Interviewed by Scott Bennett | April 13, 2020
Director, MARIS (Mississippi Automated Resource Information System)
MARIS Director Jim Steil has been working in GIS for 26 years and in his current position for 16 years. Steil got his start in cartography from the earlier days of Mylar and technical pens and later on took a GIS class to create maps of his thesis area. He hasn’t looked back.
Steil says that over the past 20 years, he has seen the change from a few pockets of GIS activity and no real internet access to an incredible web-centric cluster of activities that he could only have dreamed of in the 90’s. Newer generations, he says, see even greater value in the technology. He also reflected on the change of GIS coordination efforts over the years – from purely technical get-togethers to the integration of policy/decision-makers as the main focus.
The biggest success related to GIS in Mississippi, says Steil, is the re-establishment of the GIS coordinating council after an extended period of dormancy. There is now quite a bit of interest and willingness to tackle issues at a policy level rather than just a technical level and this is important in order to get things done. Steil gives special recognition to Mike Cresap, Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Chair of the Mississippi GIS Council, for providing the leadership required to reinvigorate the council.
Recognizing the difficulties in having everyone understand the changing nature of GIS, Steil says, “Most seem to understand the power and purpose of GIS well – now the challenge will be to foster the understanding that the system of their GIS is no longer just their own internal effort but a networking of everyone’s GIS to at least some degree.” He believes that convincing leadership of the exceptional return on investment with GIS programs is also the biggest challenge for GIS across the country.
Steil became involved with NSGIC at the urging of his predecessor and mentor, and right away he knew that it was “the place to be for GIS.” Learning about challenges and successes in other states has helped him implement growth in his own organization.
“I am able to function better in my role as director as a direct result of the experience, interaction, and support of many of my NSGIC colleagues and peers,” says Steil. He feels that the Mississippi state efforts are stronger for his having been an ongoing participant in NSGIC.
When it comes to what he enjoys most about his job as MARIS Director, Steil immediately pointed to the people. “I am blessed to work with an incredible range of good folks and subject matter experts that are a constant source of fascination and inspiration,” says Steil. “The people are by far the most amazing resource I have.”
In his spare time, Steil is an avid reader. He jokes his reading habits have “largely devolved from good books to wandering the internet on crazy paths of aimless curiosity.” He also enjoys listening to music and watching old movies.
To learn more about GIS in Mississippi, visit the GIS Clearinghouse.