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Dr. Ashanti Johnson

Posted by RKamau-esristaff Employee Feb 8, 2019

In light of Black History Month, participants of the Women’s Empowerment and Career Advancement Network group (WeCan) are commemorating this month by highlighting women of color, specifically black women, who have made significant contributions to conservation, GIS, as well as other social causes. We’ll publish the blog posts every Friday of this month, so stay tuned to learn about influential black women and their work.


This week, we’d like to highlight Ashanti Johnson. Ashanti has also made some contribution to the oceanography field, as does our very own Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist of Esri. She is a chemical oceanographer and Geo-chemist. Currently, she is the CEO and Superintendent of Cirrus Academy, a statewide STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) charter school system in Georgia. She graduated with a B.S. in Marine Science from Texas A&M University-Galveston, where she made history by becoming the first African American student body president. She then went on to receive a PhD in Oceanography from the same university in 1999.

She has been involved in various initiatives promoting diversity-focused scholarly activities that facilitate research and professional development experiences for students who represent diverse socioeconomic, cultural, gender, racial ,and academic backgrounds. She serves as director for two initiatives under the NASA umbrella: the NASA One Stop Shopping Initiative and the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success initiative, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.


In 2010, she received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring at the White House in recognition of her work bridging professional development activities for underrepresented minorities. About 3 years ago, she received a 2016 American Geophysical Union Excellence in Geophysical Education Award and was later conferred as an American Geophysical Union Fellow. Last year, she was recognized as one of the 10 Black Women changing the world via science and technology in Ebony Magazine.


Ashanti Johnson is a force to be reckoned with, and it was without  question that she be highlighted this week in commemoration of Black History Month.


In a 1983 Washington Post article, Coretta Scott King explained,


“The holiday [Martin Luther King Day] must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration…Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress.”


To achieve her vision and help you honor Dr. King’s legacy on MLK Day, we’ve compiled a list of resources and events. This list is nowhere near comprehensive, so please link any other resources or events in the comments section.


Maps about MLK

Learn about MLK’s Life and Legacy

Do Something

*Since Esri is close to LA, we chose events around LA. Look up events in your area and share in the comments section!


“Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.”
–Coretta Scott King

I hope everyone had a wonderful start to their new year!  For me, and probably everyone reading this blog, January is an exciting time to set intentions and start the year off in the way you want it to continue.  We all have goals that we want to achieve this year: to become healthier versions of ourselves, to excel in our careers, to volunteer in our communities, or maybe to treat ourselves or others with kindness at any opportunity.  I can't think of a better person to exemplify this than Patty Mims.


In November, Patty Mims, Esri's Director of Global National Government, led a 'Pay It Forward' Round Table Discussion for WeCan and Women's Geospatial Forum and encouraged all of the attendees to raise our hands and take on new challenges when we see opportunities in the workplace and in our daily lives.  I had the honor of interviewing Patty shortly after, and one thing she said stuck with me since then: "Be the person that jumps in and figures out the answer to the problem and you'll learn along the way ... sometimes we hold ourselves back because we haven't done things before or aren't experts ... but everyone is constantly learning."  


Enjoy our interview below!


Patty Mims  

What is your current position at Esri?

Director of Global National Government at Esri in Washington, D.C.


How did you find yourself at Esri?

I found myself at Esri for two reasons.  One, I was a GIS person: my undergraduate degree was in geography and my graduate degree also had a GIS concentration.  I spent the first portion of my career elsewhere, but had some friends who did work for Esri and they all mentioned how awesome it was.  Second, I met John Young, the former CIO of the CIA who worked at Esri, and he was such a dynamic, interesting, and thoughtful person.  In 2002, I decided to join Esri because I thought of it as this great and interesting company with good values and fascinating technology.  I realized John could be a great mentor and someone I could learn a lot from.


What interests you about GIS?

Funny enough, I can't imagine doing anything else!  I like the fact that GIS allows you to find answers, but also those answers aren't living in an Excel worksheet or a Word document.  The visual representation and the way we communicate with GIS is understandable and more dynamic and engaging. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but GIS is much more than a picture.  It is a better way to communicate and provide information to a lot of people so they can understand it and quickly make decisions.


What do you consider your top accomplishment?

A lot of times, we try to micromanage where we think our lives can go, but that path may not be something that we're really interested in.  I consider the fact that I went to school and got degrees in geography and did something I really love and found interesting, and that it worked out, my top accomplishment.  I really think if you follow and believe something you are passionate about, you will find a way to make a living doing this, no matter what.  It is fantastic to be a part of Esri, a company where growing is our mission: we help develop great GIS technology every day and make sure our customers are successful using that technology.


Is there anything about yourself you'd like to share?

While I encourage everyone to volunteer at work, I think everyone should do the same in their community.  I grew up being a big part of the 4H organization which was about building skills and volunteering.  Even now I am my daughter's girl scout leader. I would love to prioritize and do much more.


What is the best advice you've ever received, and what did you learn from that?

Listen to all opinions and then make your decision. I learned to ask people "What do you think we should do?"  Sometimes what I have in my mind isn't what that person would recommend back.  Other ideas may not necessarily be better or worse, but it becomes a learning opportunity for everyone involved.  It's important to ask for the thoughts and ideas of other people instead of forcing direction.


What is your advice to women in GIS or the Tech Industry?

Always be learning, always be curious.  If you're scared about something you don't know, other people are probably scared that they don't know either.  Be the person that jumps in and figures out the answer to the problem, and you'll learn along the way.  No one knows all the answers.  Sometimes we hold ourselves back because we haven't done things before or aren't experts, but GIS is a relatively new field and everyone is constantly learning. 

November is Native American Heritage Month, and part of WeCan's mission at Esri is to promote inclusion, especially for women of color in GIS. To further that goal, we would like to share some resources that can help you honor Native American Heritage Day on Friday, November 23, 2018 (and year round, too).   


The list below isn't exhaustive, so we encourage you to conduct your own research and share what you find in the comments section. 


See Cool Maps 


Educate Yourself


Do Something


"Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist." - Paula Gunn Allen



At Esri, the WeCan community meets regularly to build community and share professional resources.  Once a month, we host a WeCan ‘Pay It Forward’ Round Table Discussion session where Esri leaders from across the company share their experience and advice to the group. Having recently joined the WeCan Leadership Team, I wanted to do a deeper dive into the speakers of our 'Pay It Forward' Round Table Discussion Series so that members of WeCan, the Women's Geospatial Forum, and readers of GeoNet who were unable to attend could learn a bit more about the incredible role models we are lucky enough to work with at Esri.


In September, Candace Lyle Hogan spoke about her experience coming of age in a moment of history and her career as an investigative reporter during the second wave of feminism.  Candace specialized in diversity-affirmative startups and equal opportunity issues (Title IX) and pioneered the role of a female sportswriter.  Her articles on gender discrimination were published in The New York Times and the Congressional Record, to name a few.


What is your current position at Esri?

I am an Editor and Writer at Esri Press based in Redlands, California.


How did you find yourself at Esri?

After 26 years in New York City, I moved back to Southern California, my home state, to be closer to my family.  I rented an apartment two blocks away from the Esri campus and would take walks through Redlands and the first thing I noticed about Esri were the beautiful trees.  I thought "Wow, this looks like a great place to work; I wonder what they do," but later found out it what Esri did and thought a career at Esri would never be a possibility as I couldn’t even fold a map.  But after attending a job fair, I learned Esri produced books through Esri Press and was soon hired as an Editor and Writer in 2006.


What interests you in GIS?

GIS has always interested me by its ability to make information more transparent and accessible for ordinary people.  Esri has such wonderful people on staff and diversity, which creates a pool of creativity and innovation. 


What do you consider your top accomplishment?

I was a member of the team that supported Diana Nyad's quest to swim from Cuba to Florida, accomplished on Diana's 5th try, one day before her 63rd birthday. On those swims, which went on for longer than 50 hours, I realized I had the ability to last. That no matter the circumstances, I could endure through it and keep my integrity alive and my commitment to doing professional work alive no matter what to do my best work possible.  I discovered on those swims that everyone has that ability within them - whenever every member of the crew would be pushed to their limits (not eating, exhaustion, storms), and thought they couldn't go a minute longer, they would look over the side of the boat and see Diana swimming and draw inspiration from her.  I believe my greatest gift from the experience was realizing every stranger has more potential than they know.


Diana Nyad's Cuba 5th Attempt Swim Team that succeeded in 2013, composed of 22 women and 22 menDiana Nyad's 5th Attempt Swim Team that succeeded in 2013, composed of 22 women and 22 men. 


What is your advice to women in GIS?

Stay true and believe in yourself!  That gut feeling you get?  Follow it.  Trust it.  We don't stop at our skin.  We all know and perceive much more than we think.  Believe in your own instincts. This will lead to your voice being released.  Women need to use their voice.  Acting from the heart and following your gut may be messy, but it keeps you true to yourself. And from that authentic self flows an endless supply of energy and resourcefulness for you to draw upon. There, when you choose to, you will find your voice and all the power you’ll ever need. 



Who are your female role models in the GIS community? Share their stories and accomplishments in the thread!

October 11th was International Day of the Girl and to honor the next generation of geogeeks, we're proud to share a blog written by young map enthusiast Ari Walsh. Her and her sister Kana (who's also a map enthusiast) recently visited Esri to meet the team and learn more about the Science of Where! 


Read more here: 

My Day at Esri – Girls Can Map  


We're always inspired by the next generation of women in GIS--they help us further geospatial understanding to meet our current and future challenges. If you know any other young women in GIS like Ari and Kana, please share their stories on the Women's Geospatial Forum.


Further Reading:



Megan Singleton, WeCan Leader 


dayofthegirl womeningis gis mapping

When you want take your passion for women's empowerment offline, go to the Women's Geospatial Forum calendar! This is the place where you can post new events, see past events, or learn more about upcoming events posted by other community members. 



  • I'm not sure if my event is relevant--which events should I post?

If your event seeks to further the success of women in the geospatial and/or STEM community, post it! For Esri internal events, please use the calendar found on the Compass WeCan page. 


  • What kind of events have been featured on the calendar in the past?

Examples of past events include the Dolores Huerta Movie Screening and Discussion, A Redlands Forum event featuring famed hiker Teddi Boston, the User Conference WeCan presentation series, and more. 


  •  How do I create an event?
  1. On the Women's Geospatial Forum homepage, click the Actions drop-down option.*
  2. Select Event. 
  3. Complete the fields, and select any relevant tags that could help spread the word. 
  4. Click Create event. 
  5. Your event now displays on the calendar found on the Calendar tab. 


*Note: You must join the Women's Geospatial Forum group on GeoNet to post events. 


Thanks for working with us to empower women in GIS--this is a grass-roots effort, and we couldn't be successful without your support!



Megan Singleton, WeCan Leader 


Events Women's Geospatial Forum

women in geospatial women womeninstem womeningis #women events and activities #events 

We are excited to announce the Women's Geospatial Forum on GeoNet. Managed by Esri’s Women’s Empowerment & Career Advancement Network (WeCan), this is the place on GeoNet for women across all geospatial sectors to find information and resources, ask technical or professional questions, and engage in discussions with women and allies in the GIS industry. To find out more about WeCan and why this GeoNet group was created, check out our FAQs document.  


Let's get the conversation going by participating in some of the discussions below. Review the videos or questions and leave your comments. 



At Esri, the WeCan community holds discussions to learn and grow together with the help of free educational materials, expert advice, discussion guides, and more. The videos and topics above are some of the content we've reviewed and found helpful to our growth at the company. We will continue to share more content to the GeoNet group, but encourage you to start discussion topics, post questions, etc. We are excited to see everyone’s contributions and future conversations to come.  


As with any GeoNet group, please remember to adhere to the GeoNet Terms of Use and Guiding Principle