Alma Hidalgo, GISP, is a GIS Supervisor Analyst with the Riverside County Flood Control District and Water Conservation District, which manages an area of 2,700 square miles and includes the cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, and Desert Hot Springs. The District provides a host of services to the area, such as identifying and addressing flood hazards, regulating drainage and development, constructing flood control structures, and educating the public about flood prevention and safety.
Alma is an active member of the geospatial community and currently serves as the Inland Empire GIS (IEGIS) Coordinator. IEGIS is a professional organization that has members from the greater Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles metro areas. The group focuses on connecting professionals within the GIS community, hosting presentations, and keeping members up-to-date with the latest developments in the geospatial field.
Prior to the District, Alma worked in the private sector providing GIS demographic analysis and planning for school districts. Internships included the City of Manhattan Beach, City of Culver City, and City of Riverside. Alma earned her B.A. and M.A. in Geography with emphasis in GIS from CSU Long Beach. Her thesis topic was “Implementing Modern Geographic Technology in the Trucking Industry: A Case Study.” The goal was to examine the perceptions and implementation practices of using geographic technology associated with the trucking industry to fulfill the demand for an effective tracking system specifically, for drivers in a local delivery sector. The aspiration of this thesis was to examine how geographic technology serves to provide valuable information for comparing actual map-tracks with perceived time space geographies. She channeled her passion for education into becoming an adjunct professor at San Bernardino Valley College, where she has been teaching Geography courses for three years.
Q: When did you first discover GIS? Did you have any classes or professors that inspired you to pursue it further?
A: I discovered GIS through my Geography studies at CSU Long Beach. I took an introduction to GIS class and got excited about the thought of this technology serving as a decision support tool. The concept of spatial information and mapping across any discipline was intriguing. Dr. Frank Gossette served as my adviser, mentor, and friend throughout both my undergraduate and graduate studies. His advice and support have been exceptional.
Q: What got your career in GIS started?
A: I think the key to getting my GIS career started was having internships. It provided a glimpse of GIS in action and allowed me to show my determination to learn and collaborate with others of similar interests. It definitely opened opportunities along the way for which I’m extremely grateful. I highly advise anyone to seek internships since you want to stand out among your peers. As a student, I began to seek out internships by sending out emails to any municipality that I could think of that was using GIS. To my surprise, it worked and I got responses. The biggest lesson I learned as an intern was managing my time effectively and adapting to a new environment outside of a classroom and in the “real” world.
Q: As a GIS Supervisor Analyst, what are the tasks your department manages? What project have you worked on that you are most proud of?
A: The GIS section is responsible for all GIS development and services including creating custom web applications, spatial analysis studies, designing maps, maintaining our database layers and supporting all the District’s extensive GIS users. An example of a current project I’m most proud of includes creating a County Drought Portal application. This is significant since it provides the public valuable information related to water services. Other projects include exhibits for Storm Patrol and providing ArcGIS online services for our mobile staff while out in the field.
Q: As a supervisor what are some of the challenges you face with managing data?
A: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful team and manager who are professional, and together we are successful and support the District’s GIS needs while providing the best service possible. One continued challenge as a County Agency would be the integrity of data as it is constantly being updated and modified. There are numerous workflows followed for updating facilities, district parcels, and flood zones that includes editing/maintenance on ArcGIS desktop, SDE databases, ArcGIS online and through our custom web applications. We strive to provide the latest updates promptly for the immediate benefit of our staff, management, and the public.
Q: What’s your favorite GIS tool or app that you have integrated or are looking to integrate into your workflow?
A: I would definitely like to integrate ArcGIS Pro in our workflows. ArcGIS Online is one application that has been integrated into the District’s workflows to create a variety of story maps to share with other departments and the general public regarding our facilities and projects throughout our jurisdiction. These story maps have served as a way to tell our story of what we do in a simple yet informative manner for all to understand and appreciate. Here’s a sample showing the LID BMP Story Map tour.
Q: How did you get involved with IEGIS? How can others become involved in IEGIS?
A: I began attending these meetings as a member when I first joined Flood Control in 2008 and shortly after I was approached to lead the group. I have been the Inland Empire GIS coordinator since 2012. There are over 100 ESRI supported GIS user groups. The group meets quarterly to share anything GIS. Meetings are open to all and include an assortment of GIS related presentations. We also have a LinkedIn page (Inland Empire GIS User Group) where meeting information is posted. It has served as a great network resource and has given me the opportunity to meet awesome GIS folks who share the same interests.
Q: You are also adjunct faculty at San Bernardino Valley College. What do you teach?
A: Geography was my first love, so I teach both a lecture on Physical Geography and a lab course. I have been teaching for 3 years now and truly enjoy sharing my passion with students in hopes they become inspired to become future geographers themselves and follow this same path. Geography serves as the underlying foundation for GIS and helps users understand the connection and interaction between these two disciplines.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Alma. Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for letting me share a little about myself and how I contribute to the GIS industry. I would like to add that it’s so important to follow your passion whatever it might be so you will always enjoy what you do. I truly do enjoy what I do and look forward to the future challenges and projects that this technology will embrace as the field continues to grow.
Interview conducted by Jade Dean of LSA Associates, Inc., exclusively for Women in GIS.