Star Carter is a GIS Analyst with the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC) located in Watertown, New York. Her life and career path read somewhat like a bucket list covering work as an oiled wildlife responder, aseptic laboratory tech, wrangler on a Wyoming horse ranch, federal law enforcement officer, ophthalmic assistant, naturalist tour guide and now knee deep in the geospatial world.
I started a conversation with Star at the 2015 NYGeoCon talking about work and ended up finding out a lot about how one originally from Hawaii ends up living in the snow belt of New York State…..
eSpatiallynewyork: How long have you been with the Development Authority of the North Country (DANC)? What brought you here? Where did you go to school?
Star: I was hired at the Authority in 2011 as a temporary GIS technician. Thanks to a mixture of good timing and hard work, I’m now the GIS Analyst in a team of three GIS professionals at the Authority. I’m from Hawaii, but I met my husband in Washington, DC. He is from Watertown, and after a few years in DC, we moved to the North Country. I have a BS in Animal Science from the University of Hawaii and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GIS from Penn State. I found GIS while working at a land trust after moving to Watertown. I was hooked from my first map project. I enrolled in the online GIS program at Penn State and soon after landed my position at the Authority.
eSpatiallynewyork: Tell us a couple of your most favorite examples of how GIS is used at DANC?
Star: GIS has become a tool used by all of the Authority divisions, so I have many projects that keep me busy. The Telecom Division is our largest internal GIS user, with more than 1,400 miles of fiber optic cable mapped in GIS. The regional landfill and our regional water and wastewater lines are also mapped and updated regularly. My team is increasingly involved in other less obvious GIS-related projects. We are supporting two local government consolidation and dissolution studies right now. When a Village is considering dissolving, or a Town is looking at consolidation with another Town, GIS is the spatial information Holy Grail. For example, it is used to identify municipal infrastructure systems which need to be turned over to another entity, calculate the total number acres in the municipality, or in determining fire district boundaries. GIS can help answer many of the tough questions that will inform voters who are making the ultimate decision.
eSpatiallynewyork: DANC represents a regional approach to GIS development. What makes it successful? Do you think it can be applied elsewhere across the state? If so, why?
Star: DANC’s mission as a public authority is to provide technical services and infrastructure to enhance economic opportunities in the North Country region. We exist to make local municipalities’ jobs easier, and GIS is a fast growing part of that challenge. Many smaller municipalities want GIS, but their limited budgets, staff, equipment, and capacity are barriers to acquiring it in a traditional desktop setup. The Authority’s shared services GIS model bridges those barriers and allows these communities to enjoy all the benefits of GIS without having to invest in the software and staff to run it. The Authority has offered GIS hosting services on our web-based GIS application since 2011 (new.dancgis.org). By June 2016, we will host GIS data for 56 municipal customers in four Counties. People can access data from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection – that’s all it takes. Suddenly, all of the infrastructure is at their fingertips and they have tools to interact with it.
I believe the DANC model can be replicated in other areas of the State. I don’t think every municipality needs its own map viewer. So much money and time is spent on redundant viewers and software that could be better spent developing richer data. In my experience, consolidating map viewers doesn’t mean that less GIS work is being done – it gives GIS staff more time and funds to work on the data.
eSpatiallynewyork: Biggest professional accomplishment to date?
Star: I’m very proud of my participation in the growth of GIS in the North Country and my work on the Authority’s Internet Mapping Application (IMA). However, two summers ago, I mapped a utility pole line that went up the side of Whiteface Mountain. Climbing to the top with 15 pounds of computer and GPS equipment was pretty cool and the view at the top was amazing. I’ve since climbed 2 other mountains in the name of GIS field work – my goal is 46 peaks all on official GIS business!
eSpatiallynewyork: From your perspective how important is the private sector (business and industry) in building GIS across the state?
Star: I collaborate with many private sector engineering firms and other businesses for my projects. I’ve noticed a positive shift towards GIS technology, where previously the predominate software for engineers I was working with was CAD and they wanted little to do with GIS. The two technologies can play together very well, and I hope that trend will continue. The private sector often has the funds/ability/staff to create great data, and there is so much data out there being stored in CAD that would be wonderful to have in GIS. Someone just needs to do the conversion, which can be time consuming.
eSpatiallynewyork: What do you think of GISP certification?
Star: It is something that I’d like to acquire, but so far it has not been a priority. In my position at the Authority, the GISP is not required for advancement; experience and job performance are more valuable.
eSpatiallynewyork: Anybody talking “Open Data” in the North Country?
Star: “Open Data” has become a trigger word for me – bring out the soap box! All data developed by the Authority is publically available. We encourage all of our customers to make data public, but it is their choice – about half of them do.
eSpatiallynewyork: What’s the next big geospatial “thing” for DANC?
We just completed an upgrade to the IMA to make it compatible with mobile devices and more functional. Like most everyone else in the State, we are looking for user-friendly mobile apps for data collection, both for internal use and for our GIS hosting customers.
eSpatiallynewyork: If you had an extra $50K in your budget, what would you spend it on?
Star: I’d spend it on more training opportunities for our GIS staff. GIS evolves so quickly and it’s too easy to get stuck in your current work flow. We’re so busy that it’s difficult to take the time to learn about new technology and software, but I think formal training and exposure to new ideas at conferences is important. And I’d spend it on more equipment – everyone knows that GPS units are like shoes: you need one in every color and style (oooh, this one works under tree cover!).
eSpatiallynewyork: What was the last presentation you made at a GIS conference or meeting?
Star: I presented at the St. Lawrence County Local Government Conference in 2015. DANC prepared an all-day track of sessions specifically about GIS – including an Intro to GIS, hands-on training with GPS equipment, and case studies showing how municipalities are using GIS. I really enjoyed teaching.
eSpatiallynewyork: So you are up in the pulpit and preaching to the NYS GIS community. What would the sermon be entitled?
Star: “Sharing is Caring for GIS”. I think the future of GIS includes better data sharing, the application of more shared resources, and more streamlined and standard processes. There are already great strides in this direction. We recently discovered all the amazing data easily accessible from the APA. I would like to see us implementing more programs that are organized by regions, with GIS staff pushing local data up to shared resources that can broadcast the data to everyone who needs it.
eSpatiallynewyork: What would you be doing if you weren’t working with DANC?
Star: I would be back in Wyoming on the horse ranch; mending fences, oiling saddles, and riding through the mountains.
eSpatiallynewyork: You gotta love snow to live in the North Country. Cross country or downhill skier?
Star: Ha! Being a surfer girl from Hawaii, the snow is the most difficult part of living here. I survive thanks to an understanding husband who lets me set the thermostat. I like to downhill ski, but last winter we skied Whiteface, which really pushed me to the limits of my skills. It was terrifying, but fun, in that “I’m glad I did it but I’ll never do it again” kind of way.