The Wisconsin Land Information Association is a large group and we may only interact with each other in person a few times per year. Our opportunities to make additional connections and network is limited. In an effort to generate some additional discussion among our members, and to let you get to know some of us better, I took the time to chat with Colter Sikora, GISP, whom is currently employed as the Broadband Mapping Coordinator by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC).
Jeremy: Colter Where do you hail from?
Colter: I grew up near the settlement (aka tavern) of Crescent, but I went to school in Cadott, a town known for geographic misrepresentation! Both are in eastern Chippewa County, and I love them. I’ve mostly been in Madison since 2006.
Jeremy: Well that means we both hail from Cloverbelt Conference High Schools. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Colter: As crazy as it sounds, I ditched coloring books for atlases at the age of 4 and haven’t looked back. When I’m not messing with maps, I like road tripping, fishing, watching baseball (I used to coach too), and cooking. Ahh yes, taking photos, admiring church architecture, and building-up my little orchard are hobbies too.
Jeremy: That is very interesting and you have some good hobbies. What level of baseball have you coached?
Colter: I’ve coached little league baseball on-and-off since 2004. My youngest brother (one of the players, he’s 23 now) and I still talk-up our lone undefeated season once in a while!
Jeremy: What degree did you pursue in post-secondary education?
Colter: My undergrad degrees are in Cartography/GIS and Fluvial Geomorphology (good for fishing) from UW-Madison.
Jeremy: How long have you been with the PSC?
Colter: Six years and counting!
Jeremy: What kind of work do you focus on in your current position?
Colter: My chief responsibility is making and maintaining broadband coverage data and map products in conjunction with my colleagues. I also maintain the agency’s GIS tools and work throughout the PSC to make new spatial solutions for other business areas.
Jeremy: What are some of your current work related goals?
Colter: We are developing more efficient and accurate means to collect and display internet coverage data in Wisconsin. With increased demand for accurate coverage maps, I anticipate we will be working more with local governments and other stakeholders to further standardize foundational layers and make them more available. Over 100 providers service Wisconsin, so lots of relationship building and workflow development are necessary! We’re also keeping an eye on broadband funding opportunities across the country to better support Wisconsin citizens and internet service providers. Through my work with the State Agency Geographic Information Committee (SAGIC), I’m also helping advocate for greater collaboration and spatial data sharing through stakeholders of all types.
Jeremy: It is really hard to believe that there are that many different providers! My perception of the era is that mass media consolidations are taking place and that giant behemoths are being formed touching all facets of media. I guess I incorrectly would have assumed the broadband carriers would be wrapped into that movement as well. It sounds as if perhaps we are still in the “wild west” era of broadband. A lot of small companies are servicing rural areas I take it?
Colter: Especially as new technologies to support internet connectivity are rolled out, that “wild west era” is still with us. I think this is especially true in more rural areas where economics and creativity foster economic solutions for broadband deployment where there aren’t as many customers. In Wisconsin, we do have a healthy mix of small companies and cooperatives who, along with large companies, service our rural areas.
Jeremy: Speaking of work what was your favorite or first job from High School or College and did it help prepare you for your current role?
Colter: I’m not sure that I have a “favorite” job from back then. Most of them were pretty good! My last summer in college, I worked for the US Fish & Wildlife Service mapping and eradicating invasive plants in Northern Minnesota. While ATV-ing through thousands of acres of tallgrass prairie and keeping a lookout for ducks and badgers (the wildlife watching was great!), I got my first shot at running a GIS data collection program and organizing databases. Furthermore, that job prepared me to take on more far flung mapping adventures at National Geographic and St. Charles County, Missouri.
Jeremy: Small world, my wife has relatives that live in and around St. Charles County and we get down there every few years. I enjoy the Missouri Rhineland. Let’s switch gears a bit, What is your favorite thing about being a member of the WLIA?
Colter: The opportunities to network, exchange tips, and build relationships with the WLIA community! We WLIA members are an honest and colorful group. Since my first WLIA annual conference in 2013, I’m glad to say many individual WLIA members have played supportive roles in my professional and personal journeys. I hope I can pay it forward and backward in the same way.
Jeremy: What advice would you give to a brand new member of the WLIA?
Colter: Get to know other members! Be ready to share your story, and be just as ready to learn the stories of others.
Jeremy: Is there anything interesting you would like to share about yourself?
Colter: Among the endless projects I like to throw myself into, I have a pet goal that before I kick the bucket, I will travel all of Wisconsin’s state and federal highways…#dork
Jeremy: Well guess what, I have a Wisconsin Gazetteer that I started marking all the roads I’d driven down, county highway, town road, you name it, around the time I left for college. I kept it up for nearly a decade but I probably haven’t marked anything off in nearly a decade. I should get that out and get it updated…I was never lost and never foiled by a detour route with that Gazetteer handy. I need to dig that out and grab a highlighter! There are lots of new areas that I can mark up now…#dork…How is your progress on that goal?
Colter: I love the DeLorme Atlas and Gazeteer! I’ve worn out three myself, but not to the detail you have, Jeremy. Here’s what I’ve recorded over the years:
Jeremy: So you noted that you like road tripping so what is your favorite vacation destination?
Colter: My favorite destination is probably somewhere I haven’t been yet! Europe (especially the area between Paris, Rome, and Warsaw) sounds nice right about now. However, there is something the keeps pulling me back to Lake Superior: The beauty, the cold, the Lake Trout, and that really long drive to get there all seem to do something to me. Chicago does this to me too, for opposing reasons. I’m gearing up to go to New York City for the first time this week, so I hope that leaves an impression on me too!
Jeremy: I understand where you are coming from because I too like variety, the remoteness of wild places, small town rural living, but yet still enjoy the hustle and bustle of big cities and the cultural offerings and entertainment and food options that they bring…
Speaking of food earlier you noted cooking as a hobby, what is your favorite food?
Colter: There are way too many options here, but if my pantry offers any indication, I sure love homemade jam (I made 4 dozen+ jars of the stuff in 2018 alone)!
Jeremy: Lets take a trip in the Wayback Machine. What is the first record, tape, 8-track or CD that you ever owned?
Colter: My first tape was This Time by Dwight Yoakam back in 1993. I was 5 years old, and that taste hasn’t changed. In fact, it may still be my favorite album.
Jeremy: You discovered Dwight before I. One of my college dorm-mates really loved that album and I dubbed a cassette copy of it from him in 1996. That was when I was just starting to widen my country horizons beyond Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Alabama and Tim McGraw. I had only briefly listened to country in small doses prior to college. I grew up on Pop radio and Oldies/Classic Rock and then started to listen to Grunge, Rap, Alternative, Metal and Techno when I stumbled onto UW Stevens Point’s college radio station WWSP one night as an 8th grader. Anyway I have listened to stuff all over the board ever since and it goes in waves…
Speaking of the way back…would you rather travel forward in time or back in history?
Colter: Back in history, no doubt!
Jeremy: I agree because I have no idea what the future holds. And your future has a few zany questions. If you could be any living thing other than a human what would it be and why?
Colter: I’d probably want to be a Common Loon, since they fish well, look spectacular, and travel a lot (I feel really superficial saying that!). However, I’m pretty sure my spirit animal is the sage Channel Catfish, so that confuses things…
Jeremy: What season would you be and why?
Colter: Look at the trees in early October and tell me why anyone wouldn’t want to be fall!
Jeremy: Are you sunrise, daylight, twilight, or nighttime? Why?
Colter: I would love to be a sunrise person, but I find myself working on things well into the night way too often for that!
Jeremy: Amen to that. Those were some really interesting answers. Thank you Colter for taking the time to chat with me. If you’re ever deep in a jam I can trade you some salsa.
Colter: Sounds tasty, Jeremy. See you at the conference!
Jeremy: I am looking forward to it as always. It seems like forever but the next conference is always here in a snap and then gone in a flash.
Sidestory from Jeremy: This interview was in the can for a long time because I was searching for my gazetteer for nearly a year! Why you may ask? Well I wanted to share a marked up map of my own showing where I had driven and nothing would do but the authentic original. Unfortunately I found my old gazetteer’s cover but not its guts. I fear that it may have been left behind the seat of a past vehicle that has been sold. I am concerned that perhaps when I removed my atlas. gazetteer, and other items, the insides of the gazetteer slipped out and I didn’t realize it. I am truly saddened by the loss. Perhaps I will have to christen my newer gazetteer with a highlighter. I may have lost memory of a few routes traveled by now, but it will be like a first time experience anyway, as even locations I know well have changed dramatically in the 25 years or so since I started keeping track of them.
I would like to thank Colter for taking the time to answer a few questions. This installment of Getting to Know, the sixth, will be my last for a time as I step off the WLIA Board of Directors in February. I hope that some of you have enjoyed reading them as I have enjoyed putting them together. I may do some more in the future if requested. I was honored to serve the WLIA during this year in my capacity as Communications Chair. I would like to thank Kim Meinert for being an excellent Vice-Chair. She will serve you well going forward. I wish you all Happy Holidays and hope to see you all in Middleton!