TRELIS and the important conversations

TRELIS Leaders presenting at UCGIS

TRELIS Leaders presenting at UCGIS

For three days before the UCGIS conference, 16 participants and 7 leaders spent time together at the TRELIS workshop. The workshop focused on how to emphasize our strengths, and determine our own path, with a focus on non-traditional career paths over a singular model of a ladder. A career that can be symbolized by an interweaving trellis provides for a richness of experience and diversity. From our experiences there is growing acceptance in both the academy and industry. This is particularly important to women as we balance multi-faceted expectations. At the workshop, we spent a lot of time discussing issues we all struggle with in a space where we could focus on those struggles through the lens of the female experience in our field. The acceptance of less traditional career paths are hugely important for those who sit at the center of many intersections. I am thankful that the organizers recognized the need for support like this within our field and I look forward to participating in the continuation of the work.

While we still have a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to intersectional working environments, there are two reasons that I believe we are making progress in how we exist in the world. First, it is because of events like TRELIS—supported by the National Science Foundation—which are bringing these conversations to light. They used to occur in bathrooms, or whispers in the hallway … small, tucked away, non-public spaces. However, amazing women like Dr. Laxmi Ramasubramanian, former president of UCGIS who looked around her professional organization and saw a need to create this space, Dr. Diana Sinton, Executive Director of UCGIS whose persistence kept everyone moving, and lead PI Dr. Kate Beard-Tisdale all worked together to create a space for this conversation to happen, and carried it through thoughtfully. Together, leaders and participants identified subtle—and not so subtle—ways that they disproportionately bear the weight of obstacles, are erased, and are silenced, and they learned new tools to advocate for themselves, their expertise and research.

Secondly, I find hope in the the increasing number of people who hold a disproportionate amount of power looking around and asking, “Who isn’t in the room with us? Why not, and what can we do about it?”

Kudos to UCGIS and NSF for the example they are setting in our field, for other professions, for professional organizations, and our workplaces. To the critics who ask, “Why isn’t there a TRELIS for men?” I encourage you to hold that question, and ask it again when women occupy 50% of the seats in our conferences, board rooms, and faculty meetings. Organizations are evolving, visibility of labor and inequity are rising. How is your organization increasing awareness, and what actions are you taking as a result?

Requirements for the hard conversation

When I find myself stuck in a difficult situation, one that is going to require me to initiate a difficult conversation, I require of myself to be able to do the following four things. If I cannot do these, I am either not ready to have the conversation, or I have determined that the conversation is not worth having.

  1. See my role in the situation — important to note this does not mean blaming myself, but asking, "What is my role in creating it, and what will be my role in solving it?"
  2. State the outcome that I want from engaging in the difficult conversation.
  3. Prepare and be willing to accept any consequences of the exchange.
  4. Acknowledge the other person's positive intention.

Designing Creative Spaces, AAG 2018

Intentional development of teams, through activities and a strong culture, can help groups of all types achieve greater success. This talk will provide an overview on how to create the spaces that we occupy, rather than leaving it to chance. Walk through the process, from opening up, to addressing the messy middle, or storming process of group dynamics, to developing the culture that you want your organization to have, to celebrating success at the completion of phases. There will be tips for everyone including lab managers, company owners, professional organizations, and people teaching classes. Engagement and connection with others enrich our experiences, and help us through the most difficult days. Tanya Buckingham (@tanmabuck), Creative Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Cartography Lab, former Executive Director of the North American Cartographic Information Society, and local election campaign manager, will share her process of building teams, challenging individuals, and creating a culture that supports organizational goals.


Tuckman's stages of development

Designed Alliance

Grassroots Leadership Goal Setting & Action Planning Event

FAWN Leadership planning meeting, June 10. Photo credit: j. McClendon

FAWN Leadership planning meeting, June 10. Photo credit: j. McClendon

Goals & Actions Agenda


Individual Exercise 1: Reflections on values from each region — work as individual (link)

Group Exercise 1: Build the span of values from each region — group

Explanation: On large post-it notes write one topic on each, and place on large wall or board, as they are mentioned. Write as many as needed. Allow discussion to wander, take notes about items you hear mentioned in conversation.

Individual Exercise 2: Narrowing the focus — work as individual (link)

Explanation: Choose 5 of the topics from Exercise 1, and the group activity that represent your regions top and most urgent need for action. Rank the level of urgency/importance of each on a 1-10 scale, imagining 1 near the hub, and 10 at the farthest point on the spoke from the center.

Individual Exercise 3: Create action plan  — work as individual (link)

Group Exercise 2: Requirements for success — group

Explanation: Take turns sharing the action plan that s/he has written. Facilitator records a list on large board/flipchart at front of the room, requirements for success (or needs), that are mentioned as the presentations are happening. 

12:00 - Lunch

Group Exercise 3: Rank state-wide priorities.

Explanation: Create a space for four levels of priority, for this organization. Go through each post-it, placing it in the proper category (1 = most urgent, and relevant to this group; 4 = important but outside of the focus of this group)

Group Exercise 4: Convince (who), That (what), Because (why)*

Explanation: From all of the activities fill in the following, 

<Name of group> needs to convince (who?),

that (what?),

because (why?)

Set next steps and next meeting

Explanation: Who is going to what, before the next meeting?

*Credit, Michael Calienes

UWCL 2017 Design Challenge!


March 4, 2017 Design Challenge Schedule:

9am Meet in the Cart Lab, eat breakfast snacks, listen to experts
10am Work, in Cart Lab and 380
11:30am Short break, and activity
12pm Working lunch, sharing between groups
1pm Work
5:30pm Submit files
6pm Gather in Map Library for dinner and public presentations

Project background, and impact:

Community and neighborhood centers are the have the potential to be a point of intersection for a community. Madison has several wonderful community centers, and would certainly more communities would benefit from having them nearby. However, resources are scarce, and careful consideration must be given on how and when to construct them. This project will take an overview look of the city currently, and combine it with a focused look at one center in the city that is pushing the seams.

Extra special, super talented, guest cartographer:

Team 1 will be lead by Mamata Akella from the company CARTO—headquartered in Madrid, Mamata works out of the Manhattan office—will be at the Design Challenge. She will be leading a public-facing website and map that features community centers in town and the offerings of each (as best we can do in the limited amount of time that we have to pull the data together).

Team 2 will be led by Matthew Baker, who currently works as the spatial information manager at the Denver Public Schools. His team will focus on analysis of the city landscape, including demographics, access to community centers, etc.

Team 3 will focus on Bridge Lake Point Waunona, and the specific needs of the center. The idea is to create a report or graphics for BLW that help tell the story of the center. The intended audiences for the products will hopefully be funders, or an example to be used by other communities looking to convince government or funders. Bill Buckingham, a health geographer, with training and expertise in census data will be the data expert on hand.


Badgers Take Manhattan

Originally appeared in Madgeog News  JUNE 20, 2016

A core tenet of the Cartography Lab is to provide a variety of professional development experiences for Geography students. Examples include hosting unconferences, design challenges, guest speakers, workshops, and participating in national conferences.

Tanya Buckingham (right) and Cart Lab student employees in front of the NYT

Tanya Buckingham (right) and Cart Lab student employees in front of the NYT

This year was a big year for professional development. Tanya Buckingham, Assistant Director of the lab, collaborated with Joel Gruley, Undergraduate Advisor, to successfully obtain the Career Development Grant Program, sponsored by Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association and the College of Letters and Science. The grant has been applied to professional development workshops, and will help to cover costs associated with an event on November 11 that connects alumni to current geography students.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The biggest experience of the year was an inaugural Cart Lab sponsored field trip. In April, Tanya Buckingham led a trip for 11 students and staff to New York City. The inspiration was the result of student interest in seeing behind-the-scenes at some of the most exciting organizations in the field. The students visited CartoDBNew York TimesMapzenUnited NationsNew York Public Library Map DivisionNew York Public Library Labs, and the New York Office of Emergency Management. The organizations varied widely in how they interact with geography. An important aspect of the trip was the expectation that each student in attendance would present at GeoNYC, a meet-up for mappers, with a typical attendance over 100 people. The students each chose an aspect of cartography and delivered a lightning talk. This was definitely the most intimidating aspect of the trip for each of the students. In the end, also the most rewarding.



The feedback has been enormously positive. Students found the variety insightful, helping them to focus more on their areas of interest. Several students commented about the validation in seeing the skills they are gaining and how they will be applied in their careers. The one suggested improvement is to have more downtime, especially with the people from the hosting organizations. We had one modest social gathering that included alumni in the New York area, as well as several professionals in the area. Current students were able to make connections with experts, get advice about careers, and the transition from student life to professional life. Many wished there had been more time for the personal networking, and would have been willing to extend the trip for the additional experience. Our original intention was to coordinate and raise funds for a trip every couple of years between the cities with the highest density of geography and cartography organizations. However, there has been so much interest from the students for a trip to happen sooner. We are exploring the possibility of visiting Washington DC in 2017, and have begun working with colleagues in DC to determine the feasibility. Additionally, we are working to design a trip that will be of interest to all areas of study for geography.

Special thanks to all of the hosts who sponsored the UW Cartography Lab tour: Jeff FerzocoCartoDBTim Wallace (PhD ’16)New York TimesAlyssa WrightMapzenAyako KagawaUnited Nations; Katherine Cordes, New York Public Library; Bert Spaan, New York Public Library Labs; Kristen Grady, Office of Emergency Management

Tanya Buckingham receives Outstanding Service in Mentoring Award

Originally appeared in Madgeog News on MARCH 30, 2016



Tanya Buckingham (Assistant Director, Cartography Laboratory) has been honored by the UW-Madison with an Award for Outstanding Service in Mentoring Undergraduates in Research, Scholarly and Creative Activities.

In addition to recognizing Tanya for her stellar professional development work with students, she will receive $2,000 of university expendable funds for her professional activities.

Tanya will be recognized during the Ideas to Excellence reception following the 18th annual Undergraduate Symposium on Thursday, April 14 at 4:45pm in Varsity Hall, Union South.

"Knowing where you're going makes it easier to get there."

Leslie Kohlberg, Assistant Director of Department Relations, visited with Geography students to discuss how to tell employers the value of their experience as UW Madison students. (Students should see Joel Gruley to obtain useful handouts provided by Leslie.) Also, take advantage of all of the opportunities at L&S Career Services!

To begin the session, I led students through an activity to better understand their own personal values. The values exercise helps students identify their personal goals and values so they can also be looking for a place that is a good fit for them. To paraphrase Leslie, the interview (along with all of your other application materials) are simply a way to convey information. Assessing personal values is a good way to do a quick self check to determine if we are living a life that honors the things most important to us. When we are out of alignment, it's like riding in a car with a flat tire. Nothing feels right, you can't continue cruising down the road, because something is pulling you off your course. In the best of all situations, our partners, our friends, our jobs, all support the values that we honor most. This is why it is critical to have a clear understanding of those values.

The formula that I have been using with my students for the last few months, is inspired by coaching exercises. If you are doing this on your own, I suggest finding someone who will listen to you, and participate in the process as well. This exercise can be completed in 30 minutes; it can also run much longer, if you have an engaged group, full of self-reflective individuals who are interested in sharing. There are five questions that I pose, allowing for 2 to 5 minutes between each. 

1. Describe a high point in regard to a project that you have worked on for a class or work. This would be a time of extreme pleasure, satisfaction, learning, or fulfillment. It may be a single moment in time, or it may have happened over a long period. What about it was so important to you? Put yourself in that time; what can you see, hear, smell? Use as many details to describe the situation as you can: season, surroundings, the feelings you had, who else was involved, if anyone. 

2. Describe an awful experience at work or in school. This would be a time when you felt unimportant, dishonored, disempowered, or invisible. Use as many details as possible to describe the situation.

3. What drives you crazy?

4. If I were to interview your family and friends, what would they say that you value most?

5. Imagine yourself in 10 years. You are successful (however you define that). Someone approaches you at a conference and says, "Oh, it is so good to meet you! Your work has impacted me because you..." Finish that sentence. 

After all five questions have been asked, then students work in groups of 2 or 3. Each student explains his/her answers to all of the questions. The observing student listens carefully, and provides feedback to the student that is speaking. The listening student looks for patterns within the answers. What types of responses are showing up in both the negatively and positively phrased questions. Listening students then share their observations, and engage in a conversation about the perceptions. Make sure that you watch the time so that each sharing student gets about the same amount of time to share and receive feedback.

It can sometimes be helpful for the students to have access to a list of personal values as they go through this exercise, or in the personal reflections following the exercise.


The workshop series is related to an ongoing project funded by the 2015-2016 Alumni Relations Career Development Grant, which was distributed by the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and The L&S Career Initiative. 

Unique space

The UW-Madison Cartography Lab occupies a unique space in the industry. First, the axis: the Cart Lab exists along on the spectrum between theory and application. Predominately we focus on the application, and dabble in theory. Our participation in theoretical endeavors will increase in the coming years, as Dr. Rob Roth has taken on the role of Faculty Director of the lab. Out of this we expect to see more projects like the Process for Assessing Emergent Web Mapping Technologies. This will not diminish our focus on applied, service-learning projects, as we expect to be able to train more students with our expanding mission.

Secondly, the Cart Lab is positioned at the confluence of Arts & Humanities, Technology, and Science. This is the intersection in which all cartographers engage in the process of creating maps.

Finally, where the Public Sector, Industry, and the Academy overlap the Cart Lab is in a unique place to connect people and practices and ideas. This is the most exciting aspect of my job! As an educational space, we are not a competitor with industry organizations. In fact, I work closely with industry experts to adjust our curriculum and training for our students in order to best prepare them to join the workforce. This work includes inviting industry experts from government (local, state, and federal), and private organizations to engage directly with our students, through presentations in our lab, visits to their offices, interviews, and advice seeking about process. I'm grateful to the many individuals who engage directly with me and my students to help us to better train future spatial data scientists. Of course, we also exist in a space that engages the academy. With frequent academics visiting or collaborating with our Geography Department, our students have regular access to trends in research.

It is the combination of research and production, along with the willingness of multiple sectors of the field to collaborate with us, that situates the lab for the most meaningful work. The Cart Lab will continue to seek impactful work through the combination of research and production, and continue to build collaborative relationships with across the field.

Start-up sprouts in Cart Lab

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life,
or whether that station will be held by anybody else,
these pages must show.

To begin my life with the beginning of my life,
I record that I was born...

- Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Dean Olsen, a GIS Certificate Student at UW-Madison, has combined his life experiences together to form a start-up, LifeMapping. As a direct care worker for patients with Alzheimer's Dean recognized that families didn't stay long, or visit that frequently. He also realized that talking about the past brought comfort to those for whom he was caring. Combining those observations with his background in Geography and Advertising, he conceptualized LifeMapping. A platform that helps people navigate their life stories, through thought-provoking questions. It is also a source of an activity that cuts through generational barriers, opening opportunities for communication. Finally, Dean acknowledges that stories are what saved his life. Learn more about the project through a recent video compiled by the University of Wisconsin, and reach out if you have questions or are interested in supporting LifeMapping. About two years ago, Dean brought his project to the Cart Lab. Since then, we've been working together to create mock-ups, run a survey, talk with interested parties, and pair students with the project. Dean continues to look for a technology lead, and funding to give the project wings. The student employees at the State Cartographers Office are working on a prototype which will show the concepts of the platform. 

LifeMapping, because everything happens somewhere. 

Intense day of design

Design Challenge 2016 @uwcartlab

This is the second Design Challenge hosted in the Cart Lab. I'm a big believer in creating intense experiences to inspire design and connection between people. The first event that I hosted like this was the mapgiving kickoff in Missoula, MT, in 2008 (please be forgiving we were still getting the hang of social media!). Continue reading to see how we pull the event together, and fund it.

2016 Cart Lab Design Challenge:
The Jack Williams Lab has opened a complex paleoecological set of data of fossil species distribution through time. Students—both undergraduates and graduates—will work all day to find creative solutions to visualizing species distributions for multiple taxa in space and time. 

Goals of the Challenge:

  • Connect students across Geography in interdisciplinary teams
  • Create visualizations that will help advance the work of a particular project, and open opportunities for academic research in cartography and visualization 
  • Challenge students with complicated and messy datasets, for which there is no easy solution
  • A portfolio-worthy piece for each participant
  • A memorable experience for all involved
  • Opportunities for students to gain confidence and awareness of their abilities, and present their results in a public forum

How does the Challenge work?:

  • A small team of experts (including faculty, experts, students, and Cartography Lab staff) invest a couple of months preparing for the event, including data preparation, advertising, recruiting participants, and educating participants about the event and process. First year, masters student, Scott Farley, has prepared the complex sets of data into something that students who are not content experts can use.
  • Participants (undergraduates, certificate, and graduate students) gather on a Saturday to work together with the data to discover interesting patterns in the data, which we hope to be able to build stories around — they are encouraged to examine the data on small and large scales
  • Participants explore new ways to represent data
  • The faculty member obtains funding to cover all expenses associated with the Challenge
  • Any graphics that result from the Challenge are available to the faculty member, and the students who created them
  • Experts in cartography, GIS, or the content area are invited to help guide the students throughout the day. This translates to students working at a 4:1 ratio of students to faculty/expert.

Past success of the Challenge:

  • The first Design Challenge played a role in the successful NSF funding of transboundary hazardous waste trade.
  • Three students who participated in the 2015 Challenge are now funded on the grant as Project Assistants, and reside in the Cartography Lab.
  • Overwhelmingly, students who participated last year, when asked, “What did you learn?” responded proudly, and with some surprise, as they nodded toward their visualization, “That I have the skills to make something like this!!” 
  • Most students that participated last year, and are still in the department, are returning this year.

Schedule, Feb 20 Design Challenge:

9:30 Introductions (Cart Lab)
Rob Roth, Jack Williams, Tanya Buckingham

9:30 Data Exploration and Sketching (Cart Lab and Teaching Computer Lab) 
Students begin working with data, asking questions, sketching ideas

11:30 Creative Break (Classroom 3rd floor)
Activity to get people out of the lab and think about something else, a chance to ask questions, and share ideas across groups

12 Lunch (Cart Lab)

12:30 Working portion of lunch (Cart Lab)
Share ideas, each group shares a bit about the approach they plan to take

1-5 Full Production (Cart Lab and Computer Lab)

6 Presentations & Dinner for participants (Map Library) OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Each team will present for 5-10 minutes: focus of their work, and the results

Learn it. Create it. Share it!

Hi! Thanks for visiting. I'm going to be posting here a series of events, philosophies, and activities that I support in my lab. As well--like any proud mentor--share a bit about the amazing people that I have the opportunity to work with. 

I have adapted the graphic above from the Yale Makerspace, to match the goals, and opportunities of the creative space that I run, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Cartography Lab. This graphic situates all of the work that you will see shared on this blog. In it there is room for professional development, technical training, and social connections. 

The concept of the culture of the lab is that it supports a range of activities from formal (or overseen and led by faculty or staff) to informal (student led), these are represented along the x-axis of the graphic. The y-axis support the three commitments of the lab: share, create, and learn. The foundation is "share" here students both contribute to and consume information from the ecosystem of cartography education. The next row focuses on "create" which is where we create space for students to experiment, and make projects, data, and processes. The final row, "learn" is the emphasis on the lab as a teaching space. This happens in traditional academic settings to student-led workshops and classes. 

I hope that this blog will offer ideas or activities that will spark ideas for you, in the spaces where you exist. If you use something you see or read about here, I would love to hear about it. What went well for you, and what didn't? How did you modify it? Also, are there things that you've done that I haven't shared. Please tell me! I'd love to know how you are bringing people together, and how you're investing in them.