Headwaters Economics’ Data Engineer Tara Preston collects, updates, and helps analyze the data that feed all the organization’s web-based tools and products such as Neighborhoods at Risk, Wildfire Risk to Communities, and Headwaters Economics’ 17 socioeconomic reports in its Economic Profile System.

Data are more than raw numbers. Combined into databases, separated, and merged in new ways, data can provide new insights. A certified Geographic Information Professional, Tara’s passion is merging physical landscape research with understanding the trends and data around the people who reside within those spaces.

When staff need information, they turn to Tara to locate the most reliable data sources to shed light on their research questions. Tara is adamant about using high-quality data – that is, data that are accurate, relevant, and well documented. She spends much of her time interpreting and analyzing raw data before folding it into Headwaters Economics’ databases. From good databases she then creates data visualizations that help the research team find meaningful stories that need to be told.

As she builds databases, Tara pulls data from many different national sources and analyzes them for Headwaters Economics’ use. Understanding the metadata – that is, the data about the data – is critical for clear and accurate interpretation and communication. She also continually updates the organization’s databases as new data are released by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal sources. With a love of rural and western people and landscapes, a geology degree from the University of Colorado, and a master’s degree in geography from Montana State University, Tara spent many years working as a GIS Analyst for the USGS. She later transitioned into data maintenance and analytics for local government before coming to Headwaters Economics.