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Member of the Week: GeekChick

I have never met Geekchick but after reading her comments I found her to be a very interesting person. She is one of those really cool people you can talk to for days about anything and everything. She started one of my favorite groups, Geeks in Government, so what is not to like about this person? I later read that she was doing a project on the Coconino. Since I had no idea what a Coconino was, I figured this might be a perfect story for member of the week! I found out so many interesting things about GeekChic. I hope you agree. Here is her awesome interview!
(Her photo will be posted soon. 🙂

Tell us about your background. How did you get from being a child, to studying the Coconino?

I was a real nerd – loved reading and learning. I got hooked on science pretty early. So it was natural that I ended up studying biology in college. When it came time to get a job, I thought, I’d rather TALK about science than DO it – so I became a park ranger! A few years later I randomly moved to Alaska, where I searched for the same kind of work – and ended up with the Forest Service. As my career evolved, I moved from interpreting nature to providing visitor information to recreation management. So now instead of studying how plants and animals evolved and inter-relate, I study how humans interact with the natural environment. There is an element of physical impact (such as trampling of plants from off-trail hiking), but most of what I do involves social impacts. I have no training in social sciences, but I think my mind considers the social environment to be in the realm of “animal behavior.” That’s what allows me to get a handle on the concept.

If you could choose to be dropped into any career field right now, this very minute, what would it be? Why?

Wealthy benefactress! I would love to not have to work (wouldn’t we all?). I would devote my time instead to charitable works and social causes. Like building schools and libraries, supporting food banks, battered women’s shelters, etc. I have a favorite daydream where I work for Room to Read and I go build schools in Nepal and India. I feel so thankful for having been born into a society and family where my education was never questioned. It was a given that I would learn to read/write and that I would go to college. I believe the best way to show my gratefulness for this good fortune is to help bring these things to others in the world.

For those of us who don’t know, please tell us a little about the Coconino.

The Coconino National Forest is over 1.8 million acres in central Arizona. It ranges in elevation from 2600 to 12,600 feet, and contains varied ecosystems, from ponderosa pine forest to the red rock vistas of Sedona. Forest headquarters are in Flagstaff, home to the San Francisco Peaks – the highest peaks in the state. These mountains are extinct volcanoes and hold significance for local Native Americans. The Mogollon Rim, which passes through the Sedona area, is the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau – a piece of the earth’s crust that rose up millions of years ago. The famous red rock landscape was formed as water drained off the rising plateau and eroded the rocks in the area.
You can find out more at http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino/index.shtml .

How did you end up doing a project on the Coconino?

A good friend and colleague was assigned this project, and she really wasn’t interested in it. She kept calling me for advice and professional judgment, because she knew I had more expertise in the matter of outfitter/guides. I finally said, why don’t you tell them to hire me to do it? And a plan was born. She and I worked it and made it happen.
In addition to landing a really cool project, this experience was an eye opener in making my own reality. We essentially created an opportunity where one hadn’t existed – rather than just passively looking at USAJOBS and hoping something comes up. This was very empowering. I am now taking a more active role in my career destiny.
What made you decide to do a project on the Coconino?
My current job wasn’t very challenging, so I was on the lookout for new opportunities. I would’ve taken it anywhere, but the fact that it was Arizona was even better! I’m a desert person.

What are you trying to find out during this project?

The first part of the project – which was completed prior to my coming on – was determining recreation capacity: how much recreation use can the landscape handle? Too much use and the natural environment will get degraded – eroded, trampled, littered, etc. Too much use and the experience becomes degraded too – overcrowding, loss of solitude, etc. So, the Red Rock Ranger District did a capacity analysis.
Now that we have the results of that analysis, we have to decide how much of that capacity should be allocated to commercial outfitter/guides. O/G’s help people achieve recreation experiences that they may not be able to do on their own – such as horseback riding, guided hunting, 4×4 tours, wildlife watching, etc.
I believe a successful recreation program is one that is balanced. So I am proposing that some areas have higher amounts of o/g use, while others are kept “off limits.” This is especially important in urban-interface areas (such as Sedona) – where you have a high concentration of residents who have the national forest as their “backyards.” We need to make sure they have places to go that are free from commercial tourism.

What do you hope to achieve with the results from your project?

I hope to develop a sound management plan for the outfitter/guide program on the district. This will result in reduced social conflicts (between tour operators and local residents) but still provide desirable and economically viable opportunities for local tour companies – while also protecting the natural environment!

Tell us about your very first project as a professional. Tell us about the things you have learned along the way, the mistakes you made the first time as a researcher, and some of the items you will be doing different this time around.

My first project was running a ranger station in an inner-city park in Harlem. Two of my coworkers had previously received a grant to establish an outdoor education program at this park, and when one of them left the job, I lobbied to replace him. I worked on that project for a year. Jackie Robinson Park is at East 145 St in Harlem – a classic inner-city area. Abandoned buildings, empty lots, more crack vials than soil on the ground – not the kind of place you want to be at night. There is a city rec. center there, which housed a large community day care. We built a small room inside the main facility, and painted it bright, happy colors. We had all sorts of books and games about nature. The room was a stark contrast to the sad reality outside. The kids all clamored to get inside! We would teach them inside, or maybe go for a nature walk outside, or plant flowers and native shrubs in the park. Sometimes we would just be there for the kids – just hang with them without a lesson. Or take them to the playground. While our mission was environmental education, we also taught them about conflict resolution – and it was amazing to watch them mediate arguments among themselves. I remember one girl who said, “Don’t worry Miss (GeekChick), we’ll take care of it” and then she helped two kids work out their problem. It was priceless.
This assignment was without question the single most meaningful thing I have ever done. I was very sad when I had to be reassigned. I could’ve fought to stay, but I needed to move on for a variety of reasons. At that time, I didn’t know doodley about writing up budgets and all the paperwork that makes the higher-ups feel all good about themselves. I just did the job – the implementation. In the end (and maybe this is why I left, now that I think about it), I watched a “smooth operator” in the agency take over my write-up of the project and completely turn it into something else. Looking back, that may have been the moment I realized that there was a real difference between the world I was living in and the world of agency politics and buzzwords.

Over the years, I have learned all the ins and outs of writing up government documents. I’ve learned the buzzwords of the day, the way the agency likes to hear things. I talk a better talk, I guess you could say. But to be fair, I think this is the result of increased knowledge, rather than a change in my writing style or approach. I know how to speak the language now.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing on this project that is different from my more recent and similar projects. I internalize my “lessons learned” pretty deeply, so I think I don’t even realize them anymore. One thing that is surely different this time around is my role; I am the lead on this project, as well as the subject-matter expert. That will bring great experience.

What is going to be your biggest challenge during this project?

Sitting in my office in Sparks and trying to pretend I’m not there! Because I have young children, moving to Sedona for a year wasn’t really an option. So most of the time I’ll be working virtually from my regular desk. I will have to try and ignore what’s going on around me.

When did you join GovLoop? How has it been helpful for you? What ideas do you have to make GovLoop even better?”

Somehow I found out about GovLoop early on. I had never forayed into social networking, but something about it made me check it out. Maybe because it seemed more limited than Facebook or My Space – and that made it seem a little less frightening that putting myself out there wholesale. I had no idea what to expect – I was kind of a geezer in regards to social networking! I started blogging and setting up a few groups….And next thing I knew, I had a core group of GovLoop friends. I don’t really use GovLoop as a work-related networking tool – it’s more of a social thing. But recently I found a group (Sustainable Recreation) and by joining it I have suddenly found myself in the midst of a WONDERFUL professional network, one that will definitely help me in my career.
How to make it better? I don’t know. But as I recently said to someone, you get back what you put into it. If you are a passive user, your benefit will be small. But if you get involved, you will find more!

Are you on Twitter or other social websites? What’s your handle?

I am on goodreads.com . It’s a site where people review books they have read. Reading is sustenance for me – if I skip a few days I start to get crazy. Goodreads allows me to recommend books to my friends and to get new ideas for my reading list. My handle there is GeekChick.
I am on Facebook, but it wouldn’t accept GeekChick as a handle…. I don’t know that I’m ready to blow my cover by revealing my real name!


As I read her answers I ended up with so many more great questions, as I am sure many of you have. Please feel free to ask away. This project is a very important project and I am sure GeekChic would love to answer many of the questions we have about the forest!

Thank You Geek Chick!!


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Andrew Krzmarzick

Wow – what a great interview! I have already tweeted about it 3-4 times, inviting @RoomtoRead to participate in the AwesomeGov Fund kick-off and giving a shout out to @GoodReads … not to mention your fascinating story from Harlem to Coconino. Excellent stuff here…might have to go join that Sustainable Recreation group – just learned about it! 😉


Love it. I like the story about working in Harlem – must have been fascinating to teach environment education in the urban environment.

Gerry La Londe-Berg

Thank you. The part about learning the language and the culture while understanding what did, or did not, change about the person inside is a lesson we all learn eventually. It is well stated here.

Adriel Hampton

Wow, the new assignment sounds rocking! GeekChick, truly one of people who really made GovLoop great right from the start. Thanks for the interview, Amanda.


Hi everyone! I didn’t even know this had been posted, till a friend told me just now! I’ve been so busy lately (doing dual jobs) that I haven’t been on GovLoop much.

I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the Harlem assignment was the most meaningful thing I have ever done with my life. I hope to live up to that precedent again at some point. Kinda hard to feel like the stuff I do now is that meaningful, compared to that!

Andrew — I’m glad you are working to get Room to Read hooked in! They are an awesome organization.

And I promise, one of these days I will blog again. I just haven’t felt inspired lately.