Member Spotlight: Adam Dorn

Posted By: Kim Meinert Member Spotlight,

We've brought back the Member Spotlight series so we can all get to know each other better.  Do you know a WLIA colleague that you think people should know?  Let us know at and send us their contact information.  We may not get to everyone, but we'll try!

A lot of you have probably run into Adam Dorn or seen a presentation by him, as he is a frequent volunteer for WLIA committees and conference presenter (as well as a former Board member).  He's the GIS Administrator of Winnebago County, where he has been for four years and is a former student of both UW Oshkosh Fox Cities and UW Oshkosh.  Some of you probably got advice from him, as he's known around WLIA as a good source of perspective.  Where does all that sage wisdom come from?  Read on, I think you'll find some clues.

How did you come to your current profession or job?

I first learned about GIS in college when I attended a presentation to get extra credit for a class.  The presentation focused on GIS predictive analysis to estimate the likely existence of Archeological sites for future highway routes.  After transferring to UW Oshkosh, I decided to study Cultural Anthropology and GIS.

My first job after college was as a GIS contractor for ComEd working on electrical distribution GIS in Chicago.  With well over 100 GIS staff, it was the largest GIS project I have worked on.  Outside of work I volunteered at the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change at the Chicago Field Museum.  At the time, the team was focusing on implementing environmental conservation programs based on social science research and community engagement in Chicago.  My work focused on coding themes and topics covered in the staff field notes, meeting transcripts, and creating GIS data to reflect their findings.

I liked the Applied Cultural Anthropology work at the Field Museum.  I considered going to grad school.  I finally realized I did not want to raise a family in a big city where those jobs exist.  I decided to pursue working in local government in Wisconsin, starting with a GIS LTE job with North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning.  Since then, I have worked for several cities and counties.

What’s your most favorite part and least favorite part of your job?

I love to understand how the world works and how people interact.  Local government GIS staff get to work with many subjects like utilities, voting, 911, police, fire, planning, human services, and public health.  This is great for someone like me who is naturally curious. I get to learn from experts from many fields, then help those professionals use geographic methods to make our community a better place.  Ironically my job title for many years was GIS Specialist, while at the same time, I was a generalist helping with many different topics.

Troubleshooting intermittent technical problems is one part of my job that can be frustrating.  It is hard to solve a problem you can't isolate or replicate.  However, it is satisfying when you finally solve one of these problems.

What’s the best advice someone has ever given you?

Right now, the advice stuck in my head is from a book I recently read by Colin Powell.  His first rule of leadership is… "It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning."  At first, I thought this was pretty stupid; I know damn well things don't always get better by morning.  However, General Powell also added "Don't be stupid. Things might not be better, but you need to believe they can be." 

My interpretation is you sometimes need to take a step back and look at the problem again in the morning. Be confident the problem can be solved, even if you don't yet know how to solve it.  You and your team aren't going to succeed if you don't believe the problem is solvable.

What do you like to do for fun?

I enjoy exploring new places.  In college, this included places like Devil's Lake or Heredia, Costa Rica. Now my family enjoys taking trips around the country, usually focused on animals or nature. Earlier this year, my wife and I enjoyed seeing our kids explore a Pacific tide pool for the first time.  I also enjoy woodworking, graphic design, listening to podcasts, and attending my kids' band and sporting events.

What’s something most people wouldn’t guess about you?

I grew up on a small beef farm in Outagamie County.  My parents, along with my uncle and aunt, took over operations for the farm from my grandparents.  While it was not a full-time endeavor for either of our families, it is still an essential part of who I am.  The Wisconsin farm experience taught me to appreciate the land and hard work.  I am glad I had the chance to share some of that with my kids before the farm was sold.

I also grew up on a farm - did you have a favorite task on the farm?  A least favorite?

In the summer I loved going to round up the cows on horseback.  I loved the rhythmic thud of the horse's hooves with the redwing blackbirds flying along with me. Finding all the cows was sometimes difficult.  A lot of the time the cows hid in our woods.  It was important I make sure the calves and moms were all accounted for and healthy.  A recurring task I did not like was cleaning out the barn and spreading manure.  However, my least favorite single task was fixing frozen barn pipes over a Christmas break in -20 degree conditions. 

What was the first album you purchased?

If I remember correctly, I got Garth Brooks - The Hits and Boyz 2 Men - Cooleyhighharmony on tape at the same time.

What’s your favorite YouTube channel?

Jimmy Diresta – He is a creative maker who is just as comfortable using CNC or laser cutters as using 1800s printing presses or hand planes.

What’s the most interesting piece of decor in your office space?

Just outside my office, I have a print of an 1838 Wisconsin Territory map.  It is an authorized print from the David Rumsey map collection.