Coding for Conservation
by Savannah Longoria
This summer the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at NAU have participated in conservation internships across the country. Their blogs give us a peek into what they’ve been up to. Check ’em out!
The first week of my internship my mentor, Ryan Valdez, sat down with me and told me what this project needed to accomplish. I had no prior experience working with ArcGIS and had no framework for how to approach the product he essentially wanted. Ryan asked for a map that displayed all the different eleven National Park Conservation Association regions, but also allowed the user to see all the different national park service units. The first problem I ran into was when I was examining all the different ESRI ArcGIS templates and started to see that no template was suitable for the product we were trying to create.
When I encountered this roadblock I was left with two choices. One being, give up and give my mentor a mediocre map that would essentially have no internal or external value to him. Or draw from my coding skills that I had acquired at my time at UC Berkeley and create a product that would not only meet his expectations but exceed them. So using the “growth mindset” attitude that I had learned my previous summer with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, I did not back down from the challenge that I was given. I created a plan that drew on the things Ryan wanted from this map, and I considered what else I thought NPCA and users could do with this map. I ended up combining two ESRI story map templates and embedding them within each other to create a new way to navigate a story map. Why did I do this? I knew this map had two essential audiences so when I constructed it I tried to recognize how it would benefit these audiences in multiple ways. When Ryan was presenting this project to me he told me that on top of creating a customized out of the box template, I would also have to convince the other departments in the office that this product was something to show NPCA that they should invest in more GIS technology.
Another road block I encountered was when I needed to present my project to the different departments. This was because I needed to present the project in a diplomatic, non-critical way. With some brainstorming and advice from my mentor, I found it useful to approach this map as more of an additional benefit to the different NPCA versus a solution to the problem’s they were somewhat unaware of. This experience has definitely had a positive contribution to my future career goals. I have learned how to present creative ideas in a work environment, and I have learned how to create and pitch a product. In addition to this valuable work experience I have gained advanced skills in ArcGIS and learned how to correct the source code in a language I had no prior experience coding in. This project has shown me that every problem has a solution, you just have to look at the problem in multiple ways and address different underlying problems as well. I will also apply this to my future career in implementing conservation into technology.