Veterans in Water: Colleen Larsen, Geographical Information Services Coordinator

Career Stories, Veterans in Water, Women in Water

Colleen Larsen, Geographical Information Services Coordinator
Twenty-one years at Padre Dam Municipal Water District
US Naval Reserves: Eleven years

Colleen Larsen, a veteran of the US Naval Reserves, now serves the community as the Geographical Information Services (GIS) Coordinator at Padre Dam Municipal Water District. In her eleven years in the Naval Reserves, Colleen supported her colleagues as an Aircrew Survival Equipmentman, and was responsible for the crucial tasks of keeping parachutes, life rafts, personal flight gear and other aviation survival gear in working condition.

In her current role at Padre Dam, Colleen supports her coworkers by mapping and analyzing spatial data. This important work helps staff more efficiently track and record completed work in real time.

The result is similar to what you might see in Google Maps, but with detailed information about the District’s infrastructure. Like Google Maps, the system includes an aerial view of the District’s service area and interactive data points. These maps allow District employees to access information ranging from where pipes are located to when the last time a specific valve has been exercised.

“When you are driving down the street, you may not realize how much infrastructure you’re driving over.” Colleen said. “Once you realize what lies below you can’t help but have an appreciation for the work that goes into maintaining all of that infrastructure.”

Colleen enjoys utilizing her spatial and analytical skills to keep up with ever-changing technology. She sees the difference that her work makes in her coworker’s lives, and takes seriously her responsibility to make sure that she provides every tool possible for efficiency.

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” comments Colleen. “A map may be worth even more.”

Colleen studied art and math in college, and feels that GIS is a perfect combination of these two disciplines. She obtained her Bachelors of Science in Geography with an emphasis is Geographic Information Systems from Texas State University at San Marcos. She now holds the lead GIS position in the District, after starting at Padre Dam as a temporary employee scanning documents. She was hired at Padre Dam over 20 years ago when a neighbor who worked in the water industry encouraged her to apply for the position.

“My neighbor took the time to really explain the importance of maintaining a reliable and safe water distribution system for the community,” Colleen commented “It was something that I felt I wanted to be a part of.”

Colleen encourages other veterans to think about pursuing careers in the water industry. She believes that there is a misconception about the difficulty of finding a position in the water industry, but notes that many veterans already have the skills they need to succeed in a water industry career.

“Having a military background, you’ve already learned good organizational skills, how to take direction, how to think out of the box and how to be respectful,” said Colleen. “You know what it’s like to be on duty and to be called into action at a moment’s notice. The water industry needs good people that take their jobs seriously because water is life.”

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