In today’s instalment of our open geo interview series we chat with Maggie Cawley of Boomerang Geospatial.  

1. Who are you, what is your background in geo?

I got into geo during my graduate studies in urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University, and followed that with more at Johns Hopkins while working as a GIS Analyst for an environmental planning firm. After five years, I left my planning career and became an entrepreneur. I recently founded Boomerang Geospatial because I saw a need for improved access to geospatial education and the expansion of knowledge around what tools are out there. There is so much potential in the geo world and I haven’t looked back!

2. What is Boomerang Geospatial, what do you do?

Boomerang Geospatial is a woman-owned start-up that supports and educates youth, small businesses and nonprofits through geospatial technology. Our consulting work is mainly focused on conservation and community initiatives. Our education programs (Boom! & MapGirlz) immerse kids in technology through hands-on instruction that allows them to explore geo concepts while learning about their communities and the environment. Our program is meant to be integrated into existing after school programs and youth initiatives. Our mission is to bridge the digital divide to make STEM education more accessible, strengthen communities, and empower young people of diverse backgrounds to achieve their full potential. Tools like OSM and QGIS allow learning to extend beyond our workshops, making technology more accessible and inclusive.

3. You do a lot of work in education, what are the challenges around teaching OSM? What techniques are most effective?

One challenge is to get students to understand what open source means - many have never encountered the idea in school, where much of their learning is based on a proprietary toolbox. Another challenge is getting students to realize the connection between themselves and the map. My approach is to spend part of the day outside collecting data with GPS and building attribute tables, and then head into the classroom. My favorite part of the day is the look on the students faces when they see the waypoint they just collected show up on that map - priceless! I am currently facing time constraints with my programs, so I’ve been introducing students to OSM through use of the base map and examples from other parts of the world, but my goal is to expand its use. I have found that much the existing curriculum is developed for undergraduates, and I am attempting to reach students as early as 7th grade.

4. To date we’ve seen a lot of different individual efforts around bringing OSM into the classroom. Do you collaborate with others around the world trying to use OSM in education?

Having recently founded Boomerang, my circle still has plenty of room to grow. My goal for SotM is to meet people, learn as much as I can, and have that international reach from the beginning. I think it’s important to expand representation and access to all corners of the globe, and I aim to use Boomerang and OSM as platforms for collaboration.

5. You were recently named a SotM Scholar by OSM US, helping to fund your trip to SotM in Buenos Aires in November. What are your hoping to get out of the conference?

Connecting with others at the conference teaching OSM will support my efforts to effectively integrate OSM into my programming, while giving back to the community. At the recent FOSS4G conference, I was inspired by GW professors who are bringing OSM into their undergraduate classes. At SoTM I hope to find more inspiration, continue connecting with people, and grow OSM!

6. OSM recently celebrated it’s 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 years time?

In the last ten years, OSM has exploded in size, gaining many contributors and popularity through companies like MapBox and Foursquare. I have introduced many people to the project and concept of an editable map, but there is still plenty of room to grow. If OSM can keep its current momentum, I imagine being able to spend 70% of my time talking about how to solve problems with OSM and 30% of my time explaining it, whereas now it is quite the opposite. Keep going OSM community!

Many thanks Maggie for your answers, and for educating the next generation of mappers. Enjoy SotM, I’m sorry to be missing it. Anyone interested in learning more should follow Maggie and Boomerang Geospatial on twitter


You can see all the Open Geo interviews here. If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data.