The word ‘home’ has a unique meaning for Lindsey Skelton.
Although she’s lived in St. Louis, Missouri her entire life, she understands that home isn’t a specific location— it’s a place where you feel like you belong. And she does her best to create a safe, inclusive space for others, whether that’s at work as NGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager or at her house, which she’s opened to over 40 foster children in the past six years.
Now living with her four adopted children and 9 furbabies, Lindsey is focusing her energy on developing NGA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) strategy and training her colleagues on how to advocate for themselves and others. We recently sat down with Lindsey to hear more about her journey as well as her top tips for self-advocating.
NGA born and raised
When Lindsey scored her first college internship with NGA, it was no surprise to her parents. “Both of my parents worked at NGA and their predecessor organizations,” explains Lindsey. “I remember listening to [their] stories around the dinner table.” So when she was offered a full-time position in Human Resources, she didn’t think twice before accepting.
Since then, Lindsey has worked in a number of different positions at the Agency, from geospatial open source research to foundation GEOINT contracts to DEI. “There's an enormous amount of opportunity for growth and mobility both laterally and upward [at NGA].”
The Agency has supported her on her career journey by giving her the space to create her own positions and opportunities to complete two masters degrees and multiple certifications. Through the support and learning opportunities, she transitioned into her most recent position as a Team Lead in DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility).
You don’t have to be one to join one
Lindsey has been interested in DEIA ever since she can remember. “I think a lot of it came from the fact that I felt different from my peers as a child,” she explains. “I came out as a lesbian when I was a teenager and I experienced different levels of discrimination throughout my childhood and adolescence.”
With her personal experience and DEIA-related coursework under her belt, Lindsey spends most of her time creating DEIA frameworks to further NGA’s impact on underrepresented groups and supporting internal Special Emphasis Program (SEP) Councils. “I'm able to ensure that DEIA initiatives are occurring around the Agency and that everyone is treated with respect and dignity.”
Similar to Employee Resource Groups, SEP councils give employees the opportunity to grow professionally and a safe place to advocate for themselves and others. “Our tagline is ‘you don't have to be one to join one,’” explains Lindsey. “So if you don't see yourself within any of the councils, you can still join!” For example, there are several men on the federal women's program council. In this case, “we stress that men have the opportunity to use their voice and their privilege to help advance opportunities for women.”
3 tips to advocate for yourself and those around you
Whether championing for a new role or providing children with a safe home, Lindsey advocates for herself and others in all aspects of life. “I definitely think that self-advocacy at work, and in your personal life, is critical to being happy,” she explains. “No one else is going to advocate for you the way that you can advocate for yourself.” Based on her experiences, she suggests three main actions to make advocacy a bit easier.
Tip 1: Champion and value yourself. Celebrating and supporting diversity starts by valuing your full background—including race, gender, culture, and values. Value your experiences and your perspective, even if it’s different from others’.
Tip 2: Speak up for yourself. Communication is key and speaking up for yourself “will give you more control over making your own choices in your life making it easier to stand up for your rights.” This, in turn, helps those around you to better understand what you think, what you want, what you need, and how they can support you.
Tip 3: Believe in yourself. “Everyone is unique, valuable, and worth the effort to advocate for themselves and to protect their rights; no matter who they are, what they look like, and who they love,” explains Lindsey. “Believing in yourself will help you champion others to do the same, too.”
Interested in growing your career at NGA? Check out their open roles here!
Your Job Application Is Your First Impression - National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) youtu.be
We recently chatted with Nisha Parekh, Campus Recruitment Lead at National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA for short.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the company's culture and values, and learn how you can make your application stand out!
To learn more about NGA and their open roles, click here.
The Most Interesting Technical Field You've Never Heard Of: Talking GIS and Geointelligence with NGA's MaryAnne Tong
If I asked you what GIS—geographic information systems—is, would you know where to begin?
MaryAnne Tong does: Google Maps.
When MaryAnne, who is a Geoint Analyst Cartographer for the Maritime Safety Office at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), finds herself needing to explain her role and the technology she uses to fulfill it—which is something she does on a fairly regular basis—she starts with the popular navigation app.
"Google Maps, Google Earth, that's all GIS. When you use navigational tools to get you from point A to point B, that's GIS," says MaryAnne. "GIS is the ability to represent all your data spatially. It can graphically show where you are on the earth; it touches everybody's life in one way, shape, or form."
MaryAnne would know; she has worked in GIS for her entire career, which has involved working with small engineering firms, city and Tribal governments, Native American land management, and more. As of 2018, MaryAnne has been employed with NGA, a major intelligence agency that provides geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the U.S. government and works with mission partners around the world.
We sat down with MaryAnne to learn more about her journey throughout her career, including what her day-to-day work with GIS looks like, the technical skills GIS is built on, and how she has learned to advocate for her own advancement in a male-dominated, highly technical field.
Finding her way to GIS
MaryAnne didn't always know she wanted to work in GIS. In fact, when she started at the University of Toronto in 1996, she didn't even know what GIS was. She went to college to study business administration, but "absolutely hated it." Instead, she followed her passion for the environment and conservation to receive an environmental science and geography degree. One of her professors suggested she look into GIS as a career prospect and MaryAnne was intrigued. She enrolled in a post-graduate diploma program that specialized in the subject at Fleming College, which was then the best GIS school in Ontario Canada. But, she found herself a bit out of her depth.
"That was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do," she remembers. "Back then, I was looking at DOS-based software, I had to use ArcInfo and AutoCAD. Now, you have ArcGIS pro and web interfaces that are a little easier to navigate." But MaryAnne learned programming, wrote a lot of scripts, and finished the program with her Geographic Information Systems – Application Specialist diploma. Shortly afterwards, she got a job offer in the States for the planning division at a local city government; she left her native Canada with, "two suitcases and no friends."
While in the United States, MaryAnne's first GIS job involving the strict use of ESRI products didn't pay very well. She remembers eating "oranges and cereal" for dinner and washing her laundry a friendly neighbor's house to save money. "It actually grounded me quite a bit," she says of the experience. "It made me realize what's important and what isn't, and it made me want to fight even harder to make sure that I kept advancing."
And advance she did. A few years later, MaryAnne received her Geographic Information Systems Professional License (GISP). This is an important certification license that MaryAnne must maintain, and she does so by keeping up-to-date with current GIS applications, and by volunteering her GIS knowledge with organizations like the National Tribal Geographic Information Support Center (NTGISC)—also known as Tribal GIS. On par with her volunteer work, MaryAnne soon found herself employed with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on a small GIS team that did a little bit of everything. Her team had to maintain all the tribe's GIS information for their seven non-contiguous reservations. "I would look at the parcel fabric, at assigning addresses for georeferencing, and I was working with different counties to try to establish a standardized way for reporting emergencies. I worked on utility networks and we did emergency management planning," she explains. One of her very important responsibilities was to keep both digital and physical versions of up-to-date maps in advance of Florida's hurricane season to ensure the national disaster response teams could get to people on the reservation who needed help.
That job eventually led her to NGA, where she began working with maritime GIS for the first time. In contrast to previous jobs where she was a 'Jill of all trades,' MaryAnne ended up establishing a specific set of responsibilities at NGA: Continuously reviewing GIS data on a 28-day production cycle to confirm that the agency is providing accurate information to its customers, including the Navy and the Department of Defense.
"We get information from different sources, including different countries, and need to guarantee accuracy so no mariner crashes into something—like an iceberg—that might cause their vessel to sink or run a ground, like a naval ships hitting docks or rocks," explains MaryAnne.
What a suite of responsibilities looks like at NGA, technical and otherwise
MaryAnne says that the most important factor to succeed in a role like hers is having a familiarity of data; you don't have to be an expert in the field. For instance, while MaryAnne was well-versed in GIS when she arrived at NGA, she didn't have any geospatial intelligence or maritime experience. However, she emphasizes that you have to be comfortable looking at the data, analyzing information, and speaking up when you have questions.
These are just some of the factors needed to execute the role. But to enjoy it? MaryAnne stresses another important characteristic: Curiosity.
"What's great about working at NGA is that it is basically up to you how you want to shape your career," says MaryAnne. She determined that she wanted to learn more and develop her career in three specific areas: how geospatial intelligence relates to world politics; what collaboration and leadership look like across organizations; and how to support diversity initiatives.
With this goal in mind, MaryAnne raised her hand, asked for additional duties, and outlined why she was the most qualified person for the roles she was interested in. Her managers at NGA agreed and helped her to make it happen.
As a result, MaryAnne expanded her cartography responsibilities one of which is working as the Regional Data Manager Under Instruction for a region in the Asia Pacific that includes China, Japan, North and South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Russia, Vietnam, and Macau.
"This region is significant for commerce and world politics," explains MaryAnne, "and the uncertainty with specific Asian countries makes the region extremely active and important." MaryAnne's responsibilities in this region also include ensuring that NGA's regional data is aligned to meet all mission requirements of the agreements the agency has with its partners. To enhance her skillsets for the role, MaryAnne has taken NGA classes on the politics and culture of the region. While she has yet to take any additional language classes, she says NGA offers those too.
In addition, to learn more about what international and cross-agency collaboration looks like, MaryAnne took on the NGA's Maritime International Officer Assistant role as one of her extra collaborative duties. In this capacity, she engages with NGA's international partners to build new relationships with foreign countries and collaborates with her peers in other NGA offices, the Department of Defense, and several foreign counterparts.
Aside from these duties, MaryAnne is also exploring her interest in how agencies can create more diverse workplaces. Upon joining NGA, she became the primary Recruiting Ambassador for the American Indian council; she also works with NGA's Human Development team on diversity recruitment as a whole. "My exposure with tribal government, as well as my volunteer work with Tribal GIS, is why I chose the American Indian Council as for my Special Emphasis Program council," says MaryAnne. "The ways in which tribal government operates is so unique to each tribe and different from what the majority of Americans have been exposed to."
It may sound like MaryAnne does a lot (and she does), but all of it is done with the backing and assistance of her team and NGA as a whole. "They're very supportive, and that's one thing that I absolutely love about where I work," she says. "NGA is actually an agency that really cares about their employees."
Her advice for other women considering a career at NGA
"NGA is a great place to further your career, or even to start it. The agency's opportunities are so above and beyond those of any other place I've worked before. The way NGA invests in you as a person, and encourages its employees to grow, is worth more than any dollar amount that you could put on paper," she says.
From furthering education for PhD programs to encouraging its employees to be the architects of their own career, NGA's opportunities have made MaryAnne happy to have landed there at this point in her GIS career.
For women thinking about following in her footsteps, whether at NGA or in another technical role somewhere else, MaryAnne has three pieces of advice:
- Don't be afraid to speak up, even if that means asking questions when you don't know something. "You should never be embarrassed. No one knows everything," says MaryAnne.
- Foster your relationships, which means giving and receiving help. "It's a give and take. Find a mentor that can guide you when you have those difficult questions, and be open to having people ask questions of you as well."
- Advocate for yourself. "Statistically, men are more confident in putting themselves up for promotions; women need to take on that same attitude and be bold too. We're just as qualified, if not better, and there is no reason for us not to strive and conquer great things in our futures."
MaryAnne is looking forward to her future at NGA, along with the future of GIS in general. "GIS is really only limited to your imagination. You can apply it to almost anything you want—everything from tracking COVID-19 to whale migration patterns!" she says.
If you're interested in working with MaryAnne at NGA, check out their open roles here.
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Who, What, Why, When... Where.
Throughout human history, we've yearned to discover what lies beyond the horizon. The drive to explore our surroundings and understand the Earth is deeply ingrained in our DNA. At NGA, our mission is to answer those fundamental questions today, so we can help show the way to a better tomorrow. #ShowtheWay