Christina Boggs is an Engineering Geologist with the California Department of Water Resources in the Division of Integrated Regional Water Management’s North Central Region Office, in the Geology and Groundwater Investigations Section. Christina has two Bachelor’s degrees from CSU Sacramento, one in Geology and the other in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.
Christina loves helping people collaborate and work together better. Christina chaired the California State Government GIS User Group from 2013 to 2015, and serves on the California Department of Water Resources’ Enterprise GIS Committee. In 2012 Christina served as NorCal URISA’s Secretary and in 2013 she became President of NorCal URISA. Christina was the conference chair for CalGIS in 2015 – Faces of GIS, held in Sacramento, California. In 2013 Christina was voted URISA International’s Chapter Advisory Board Chair-Elect, she served as URISA International’s Chapter Advisory Board Chair for the 2014/2015 fiscal year including serving as a non-voting member of the URISA International Board. Christina is also an advisory board member for Geohipster.com and she runs the twitter account for @womeningis.
With Christina’s copious amounts of spare time, she volunteers teaching members of the Deaf Community, volunteers in area construction projects, plays the upright bass, does competitive strongman lifting, and enjoys taking in vast amounts of live music and photography.
Q: You’re heavily involved in GIS organizations. Why is that so important to you?
A: Having a robust network of support is essential. Being involved in these organizations allows me to give and get support. Staying well connected to others lets me do better work because I know where I can leverage the work of others and where we don’t have to make the same mistakes that others have made. Also, by being involved in GIS organizations you’re helping to improve the bar of GIS folks across the world, helping people make better decisions, helping others to get more training, helping people to meet each other.
Q: What made you decide to spearhead the effort to revitalize the Women in GIS group?
A: Part of my networking tends to be going to conferences, lots of women at these conferences had been talking about how they wish there was a way to get more women together. I love getting groups of people together and it was in my power to do so, so I did. Sometimes we get stuck in our own heads, thinking that we’re not important enough to get something started or to help out but all of us are real people and it takes someone to get it rolling.
Q: Where to you envision Women in GIS a year from now?
A: I hope Women in GIS continues to flourish and it inspires Geo Ladies Lunches and Women In GIS Meetups at conferences around the world. I also would like to see more Women in GIS entering into mentoring relationships, be it formalized from Women in GIS or facilitated through Women in GIS to another group like the URISA Vanguard Cabinet.
Q: When did you first discover GIS and what got your career started?
A: While getting my bachelor’s at California State University Sacramento in Geology, we had to learn to make geologic maps with fancy ink pens of different weights and we had to learn how to stipple limestone or shale correctly. When I graduated in May of 2009, it was the worst job economy since the depression, I had a stellar student assistant position at the time that let me actually do geology work but when I graduated I needed to keep taking classes to keep my position until I found a “real job.” I decided that learning some GIS would be helpful if I did any mapping in the future and I took some classes and fell in love. With the classwork that I completed and the projects that I undertook because of the classes, I was able to get practical experience doing GIS and it qualified me for geology jobs that had a GIS flavor.
I stumbled upon an Engineering Geologist position that looked like they wrote the job position based on my hodgepodge of random nerdy skills and I applied. I got a call from the supervisor for the position telling me that they weren’t going to interview me because most of their applicants had many years of experience (and while I had an internship, this was a bad job economy and longtime professionals were looking for work). I talked the supervisor into interviewing me and I interviewed and got the job. I like telling people this story because often times we underestimate our value before we even start, decide not to apply for a job because we know someone else applying or think that a more qualified applicant is going to be applying. Let the people doing the interview make that determination. I’ve had the great opportunity to be on the other side of the interview table both inside and outside of government stuff and it’s never a clear-cut equation about one candidate having 5 years of experience and another having just one year of experience. Interviews and experiencing that candidate’s personality and hearing about their skills is essential. Go for the long-shot jobs, let the panel tell you they’ve chosen another candidate – you will never regret going on an interview, you’ll regret not applying for that job.
Q: What’s the best application of a GIS map or tool you’ve used or seen someone else use?
A: Oooo, that’s a tough one. I’m going to say the coolest one on my mind. This Wind Map came on the scene a bit ago now, it’s not the nerdiest, it’s not the most artsy, but I love it. I really like how it visualizes the wind data, it synthesizes a bunch of data across the whole continental US and it displays so gracefully. I love it when maps make me feel, this map makes me feel like zipping my sweater up a little bit more.
Q: Did you have any difficulties getting to where you are today? If so, how did you overcome them?
A: This would be the perfect place to say that I didn’t have strong women role models but I would say that I had the perfect storm of awesome to help me to thrive. It started with both of my grandmothers being scientists and from a young age it was an absolute certainty that women could do science and math (that would later extend to tech…but my grandmothers aren’t notably techy). My parents supported me doing extracurricular STEM club stuff, from Project Pipeline in grade school to special programs to keep science interesting for underprivileged youth, to helping me go to a high school that had the International Baccalaureate program so that I could get more science. Having early science and math emphasis helped form my foundation so that when I got to college and there were less ladies in my classes, I felt secure being there. This kept being an asset as I entered a male-dominated workforce and a male-dominated peer network, just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m less valuable or that I don’t belong here. I’ve been surrounded by male supervisors and colleagues that are supportive of me as an individual and they don’t hold my gender against me. I’m not saying there aren’t difficulties out there, I’ve just had only a handful of brushes with them and I think the landslide of positive influences I had far outweigh the negative I have experienced.
Q: As a woman, what challenges did you face in the field of GIS or aerial photography?
A: Being on a project where I’m the only woman or serving on a board, or speaking on a panel at a conference where I’m the only woman – that can be a challenge. It feels awkward. I wonder if anyone else thinks about the fact that I’m a woman. That’s not a big challenge though, that challenge is in my head.
One challenge I have had, probably because of my support of Women in GIS, I hear horror stories. Ladies, your stories make me cry. Keep telling me though, because every time I hear a horror story and I encourage you to go to HR, file a sexual harassment report, complain to your supervisor, speak up, assert yourself (all actual encouragements I’ve given people who tell me horror stories) – you tell me how it went -and things get better. Sometimes it’s not magic, sometimes the situation doesn’t go away, some of you have quit your jobs because of bad environments – but you’re worth a better environment. If you’re having a challenge and you need a safe person to talk to, I’m here.
Q: What project have you worked on that you are most proud of?
A: That’s a tough one, haha. I volunteer teaching Deaf folks about the bible and I do volunteer construction work. I’m pretty happy to be involved with those but if we’re limiting it to work flavored activity I would probably have to say that my work with the National Hydrography Dataset here in California has made me the most proud. It’s actually not achieved my end goal and I’m not working on it anymore since I took a new position this past year but I still feel passionately about it. I feel like the couple of years that I got to act as a de facto advocate for stewardship of it here in California has helped increase awareness, and helped people start thinking more about how important an authoritative stream network is. My work helped remind people that even though stewardship is not free (actually…it’s free puppy “free”), there are multitudes of benefits to be gained from an individual department to an agency, government entities all the way down to benefits for us as taxpayers and data consumers. I hope it works out.
Q: What map has made a difference in your life?
A: The #geohipster map has made a difference in my life. I love working with this bunch, they are unabashedly nerdy and help bring awareness about cool people and projects all over the world. These stickers have a fantastic map designed by Jonah Adkins, you can get them here.
Q: In 25 words or less, give us your life’s motto.
A: Do one thing every day that scares you – Eleanor Roosevelt. Expand your comfort zone each time you do something that scares you.
Q: And finally, if you had a daughter (niece) following in your footsteps, what advice would you give her?
A: Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you can’t do cool stuff – and if I ever hear you say you can’t do math or science because you’re a girl, you’re getting an earful from me. Life is short, behave in a manner that you can be proud of and don’t allow people to treat you badly – in the short and long terms. I have nieces and nephews; I think this applies to them all.
Interview conducted by Petronila Esther Mandeno of Digital Mapping Solutions exclusively for Women in GIS.
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