Diane grew up in the canyons and mountains recently made more famous via the Oppenheimer movie mania of summer 2023. Her upbringing instilled a strong appreciation for both science and the outdoors.
Diane left the mountains for a bit to get her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from UC San Diego. Later, after working at Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) for a stint and realizing genetics research didn’t have a field component, she went to the University of Colorado Boulder to get her PhD in earth sciences (isotopes and hydrology!) and has basically stuck to Boulder ever since. While working on a hydrology project, she discovered GIS by working with the NHD Plus dataset and got hooked on geospatial technology.
Fun fact about Diane: she’s fallen off cliffs three times. You’d think she’d learn. One incident led to a bit of a debacle requiring a search and rescue (SAR) response to pull her out of the mountains near Taos, NM. This event greatly influenced her life as it turned her toward cycling for rehab and to serving on ski patrol for a number of years to give back to the outdoor rescue community. Presently, she is excited to be working on a Trails Stewardship Initiative project as the OSM U.S. board president that will help with responsible trail use and SAR assistance in the future.
Q. Diane, where are you located on earth and what do you do?
On earth I am located in the presently greener-than-normal foothills of the Flatirons in Boulder, CO. We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and summer that has kept our grasses oddly tall and vibrant. I try to spend as much time as I can on my local trails to stay in touch with the landscape – it rejuvenates me.
Funnily, I don’t live far from what Google considers to be the geographic center of Boulder. I often find myself giving directions to folks driving around my neighborhood that failed to get more detailed address feedback from Google beyond “Boulder.”
My place of work, however, is in Denver where I am the Geospatial Data Scientist at an academic library serving three different institutions on the Auraria campus: University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Denver Community College. My main job is to assist all students and faculty that want to add a spatial perspective to their research. I help them find the right data and software platforms for adding data visualization and analysis to their projects. Working at the library involves a lot of different duties that help serve the goals of higher education, but one of my favorite roles is being the director of a semesterly symposium called the Data to Policy Project that has the tagline, “Public Data for Public Good.” Students get to work on real-world problems while they go through a course curriculum. Of course, I coax students towards mapping analysis whenever I have a chance.
I am also an adjunct lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver, teaching remote sensing classes for the Geography and Environmental Sciences Department. This has been a fun and rewarding challenge for me. It’s great to be able to work with the same students throughout a semester and have deeper conversations with them about career possibilities.
Q. So you were recently elected to the position of President of Openstreetmap.us. What do you do as President?
OpenStreetMap U.S. is the local chapter of OSM here in the United States. It is now run by an executive director along with a small staff and overseen by an elected board. As the president of OSM U.S. board, I try to keep my eye on all that the organization is doing and steer the ship by board consensus when it needs nudging. My job has been made easy because our executive director, Maggie Cawley, is so wonderful, but due to her efforts and the mere fact that OSM U.S. now HAS an executive director and some fulltime and part-time staff, OSM U.S. is doing so many more things. The volunteer board for OSM U.S. used to be the sole entity that did the work of our local OSM chapter, largely putting on the State of the Map U.S. conference. Now, the board is freer to look at the future path of OSM U.S. and have big-picture strategy discussions with our executive director about where the organization is headed (as well as continuing to pay attention to our bylaws, funding and other fun administration details of a nonprofit).
Board members, myself included, are deeply involved in the extended activities OSM U.S. is now spearheading. There is organizing the online Mappy Hours and Mapping USA conferences in addition to our in-person State of the Map conference. We now have many projects that people can read about on our new website under the “Our Work” menu. The board evaluates and approves things like charter projects with an eye to not having our staff get spread too thin. Being in academia, I focus my own participation on TeachOSM and the curricula that is developing there and well as in the Trails Stewardship Initiative given my personal interests.
Q. I’ve been reading up on this Trails Stewardship Program. We have a lot of hiking spots in Chattanooga – How do I get involved?
Thanks to the work of the OSM U.S. team, we have a lovely website for that! On the Trails Stewardship page, there is a “Get Involved” link where you can provide your name and indicate your participation level interest between joining our trails working group, participating as a mapper in future campaigns, or just getting on an email update list.
I’m so excited about the work this group is doing. To try and summarize the work quickly, I’ll say that openstreetmap data, unknown to many, is the basis of SO much information that the public accesses frequently on their smartphones in various apps, including trail data. Some of that data, due to incomplete attributes, gets rendered on navigational applications in a way that can cause safety issues or unwanted environmental impacts. Think unexperienced hikers being led to a committing scramble, or folks traveling on trails closed for habitat preservation reasons. I am a little tickled to say I’ve been helping out since the beginning, setting a comfortable discussion space where voices of land managers, navigation app developers, recreationists and OSM mappers can all join together to tackle the potential safety and environmental problems that can result from unclear trail data.
I’ll need to visit Chattanooga some day and explore your local trails! Perhaps I can do that when a particular mapping campaign under this initiative hits Tennessee.
Q. Boulder is about to host a thing called SatCamp?
Ah yes, SatCamp! There’s a website for this wonderful on-the-trails-unconference as well! I wish I could say this unconference was my idea, but I’m glad to be a part of organizing it. Some folks who were part of SatSummit 2022 wanted to extend one of the best parts of that conference, the hallway conversations, in a novel way: have people get together out in nature and discuss how the geospatial industry can best situate itself to help nature. Broad topics that we’re going to stress are remote sensing, climate, GNSS, satellite builds & supply chains and humanitarian applications of all this among others.
I’m looking forward to the structure of this gathering. Boulder is quite an outdoor playground and we’re going to be offering activities in the realms of hikes, bike rides, bouldering or just coffee shop hanging and cross-walking that with the topics I mentioned. We’ll be based out of the famous Chautauqua area in town. The idea is to have multiple birds-of-a-feather sessions out in the woods, or on the rocks, or in the sipping patios around and then sharing back ideas at the evening “campfires.” Everyone from varied backgrounds, whether it’s academia, industry NGOs, or the public sector, is expected to contribute to the conversations. After all, in the context of Earth observation and global solutions, we’re all in this together and we want to hear everyone’s ideas.
In the spirit of trying to get all voices, we’re offering scholarship opportunities to be able to attend for those who are wanting to come in from afar but don’t have the budget for the unconference fee. For those wanting to contribute to this effort, we have “Superhero” tickets available for purchase. For those wanting to apply (and are seeing this post right away – we want to decide on these quickly so folks can arrange travel), we are asking them to fill out the scholarship application form.
Q. You happen to include a bio pic with a bit of bicycle in it. What type of bike are you cruising around on these days?
I need to confess up front that I’m one of those people that spends more money on her bikes than on her vehicles. Back in the day, I used to race a bit and I definitely appreciate a high performance bike, whether it’s a road, mountain or gravel bike.
In the picture, I’m sitting on my MTB – a lovely Yeti SB95 29er that I got back in 2012. It is serving me well. But my favorite bike I presently have is my DEAN Titanium cross / gravel bike. DEAN is a local frame manufacturer here in Boulder. I actually know the guy that welded my bike together! I spend most of my pedaling time on my DEAN on agricultural roads north of town or on routes like the Switzerland trail, an old railroad bed to the west in the mountains. The paved roads have become more crowded with cars and more dangerous, so I road-ride less. In fact, a 17-year-old upcoming cycling star, Magnus White, was recently killed while training on a road I used to ride on a fair amount. Luckily, we have a nice network of dirt and gravel roads on our varied topography where the plains meet the mountains. I’m riding more on those these days. I’ve been meaning to make a map of the routes … sadly, I don’t find much time to actually make maps. Someday I’ll do more of that.
Q. You mentioned falling off a mountain 3 times in your bio. I’ve yet to fall off a cliff. Did the falls get easier by the third or harder?
Ha. I recommend avoiding it. About the falls getting easier or harder, if you’re referring to the act of initiating the fall, it’s hard to say. I do know that the cliffs kept getting higher and higher, so I’m trying to avoid the fourth time. The third one had the potential to kill me – it turns out I’m a screamer if I think I might actually die.
My dad tells me I tempted my first cliff fall when I was 2, but I don’t remember that one. The first actual fall was such a weird coincidental action, but my memory of it is quite solid. When I was a kid, I used to take our family dog, Cinder, hiking around in the canyon behind our house. She was a zippy little thing and would zoom around at top speed feeling the joy of the open space. One afternoon, I was jumping down from one ash-flow tuff boulder to another and Cinder zipped through right when I was in mid-air. She took out my feet and I went flying. Small little cliff / boulder cascade though. I wasn’t near the big precipices.
The next two occurrences were me being stupid when I was younger. The SAR adventure came from me bouldering way too high (35 feet) on bad rock. The scariest cliff fall happened at Solitude ski area. I tested some snow quality, announced it wasn’t great to my fellow riders and sent them to another chute with a different aspect, then proceeded with less care than I should’ve taken. Next thing I knew, my edge hooked in some difficult snow, I clipped a rock and went tumbling off who knows what. At least the landing was in a soft snow apron.
Q. Where I would normally ask one more question I usually let the guest talk about anything they want!
I think the topic I’d like to address here is the accelerated climate change we’re facing. I want to ask a ridiculously huge question that’s been burbling around at the back of my mind:
What can the mapping community collectively do to help the conversation about tackling man-made global warming and the resulting conflicts and adaptations that will inevitably happen?
When I was in grad school, most of my housemates were in climate science programs. I went to grad school mainly inspired by drought and water supply issues in the U.S.’s arid southwest. My brain has constantly been thinking about these environmental and humanitarian concerns on a low level as I continue to go about doing what happenstance puts before me. I would like to do more work in this realm.
As we all know, maps can be such excellent communicators of information, and it strikes me that with the firehose of EO data that’s now available and the power of global citizen mappers, much could be accomplished. Things along the lines of Molly Burhans’ GoodLands project. Are there other projects out there? Can we create an index of all these different efforts to better build collaboration and reach beyond our community? One of the goals of SatCamp is to touch on this, and I’m very much looking forward to that conversation, but I want it to extend beyond those few days and beyond the people that can attend.
One last comment: Keep the calendars coming! I love having new Geohipster maps up on my wall every month. Like I said, one day I might actually make more maps and even enter to get in that calendar.