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(LA) Women in Water: Celebrating Women's History Month

For the Council for Watershed Health, Women’s History Month is about celebrating the accomplishments of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we celebrate another remarkable woman in the field: Danielle Bram. A California native, Bram began her environmental work as an undergrad at UC Davis where she found her love for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data." Bram worked her way up the ladder, starting as a GIS Technician post-undergrad, then Technician, Analyst, Specialist, Project Manager, and now, Director for the Center of Geographical Studies at Cal State Northridge University (CSUN). Along the way, she developed another passion, helping women advance in the field of GIS. As the Executive Director of Women in GIS (WiGIS), Danielle Bram has helped to create a space for women in the geospatial industry navigate their geospatial careers with a mission to network, grow, and succeed. Their organization offers Spotlight Interviews, an inspiring series of stories on successful women succeeding in GIS, a mentorship program and an interactive WiGIS story map where one can see locations of women in the field of GIS all around the world.

What was the path that brought you to where you are today?​

After I graduated from UC Davis, I accepted a job working as a GIS Specialist for the California Wilderness Coalition on their Roadless Area Review and Evaluation Report. It was a great introduction to both GIS and environmental advocacy work. I then took about 8 months off to travel the world (which was educational and eye-opening in a very different way), and when I returned, ended up working as a GIS Coordinator in local government for approximately 7 years. Although this wasn’t ultimately where I wanted to be in the field of GIS, it provided me with an invaluable opportunity to really challenge myself and develop my skills. At that point, I went back for my Masters in Geography, learned more about GIS modeling and analysis, and began working at the Center for Geographical Studies at CSUN as a research assistant. I took quite a few steps back in terms of climbing the professional “ladder”, I was once again able to engage in applying GIS to areas of study that were important to me. Fortunately, my previous work experience facilitated my quick promotion to project manager and ultimately, Director of the Center, the position I hold today.

How did you come to appreciate GIS?

When I was in college, I knew I wanted to somehow be involved in environmental/conservation work, but I wasn’t clear as to which discipline I would choose. In 1996, someone recommended I check out a cool new “tool” they had heard about called GIS, so I enrolled in a GIS course. Not only did I love learning how to visualize large amounts of data, but I realized how much valuable information can be captured, displayed and disseminated in a meaningful way. This was a tangible approach for me to take in engaging with the environmental community.

What female STEM leader inspired or inspires you?​

As long as I can remember, I have been an enormous fan of Jane Goodall. My mother took me to hear her speak when I was about 12 years old, and her powerful presence and message has stayed with me my entire life. She is an amazing woman who helped trail blaze the way for many other females in science. She was one of the first women to insert herself into the then male-dominated field of anthropology, and made such an incredible difference in terms of research and primate protection and conservation. Today she selflessly spends her time traveling the world raising money for her organization, educating others, and getting people excited about conservation and science. She shows women (and men) that if you are passionate about something, you can make a difference.

What research are you excited about? Tell us about your projects and how you see the scope of their success?

The Center has been and is currently involved in a variety of projects related to water resource mapping and modeling. We are working on updating the National Hydrography Dataset (a comprehensive dataset of surface water) for the State of CA and national forests in the Southwestern U.S. Many people assume that most if not all surface water features have been mapped already, but there are actually numerous intermittent and ephemeral channels and water bodies that are not documented…vital habitat for many species. Additionally, having an accurate and comprehensive dataset of surface water is critical for informed decision making and planning. We have also been involved in mapping historical and contemporary wetland extent and type…another important resource. A more recent effort we are becoming engaged in is facilitating collaboration, communication and resource sharing between numerous stakeholders (public agencies, water districts and nonprofits) in the water resource and conservation community. Using technology (such as web maps) to connect stakeholders and inventory and document information such as green infrastructure projects to create efficiencies, reduce redundant efforts, etc. is so important. All of these projects contribute to assisting with water resource efforts in different yet significant ways.

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