Juliana Blackwell, J88
HOME: Lovettsville, Virginia
PROFESSION: Geodesist (a scientist who studies the size and shape of the earth)
CURRENT POSITION: Director of the National Geodetic Survey, the agency that defines and manages the system of coordinates used in planning for transportation, communication, and other services nationwide.
HISTORICAL NOTE: The National Geodetic Survey, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the country’s oldest federal science agency, established by Thomas Jefferson in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast. Blackwell is its first female director.
HER CAREER PATH: Parlayed her mathematics B.S. into a job as a commissioned NOAA officer serving on research and survey ships. During her first land assignment, her interests took a critical turn. “The use of GPS for geodetic surveying was quickly evolving. The combination of math, science, and technology drew me to the National Geodetic Survey.”
WHY GEODESY IS IMPORTANT: “The land on which we live is dynamic. In addition to extreme events such as earthquakes, there are less noticeable transformative processes, such as subsidence. Geodesy measures the changes from all these factors.” And that means? “Better strategies for the future”—whether in deciding where to build roads or how to protect against flooding and erosion.
RESEARCH ADVENTURE: “In 1996, Hurricane Fran tracked right over Wilmington, North Carolina, where a group of us were working aboard a ship. In the midst of our intense fear, the eye of the storm passed over. All was perfectly still, and the stars were shining. Then the back side of the storm hit, with more wind and water than I had ever seen in my life.”
DEFINING TRAITS: An affinity for science and math, a knack for getting along with people, and an appetite for difficult, exacting work.
ENDURING PASSION: “Anything involving horses. As a child I read every horse book I could find, collected model horses, and took riding lessons. I’m still crazy about horses and plan to have one of my own soon.”
GREATEST JOY: “My husband, John, and our three children. I love my job, but I love being at home with my family even more.”
HER EDUCATION: B.S., Tufts (mathematics); M.B.A., University of Maryland