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Debbie Verduga: June’s GIS Ambassador

June’s GIS Ambassador of the month is Debbie Verduga, a Crime Analyst with the Toronto Police Service. Let’s find out how she’s been supporting the use of GIS in    K-12 education.

Debbie Verduga is June’s GIS Ambassador of the month! In the past year, we’ve had the opportunity to work with Debbie, a Crime Analyst with the Toronto Police Service (TPS).  She shared her volunteer experience as a GIS Ambassador and her plans for the future.

Debbie at the Women in Policing Award Gala earlier this year.

In the past year, what events and projects have you been involved in?

I’ve been working with a teacher from Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Bradford, Ontario, Joe Mainolfi. I’ve been supporting his grade 9 geography students in their use of ArcGIS Online to find data, create web maps and story maps. I hope to work with his students again in the new school year.

A few months ago, I worked with Esri Canada’s K-12 education group to provide appropriate data and develop the question for the students participating in the 2019 Skills Ontario  competition. Students were given TPS Crime Open Data to analyze and propose recommendations to address community public safety involving youth. I was also part of the judging panel at the competition.

Last fall, my team and I celebrated GIS Day at Metro Hall with the City of Toronto. Our booth showcased the Toronto Public Safety Data Portal and the TPS’s GIS mapping applications including the TPS Crime App and Fatal Traffic Collisions App. Visitors to our booth were surprised that TPS has made the information public. Some were amazed about the granularity of the data and were interested in using the TPS Crime App to learn more about their neighbourhood.

The Toronto Public Safety Data Portal is a great website to find crime statistics and public safety information.

I also helped Jonathan Brown, a retired educator and fellow GIS Ambassador to develop some ArcGIS tools for a workshop he was going to facilitate at The Ontario Association of Adult and Continuing Education School Board Administrators (CESBA) conference on using Survey 123 and story maps to make connections between students’ learning experience and their community.

Why do you think it is important to be a GIS Ambassador and to support the use of GIS in K-12 education?

I believe in the importance of engaging students and teaching them valuable GIS skills that can be applied in any industry they may decide to pursue. Becoming a GIS analyst was the catalyst in my career giving me a competitive advantage in all the industries I have worked in.

I hope that engaging students at a young age will be a positive and valuable impact on their career choices and that these experiences will open their minds to the possibilities available to them. Through this academic engagement, we are also contributing to data literacy of our future leaders.

GIS is also a tool for social engagement.  It’s an opportunity for students to contribute their innovative ideas while walking away with positive social experiences gained through analyzing problems and contributing to real life solutions on public safety issues. The annual Skills Ontario GIS competition, which I have been involved with for the last 2 years, is a great chance for students to test out their GIS skills by exploring and analyzing a current issue in Ontario.

Debbie has been involved in the Skills Ontario GIS competition in the last 2 years. She helped to develop the 2019 question that included data from the Toronto Public Safety Data Portal.

Can you share with us your professional GIS experience and how you first got into GIS?

It started in 2009 when I did a GIS course with the purpose of developing new analytical skills using geographic data. I was drawn to the advanced technology and the various methods used to analyze spatial data. I realized early on, learning GIS would provide me with valuable skills with a wide range of applications across different industries. I further developed my GIS skills by analyzing demographic information at Statistics Canada and gained retail GIS experience at the LCBO before becoming a Crime Analyst at TPS.

In the last three years, my work in the Analytics and Innovation department at TPS has given me experience analyzing various types of data and developing enterprise level GIS solutions to support operations. One of my major projects was developing the Toronto Public Safety Data Portal which hosts open data, analytic tools and several web-based mapping applications for public use. The portal has become an important resource for the TPS and members of the public to access public safety information including crime and traffic data. My team and I were awarded with the Civilian Excellence Award in this year’s Police Officer of the Year Awards hosted by the Toronto Board of Trade for the development of the portal, which I consider a high recognition for the hard work and has been the highlight of my career, so far. Our Toronto Police Service Crime App was also highlighted in an Esri Canada blog post in January as App of the Month.

What are your plans for the new school year?

I plan to develop a hands-on Open Data literacy workshop that will be available in public libraries to students, educators and any person interested in learning more about TPS Open Data. I plan to continue engaging the Open Data and GIS community presenting and attending conferences. 

I will continue my academic engagement with students at all levels of education and work with local teachers to bring their GIS skills to the next level through their use of ArcGIS that is freely available to them. In the fall, we will host GIS Day again alongside the City of Toronto.

In 2018, Debbie is active in the GIS community in Toronto. She presented TPS’ use of Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS at the Esri Canada User Conference in Toronto.

Joe Mainolfi and Jonathan Brown were happy to hear Debbie received the GIS Ambassador of the month award, and they shared with us their experiences working with her. 

“Debbie has been a wonderful ambassador who assisted the students with the creation of story maps and gave them a glimpse into careers associated with GIS and spatial applications. She’s friendly, informative and her soft-spoken approach made the students feel at ease learning something new. She’s also a great role model for our female students, as she is an example of a woman working in the male-dominated tech industry, allowing them to see there are options for them in this area. I look forward to having her work with my students again in the fall.”
- Joe Mainolfi, teacher in Bradford, Ontario

“Debbie mapped the Schools and Student Demographics open dataset from the Ontario Open Data Portal and created a survey using Survey 123 and a story map to demonstrate how spatial analysis can support decision making in the K-12 education sector. Her volunteer work demonstrated the value of the Esri Canada GIS Ambassador program for educators who need initial support in applying these digital tools to solve local challenges. We need more volunteer mentors like Debbie who can show educators how easy it is to use GIS and open data to solve real-world problems at a local level.”
- Jonathan Brown, retired educator and GIS Ambassador from Coburg, Ontario

We thank Debbie for her commitment to supporting teachers and students in their use of GIS in K-12 education. She’s a pleasure to work with and we look forward to connecting with her again in the new school year.

Teachers can connect with a GIS Ambassador in their community and begin or continue their GIS journey! Read other inspiring stories about GIS Ambassadors who are supporting schools in their region.

About the Author

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.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander