Nancy Von Meyer: President – Fairview Industries, Inc.

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Nancy Von Meyer

We are excited to bring our next interview with Nancy Von Meyer, President of Fairview Industries Inc, http://fairview-industries.com/. Nancy has been a driving force in land records, GIS & cadastral information;  well respected, and recognized nationally as an industry leader. Her work has fostered collaborative partnerships, providing support in GIS system design & implementation, developing land records information systems, shared data stewardships, and improving decisions with better data.

I first met Nancy in 1997, through the Wisconsin Land Information Association (WLIA). I’ve had the opportunity in that time to see the impact of many initiatives that she has been involved with and championed. Her enthusiasm and energy are contagious, her vast knowledge & charismatic leadership illustrate her genuine love for the work that she does. I’m honored to introduce you to her through this interview.

Nancy has a B.S. in Mining Engineering from UW-Platteville, M.S. in Mining Engineering & PhD in Civil Engineering from UW-Madison. She holds PE, RLS, and GISP certifications. Her projects have been presented to senior industry executives, U.S. Cabinet Department Secretaries and referenced in Congressional Research Reports.

Nancy and Fairview Industries have been involved with countless projects and endeavors, most notably recently working with The Montana State Library. The State of Montana was recognized by Esri with a Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award for their accomplishments in applying the Parcel Fabric tools for maintenance of statewide Public Land Survey System (PLSS) data set, and for their accomplishments with building and maintaining the statewide parcel data.

Fairview Industries additionally was a subcontractor on an EPA funded grant project for North Carolina to demonstrate the value of providing cadastral data in a standardized form to serve decisions and business needs related to environmental management.

Other projects included work with a California Strategic Growth Council (CSG) funded study to describe the statewide practices for defining, aggregating, publishing and updating land records data sets, including parcels, land use, and addresses/roads.

In Wisconsin, she was heavily involved in statewide issues related to parcels, PLSS and mapping standards, and the legislation that accompanied it. She has continued to be a tireless advocate for parcel standardization & modernization nationwide. During her time working in Wisconsin, she served on the Board of Directors of WLIA, and served as President of the Association in 1993. She received WLIA’s highest honor in 2002, being awarded the Allen H. Miller Sustained Service Award.

Nancy authored “GIS and Land Records: The Parcel Data Model”, published in 2004 through ESRI Press. Currently, Nancy serves on the FGDC Subcommittee on Cadastral Data, which is charged with standards development and partnership coordination related to cadastral information in the United States. The membership of the subcommittee includes representatives from federal land agencies, states, counties, Tribes and the private sector.

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Nancy Von Meyer speaking at 2010 Esri Survey and Engineering GIS Summit

WiGIS WI: What jobs have you had in the past?

NVM: I’ve had the many normal “pay for school” jobs and summer internships. I worked in the mining industry for several years after graduation from UW-Platteville.  I returned to Platteville and taught in the Engineering School, and then started graduate school at UW-Madison.  I held several teaching assistant and research assistant positions as a graduate student and worked summer engineering consulting jobs.  I have been with Fairview Industries since 1983.

WiGIS WI: What led to your interest in mapping, was it more about the maps or data?

NVM: I have always had an interest in maps. I remember as kid pouring over national geographic maps and various travel atlases.  My interest in GIS type mapping and data started with the mine operation mapping and environmental permitting during my time as a mining engineer, before GIS software was widely available in the late 1970’s.  At one of the deep mines we had to migrate the underground observations to a state plane base and remap the underground workings against surface features.  At the surface mines we had soils, hydrography, habitat, vegetation, and cultural resource maps overlaid on extraction planning maps.  These were used to construct impact analysis but without the benefit of GIS software tools.  Our results were the basis of the mine permitting and planning for ongoing extraction and reclamation activities.

WiGIS WI: When you were in HS, college & even early in your career, women were not often encouraged in the Math/Science fields. Were there any mentors or advocates that helped encourage you to pursue these fields?

NVM: Fortunately for me education and learning were always valued in my family and among my friends growing up. Both my grandmother and grandfather earned college degrees from Carlton College Minnesota in the early 1900’s.  My parents read continuously and learning and exploring were a regular part of my childhood. It was never a question of if we would go to college, it was just a question of where.

My elementary school was attached to the UW-Platteville teaching college and was called a lab school or laboratory teaching school for the college. Class sizes were small, the teacher to pupil ratio was low (lots of adults per child), and there was a strong science and math program.  In addition to regular classes there was an annual science fair, which was always a fun event and I think participation was required.  The lower grades had a science fair in the classroom and the upper grades had an event in gym that was open to the public, which was mostly parents and siblings I suspect.  The end result was a continuous exposure and encouragement in science and math that was almost an immersion.  In high school, as I remember it, our science and math teachers were supportive and encouraging.  I don’t have any recollection of gender differences in classes or in participation.

I have had many mentors and advocates over the years and many became friends and have stayed in touch for many years. David Moyer and Alan Vonderohe were my lead advisors in graduate school and both provided sound advice, guidance, and direction. Arden “Sandy” Sandsnes, a professional surveyor/engineer in Madison, encouraged and supported me in land surveying and land records activities. There was a multipurpose cadastre seminar at UW-Madison in the mid 1980’s that brought in speakers from across the country followed with person-to-person discussions with the speakers. Eunice Aryes from Wake County North Carolina and Betty Salmon from Dane County Wisconsin both had an impression on me.  They demonstrated what could be done, the personal will and commitment it took to finish an automation project, and the institutional resistance that had to be overcome. Fred Halfen took a chance on me on a crazy idea to build orthophotos, purchase hardware and software, and deploy GIS for seven counties in one project, a consortium.  It became a pattern for future data acquisitions in Wisconsin.

WiGIS WI: What keeps you motivated in the work you do every day?

NVM: I love the people I am fortunate to work with. They are skilled, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.  They have good humor and share their knowledge and understanding easily and willingly.  It is amazing what I learn every day. I look forward to the as yet undiscovered glitch we need to solve, the larger goals and objectives of an ideal solution, and how do we put sustainable processes in place that will stand the test of change and still serve the essential information for the organization.

I enjoy the interaction with young professionals. They have a fresh perspective on old problems.  They challenge set beliefs and take to new tech easily.

 
WiGIS WI: What challenges do you face in your job?

NVM: Data quality, both spatial positioning and currency, remains a constant topic on almost every project. You would think that as we are almost 1/5 of the way through the 21st century we would have the data quality thing figured out.  Data is the tedious underbelly of the GIS glamour.  For example, there is so much current attention on voting districts and election data and geography and yet the number of jurisdictions that do not send in annexation information and boundary updates to Census is just amazing. It’s not that difficult to complete and it would result in much more accurate analysis and future data collection, yet it just doesn’t happen.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have reviewed parcel, survey data, address points, city boundaries, and road information for a jurisdiction and in a matter of minutes identified many places where the vertical alignment is skewed or the positioning of one entity or another is misplaced.   Combine this with a simple join to tax and billing information and the underlying data discontinuity is obvious.  How does that continue to persist with the tools and data collection technology we have at our disposal just baffles me.

We won’t go into the challenges of sustaining a relatively useable Internet connection speed in a small town. If the future of GIS is on the web, we have a long way to go to having an infrastructure that will serve everyone. The have and have nots divide is widening not narrowing.

Development and adoption speed and cycles are something I see almost every day. Tools and software develop is on a quarterly or monthly cycle, even with patches and tools released before they are really ready, the adoption for most users lags at least two years.  I understand not jumping on the first release, or maybe even the second release of anything, but it does seem after two years the security and bug fixes should be stable enough for adoption and deployment.  Change is constant. Think about a flip phone version for a data collection tool.  The noise of the clash is deafening.

WiGIS WI: Who or what has inspired you?

NVM: I am inspired by the commitment and accomplishments of so many young professionals making their mark. Every week I run into someone in a local or state government that is breaking a barrier and producing an amazing product or result.  There is so much talent out there.  The same is true for the young professionals in federal agencies, pushing through those challenges to make a difference.  The lessons from that multipurpose cadastre seminar of decades ago still exist.  It takes a lot of personal will to overcome institutional change.

Several MOOCs and online classes I have taken recently have motivated me. I recently completed an online class on truth in news  that was fascinating and I am looking forward to a new MOOC on cartography coming out of Esri. I look for topics that are out of my mainstream work and can make me a bit uncomfortable.

WiGIS WI: What one piece of advice would you share with other women, especially young women in the industry today?

NVM: Advice is such a personal topic. It is difficult to pass along generalized advice.  Each person aspires to different things and family and life pressures and dreams are so varied.  I think if there are two things I would suggest to young women it is to stay out of or get away from toxic environments and get as much education as you can.

Toxic environments will tear down your self-confidence and lead you to devalue yourself. Everyone has a right to be in an encouraging and supportive work place.  It should be a place you look forward to going to. There is no place in our society for demeaning and degrading work places. We think of bullying as a child centered issue, but it exists in the grown up world too.  You should feel challenged, enriched and supported anywhere you work.  Don’t be afraid to get away from a bad situation.  You will be more successful in a happier environment.

On the education side, I cannot advocate enough for continuing education. Learn something every day. Take that last hour and try a new tool set, explore an online learning class.  Get uncomfortable and then figure it out.  Education is something you do for yourself.  It might be a yoga class, it might be learning how to golf, it might be figuring out GitHub or Amazon services.  As you grow, so will your opportunities.

Trust your instincts.

 
WiGIS WI: What changes in processes or advancements in technology do you believe has had the greatest impact on your work in the time you’ve been working in GIS?

NVM: Speed of change. It used to be we saw maybe annual updates to software and three years for hardware and now we have new versions and updates and new tools monthly at least and new hardware tech every six months.

Access. Data that was hard to get or hard to find was common when I started.  Now it is uncommon to not find data, although the data quality issues remain.  There are still organizations that hide their data but for the most part the trend is to make the data available.

GPS. I spent a lot of time dragging a chain and turning angles and now positioning is so rapid and so much more accurate.  I still remember seeing some of the first GPS units with long occupation times and limited satellite times.  Our thinking on legal descriptions and authoritative data needs to catch up.

WiGIS WI: Is there any job or skill that you’ve wanted to do that you haven’t had the

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Nancy Von Meyer

chance to?

NVM: I would like to know more about the “under the hood” programming, but I find I rely on my young colleagues to pave that way. Fortunately, they have all still been willing to assist.

I admire the open address group led by Ian Dees and the harvesting and community aspect of what they are doing. I wish I had the time and could have or maybe even still could do that for parcels as well.  I know a national openly available parcel data set, even with abbreviated attributes, is a pipe dream, but it sure would be sweet.

WiGIS WI: What do you like to do in your spare time when you aren’t working with parcels & data?

NVM: Outside. I like being outside.  Walking the dog, hiking, golfing, bird watching, swimming.

KF

 

 

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