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Sunlight glistening across the campus lagoon.


In honor of her late mother, Kim Whittier ’87 gives young geographers direction

Kim Whitter ’87 liked science from a young age, but felt disconnected in the pre-med classes at UC Santa Barbara. During this time, Kim was commuting to and from campus while working in the U.S. Navy’s research, development, testing, and evaluation government facility located in Port Hueneme. One day, Kim’s engineering colleagues introduced her to Geographic Information Science (GIS), a remote sensing and image processing specialty. She soon discovered that UC Santa Barbara was the top university for several emerging science, technology, engineering, and math fields, such as GIS, and quickly changed her major. This began a lifelong love affair with geography, a field that she hopes to continue encouraging young women in STEM fields to study through her legacy gift.

The UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography is internationally recognized as one of the best in the world. The GIS domain — the field which Kim studied — is the data science behind map data. By using GIS, geographers can study fascinating interactions between people and the planet. GIS was a strikingly new field when Kim graduated from UC Santa Barbara. Her colleagues still joke that she is their organization’s first geographer (and a female geographer at that).

“It was difficult to get people to think outside the box,” said Kim. “GIS is now applied to utilities, the environment, emergency services and response. It has grown significantly.”

Reflecting back, Kim’s favorite project was designing a GIS for a naval air station located in the U.S. territory of Guam. When it came time to showcase the plans to government and military officials, Kim herself was elected as the presenter.

“I remember someone saying that the presentation was better than Star Wars,” said Kim. “That comment still makes me laugh to this day.”

Through a generous bequest to the STEM fields at UC Santa Barbara and more specifically for the Department of Geography, Kim hopes her legacy gift will inspire more students — especially women — to pursue the sciences (and better yet, remote sensing). The legacy gift, named The Delma C. Whittier Scholarship Fund, is dedicated in honor of Kim’s late mother.

“I had very strong women guiding me through my adolescent and early adult years,” said Kim “My mother was an accounting technician, and my grandmother worked as a hospital administrator; keep in mind, both my mother and grandmother worked when women in the workforce was an abnormality, not a norm.”

Kim added, “Over the past 35 years, I have seen an increase in women engineers, hydrologists, chemists, and geographers, but truthfully, there needs to be more of us. Women are more than capable of thriving in a STEM-related career. My intention with this legacy gift is to continue the narrative that STEM careers are interesting, professionally rewarding, and frankly, can be very fun.”

“We are so grateful for donors like Kim,” said Trisalyn Nelson, department chair and Jack and Laura Dangermond Professor of Geography. “Her generosity helps us support students. Women have typically been underrepresented in geographic data science, and given the Department of Geography’s prominence in this area, it is really exciting to be able to amplify and encourage the success of our women students.”

“I could not think of a better honor than to take this money I’ve built over the course of my career and funnel it back into the educational system that will not only impact women in STEM, but our nation as a whole,” said Kim.