October’s GIS Ambassador: Celtie Ferguson

October 20, 2020 Angela Alexander

October’s GIS Ambassador is Celtie Ferguson from Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Find out how this GIS Technician from the Aurora Research Institute has been promoting the use of GIS to K-12 students in communities in the Western Arctic.

Celtie Ferguson is October’s GIS Ambassador of the month. She’s a GIS Technician from the Aurora Research Institute (ARI), the research division of Aurora College, located in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Over the last couple of years, Celtie has been involved with supporting the use of GIS through GIS Day and other events in communities in the Western Arctic.

Born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Celtie moved to Ontario, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Queen’s University in Classics, as well as a postgraduate certificate in Applied Digital Geography and GIS from Ryerson University in Toronto. She was thrilled to return to northern Canada in 2018 as an intern at ARI.

Celtie is a passionate GIS professional who after studying in Ontario, returned to northern Canada in 2018 as a GIS intern at ARI.

We recently connected with Celtie to learn more about her and what she’s done to support students and teachers in the Western Arctic. She also shared her plans for this year’s GIS Day with us.

Tell us about your educational and professional background

During my undergrad at Queen’s University, I found myself taking as many geography classes as possible, even though I was a history major. As well, I was drawn to Classic courses that had a distinctly geographic bend to them, like the course on the topography of Rome that allowed us to examine many amazing maps! After I graduated from Queen’s, I completed a post-graduate certificate in GIS from Ryerson University where I was introduced to and fell in love with, spatial analysis and the art of map-making.

Since joining ARI in 2018, I have been given the opportunity to participate in several exciting and collaborative research projects. I have worked with scientists and researchers to both collect data and provide analysis and map products.  I’ve worked on projects ranging from effects of climate change, such as landslides and permafrost-thaw driven slumps, to mapping coastal change, classifying landscape features across the north, and monitoring cultural and historic sites.

I organized the Drone Program at ARI as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Pilot. This allowed me to travel by boat, helicopter, and on foot throughout the stunning landscapes of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), the Gwich’in Settlement Area (GSA), and the National Parks of the Western Arctic, collecting data and imagery.

I am most proud of the work I do in partnership with local organizations by providing support and training with GIS activities. I have worked with the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation and the Inuvialuit Lands Administration by providing training on data collection using Survey 123 to monitor community climate change.

This summer, while working from home due to COVID-19, I was able to support the Department of Fisheries and Oceans remotely with a World Oceans Day survey where the results were presented on an ArcGIS Dashboard.

Professionally, I have a long history (almost 10 years) of working at summer camps and in outdoor education. I love working and living outdoors. I think that’s where my love for geography comes from, as I am so appreciative of all the outdoors has to offer us and allow us to do. Working with youth has been the most rewarding part of working in outdoor education. This includes introducing them to new outdoor activities and fostering a love of the outdoors through guiding a canoe trip, facilitating rock climbing for the first time, or building independence and leadership skills.

I see my GIS Ambassador work as an extension of this. Being a GIS Ambassador allows me to still work directly with young people, introducing the concepts of geography and showing how a career tied to the land around us is a realistic, engaging, dynamic and fun opportunity.

Celtie is a geographer at heart who loves the great outdoors and working with youth.

GIS support for K-12 students and teachers

In early 2020, I ran a full-day professional development workshop with teachers from across the Beaufort Delta, providing education and hands-on experience with ArcGIS StoryMaps and Survey 123.

Last year’s Geography Awareness Week and GIS Day, I was part of the Western Arctic Geoweek that was held on November 13-19 in different locations. ARI celebrated the GIS community in Inuvik and showcased the various organizations that rely on GIS for their operations. Careers in the field of geography in Inuvik and the Western Arctic Region were highlighted and ARI organized an “Amazing Geo-Race” challenge for the people of Inuvik where multiple community organizations joined us to run activity stations.

Discover some GIS Day 2019 events, including the Western Arctic Geoweek that was held on November 13-19, 2019

In Inuvik, Hayleigh Conway (Parks Canada), Nanar Hokabyan (Western Arctic Centre for Geomatics), in addition, Dr. Garfield Giff and I from ARI, facilitated hands-on learning activities with approximately 135 grade 4-6 students at the local elementary school. We ran lessons and games on remote sensing and geography, played on a giant map of Canada courtesy of Canadian Geographic Education, and learned about direction, compasses, and orienteering through a direction based scavenger hunt challenge. 

Garfield, Nanar and I went to Mangilaluk School in Tuktoyaktuk, NT (sitting on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, 149 km North of Inuvik) the next day, braving the -30° C weather to continue our GIS Day outreach. We visited with approximately 75 students from grades 4 -12, running a similar program to the activities in Inuvik.  For the older grades, we discussed more in-depth the career links to GIS and geography. Nanar shared information about different remote sensing instruments and sensors that are used for a variety of applications.

I also designed a data collection activity with Survey 123. I introduced concepts of data collection and verification, then used Survey123 to collect data points hidden around the school. Next, we continued the activity by examining the results collected. We looked at the data spatially by seeing how we mapped the main hallways and analyzed the attribute data to see who succeeded in submitting the most points with the most accuracy. We finished by looking at how we could apply this concept to activities that could take place in the greater community, and ways to further present the data collected, like using story maps.

Since joining ARI in 2018, I have been able to visit schools in Inuvik, Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, and Tuktoyaktuk. COVID-19 has impacted our spring 2020 outreach plans for in-class activities in Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson, but we are hopeful that we will be able to facilitate lessons remotely now that schools are back in session.

Why do you think GIS important to K-12 education?

GIS is important to K-12 education, as geography is present in every aspect of life, but is often overlooked. I like to tell people, “if it exists somewhere, you can map it.” There is room for GIS in every industry and occupation, from social sciences to physical sciences, and data sciences to business.

Young people are so quick to pick things up and incorporate new technology that if we give them the access and tools to explore GIS, I am sure they will find ways to blow us away with what they can create and learn.

Celtie working with students on a GIS Day activity.

Inuvik has several organizations that incorporate GIS into their operation, providing really interesting and fun employment opportunities (we had 10 organizations represented at our GIS day event in 2019!). I believe the opportunities here will continue to grow as the climate changes and the demand for solutions and knowledge are required. ARI’s GIS Program’s goal is to assist communities and Western Arctic organizations in building capacity to efficiently map and monitor the effects of climate-driven changes on their communities and to allow them to make informed decisions.

What are your upcoming plans for GIS Day and other activities this year?

We are hoping to celebrate Geography Week and GIS Day with activities for both the community in Inuvik, as well as working with the schools in the region to deliver some GIS presentations and lessons virtually.

We will be running daily geography challenges on our social media pages, including puzzles, geocaching challenges, and a Survey 123 questionnaire with results presented on an ArcGIS Dashboard.

To still bring GIS Day into the schools, remotely this year, we will run a presentation on geography and GIS for the elementary schools, focusing on our drone program as a tool for data collection, and showcasing the incorporation of this data into ArcGIS. We plan to deliver this remotely as a mix of pre-recorded demonstrations (because drones are neat!) and live presentations, as well as an interactive virtual question and answer session.

With older students and the support of teachers who attended our Story Maps workshop, we plan to run a lesson in which we will lead them through creating their own story maps.

We thank Celtie for her commitment to sharing her knowledge and passion in promoting GIS to the K-12 teachers and students in the Western Arctic. We look forward to learning more about your work and are here to support you, as well.

If you want to read more inspiring GIS Ambassador stories from across Canada, check out our past blog posts. Contact us at k12@esri.ca if you want to share your story or want to nominate a GIS Ambassador.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Angela Alexander

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

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