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100 Faces of Forestry
Kathy Howell

Kathy Howell

Providing technology solutions for forestry folk and campus-wide collaboration

Kathy Howell, the director of the Forestry Computing Resources Group at the College of Forestry, knew from an early age that she enjoyed working with technology. “What I love the most about technology is that it’s always changing. There’s always something fresh and new to learn.”

Upon graduation from McPherson College with a degree in math and physical science, Kathy looked forward to a career teaching those subjects to high school students. Eventually she found that she was looking for a more challenging career, one where the content of the field evolved and offered constant new challenges. Realizing this, Howell decided to go back to school, receiving both a Master’s degree and later a PhD in Computer Science. “The administrators [at McPherson College] knew I was working on a Master’s degree, and asked me to come back as a sabbatical replacement for a year, which then turned into four years teaching at the college,” she says. “While I was working there faculty were encouraged to obtain PhDs. In the mid-80’s, the program at Oregon State was unique in offering a degree which combined my interests in education and computer science. After a few years splitting my time working on my degree at Oregon State and working in computer support back home in Kansas, I quit my job to become a fulltime student until I finished my degree in 1996 and began my work in the College of Forestry.”

Describing her job, Howell remarks, “A lot of what I do on a typical day is communicating with our customers about what services they need and how best to provide those services in a cost effective manner. I also spend considerable time collaborating with cross-campus folks who are doing similar work. I participate in four cross-campus IT committees and I serve as co-chair of the faculty senate computing resources committee (CRC).”

Her recent projects include a CRC effort to establish a campus-wide multipurpose data repository for use by research groups. “We are currently working on piloting some options for a central campus repository for spatial data, like the maps, and associated layers of GIS information that many groups on campus generate and use, including Forestry, Geosciences, Oceanography, Atmospheric Sciences, and Agriculture,” Howell explains. “In some situations, these groups have very similar needs, so having a central repository and storing only one copy of this data on campus makes sense for many reasons.”

The best part of her job, however, is “getting to interact with so many people within the college and elsewhere on campus,” and knowing that her work directly benefits others. “Some days it’s really more of a counseling job than a technical job,” she jokes. “We all get frustrated with technology from time to time, and that’s where your favorite computer geek can keep your day from falling apart. Hopefully, computer support means that folks are quickly back to working productively and are armed with new knowledge to meet the next computing puzzle.”

Bio of Kathy Howell written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry

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