IAGD Member Highlights

By Ruth Armbruster, current intern with the US Forest Service through GeoCorps America.

It’s great to finally be here in Steamboat Springs after months and months of anticipation and preparation. I was facing some major unknowns as I handed my keys over to a sub-letter and got into my car to drive halfway across the country from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to begin my GeoCorps position as a GIS Specialist for the US Forest Service.

As a wheelchair user, there are a lot of things I have to figure out when I take a new position, or take a trip, or move from one place to another. I’ve done a lot of those things in the past 3 years since my spinal cord injury, but this was the biggest change I’d made in a while and it was very intimidating. I had a thousand questions: Would I fall off the side of a mountain on the drive out? Would the USFS bunkhouse REALLY be accessible? Would people listen to me when I asked for accommodation? Would I find anyone to be friends with?

I’m happy to report that my transition to my GeoCorps position here in Steamboat Springs has been impressively smooth. Immediately I was welcomed and everyone has made it clear that if there is anything I need to make my job easier, they are more than willing to work with me. Thanks to the ADA standard that government facilities have to be accessible, the Bunkhouse is barrier free. For the first time in my life I actually have a roll-under kitchen sink and counter!

At work the Office Administrator, Facilities Manager and even the District Ranger regularly check in with me on how I’m managing around the office and the Bunkhouse. Liz Schnackenberg, my GeoCorps mentor and the Zone Hydrologist here, has been incredibly accommodating, flexible and supportive. I’m working with her through the USFS International Projects on the Mongolian Grassland White-Naped Crane Conservation Project. My job is to compile any GIS files and spatial data related to the breeding grounds of the endangered White-naped Crane in Eastern Mongolia. Currently I am working to gather and inventory all the resources, shapefiles, datasets and articles that I can find about Eastern Mongolia, which involves a lot of internet searches, emails, unzipping files and wading through datasets in ArcMap.

Our eventual goal is to have an ArcGIS geodatabase of all the relevant spatial information that can be transferred over to the scientists at the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia for continued additions and editing. I am especially excited about the project because I studied abroad in Mongolia during my undergrad in the spring of 2010 through the SIT, Nomadic Culture and Globalization program. It’s hard to go to Mongolia and not have it take hold of your subconscious and change your life as you know it. It really is a pleasure to go to the work every day to gather data on a place I feel connected to.

Though it has not yet been a month since arriving in Steamboat Springs, I am already very certain that this is a lovely town and that the USFS is a great place to work. I would recommend any positions here to anyone with a physical disability, considering the availability of a wheelchair accessible housing and their general willingness to work closely with individuals needing accommodations. Plus, Colorado living is plain awesome.

For more information on GeoCorps America, please contact Matthew Dawson, Program Officer of Education & Outreach for the Geological Society of America’s GeoCorps America & Mosaics in Science at mdawson@geosociety.org.


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Disclaimer: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0939645. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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