Surveying and Mapping Conference (AKSMC). He is currently on the AKSMC Board of Directors and Planning Committee. He regularly sits as a matter of practice, stands as a habit (often swaying) and finds comfort in the idea that there are courageous individuals in the world, committed to proving the existence of the elusive Sasquatch.

Patricia Gallagher

Cartographer/GIS Analyst, State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

Patricia Gallagher is a Cartographer/GIS Analyst at the Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys in Fairbanks, Alaska. She has extensive experience using ArcGIS to create geologic maps and graphics. She graduated with a degree in Geology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is currently working toward becoming a certified GIS professional while completing a graduate degree in GIS through Penn State.

Sydney Thielke, M.S., GISP

GIS Specialist, USDA NRCS Alaska State Office

Sydney Thielke grew up in Homer, Alaska. She has worked as the Geographic Information System (GIS) Specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Palmer, AK since 2013. Prior to working for NRCS, she spent seven years with the Bureau of Land Management in Lander, Wyoming. Sydney has a B.S. in Land Resource Analysis and Management from Montana State University and a M.S. in Applied Geographic Information Sciences, focusing on Recreation Ecology from Northern Arizona University. She enjoys introducing people to the power of GIS and how it can be used for a wide variety of analyses.

Paul VanDyke

IT Supervisor, Kodiak Island Borough

Paul VanDyke is the IT Supervisor for the Kodiak Island Borough. He started in 1993 as the PC Technician in the Data Processing department and has lasted over two decades at the Borough. Paul has played a part of the Borough GIS system since the initial conversion from AutoCAD in 2002 and more actively since 2008, when the Borough fully converted its spatial data to GIS. As the full conversion was completed, GIS services were migrated into the IT department. Paul oversees the services provided internally to the Borough departments and to the public through web services. Paul also serves as the chairman for the Kodiak GIS User Group, a local coalition of GIS users in the Kodiak area who meet monthly to collaborate on GIS projects. The Kodiak GIS User Group is composed of representatives from Federal, State and Local governments, Native and Tribal Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and Private Enterprise.

Angie Southwould

GIS and Database Specialist, National Park Service

Angie Southwould earned a B.S. in Applied Science from Miami University with minors in Systems Analysis, Operations Research, and Mathematics. She spent her first several years out of college in the warehousing business and writing applications using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to manage inventories for everything from orange juice to peanuts to toilets. She became involved with GIS after moving to Alaska in 1994 and starting work as a software developer for a local consulting company. She joined the National Park Service Alaska Region GIS Team in 2001 and has since further developed her expertise in programming and GIS while specializing in data modeling/database design (spatial and non-spatial) and data standards development.

Terri Morganson

Account Executive, Esri

Terri Morganson has worked for Esri since 2003 and before that she was a Cartographer for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska. As an account executive on the Esri State & Local Government team, Terri is privileged to work with customers in both Alaska and Oregon. She has Bachelor of Science Degrees in Geography and Mathematics from Bemidji State University and University of Alaska Anchorage.

Mike Hendricks, Ph.D.

Geospatial Analyst, State of Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

Mike Hendricks is a geospatial data manager and analyst with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) in Fairbanks. His current focus is building and running web services to support GIS users and DGGS’s “Elevation Datasets in Alaska” web application. He has a Ph.D. in Spatial Information Engineering from the University of Maine and over twenty years of geospatial experience. Previous to his position with the DGGS, Mike served on the faculty of the United States Military Academy’s Geospatial Information Science Program, at West Point New York, where he taught GIS, designed cartographic products, and conducted applied research in land navigation education using location-based technology.

Tobin Lilly, GISP

Senior GIS Analyst, HDR, Inc.

Tobin is a Senior GIS Analyst at HDR with a major in Computer Science and a minor in Geography. He is a certified geographic information systems (GIS) Professional (GISP) and a CompTIA Certified Security+ Professional. Tobin possesses an advanced understanding of cartographic design, application development and spatial analysis using Esri applications. Tobin has worked as a GIS professional in Florida, South Carolina and Alaska. He worked for six years making maps for state, local and federal governments and has spent the last six years working as a consultant in the state of Alaska.

Tom Duncan

GIS Coordinator, Fairbanks North Star Borough

Tom Duncan has been the GIS Coordinator for the Fairbanks North Star Borough since 2002, and loves his job! Tom began playing with GIS in 1991, and relational data bases in the mid 1980s. Tom has a B.S. in Environmental Planning from Western Washington University, 1982.

John Bean

Associate Professor, University of Alaska Anchorage

John is an assistant professor in the Geomatics department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has been teaching GIS, surveying and engineering for over 25 years and is a GIS consultant as well. John has a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut. He is a certified GIS Professional (GISP) and a licensed engineer.

Michelle Pearson

Senior GIS Analyst, AECOM

Michelle has a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Science with an emphasis in geology and a post graduate certificate in GIS from Penn State. She has applied her interdisciplinary degree and GIS software skills for 22 years in mineral exploration, oil & gas exploration, ANCSA land management, habitat conservation planning, and now consulting. She is currently GIS lead on the Donlin Gold Environmental Impact Statement team for AECOM. She has been living in Alaska since 2002.