GIS Ambassador Hayleigh Conway supports education in the NWT

May 16, 2018 Angela Alexander

May’s GIS Ambassador of the Month is Hayleigh Conway, a GIS professional working at Parks Canada in the Northwest Territories. She’s an individual with an adventurous spirit who’s passionate about promoting GIS to K-12 students. Find out how she was introduced to GIS and what she’s doing to support the use of GIS in schools in the far north.

Hayleigh Conway is May’s GIS Ambassador of the Month! She’s a Geomatics Technician working at Parks Canada in Inuvik, Northwest Territories who’s been supporting the use of GIS in K-12 education since 2015 as a GIS Ambassador and through her professional work.

Hayleigh studied geography at the University of Guelph after switching her major from marine biology. Her GIS spark was ignited while she was working at Algonquin Park. She started as a park gate attendant selling permits for a few seasons, and then she moved on as an assistant GIS technician where she created maps for the park and for external clients such as the Canadian Broadcasting Company and the Ontario Provincial Police for news stories and emergency situations. These hands-on GIS projects inspired her to continue her studies at the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) where she completed an advanced GIS diploma.

Hayleigh is the map girl with an adventurous spirit!

After graduating, Hayleigh was accepted into the Associate GIS Professional Program at Esri Canada where she worked in various departments within the company, including technical support, national training, tech marketing and education and research. During her time as an associate, she started her GIS ambassadorial work in Ontario where she visited local schools and volunteered her time as a Girl Guides leader. She introduced GIS to K-12 students and Girl Guides by facilitating activities that included spatial thinking and map reading. As a staff member in the Education and Research group from 2015-2016, she gained experience working with K-12 teachers by helping them integrate GIS into their teaching.

Her love of nature and adventure led her to her dream job in northern Canada in May 2017. She’s part of a Parks Canada group that supports the co-management of five Park Canada sites with Indigenous groups. These sites include Ivvavik National Park, Aulavik National Park, Tuktut Nogait National Park, the Pingo Canadian Landmark and Saoyú-?ehdacho National Historic Site. She’s been enjoying the field work in the summer that requires travel by canoes, helicopters, twin otters and on foot. Through this work, Hayleigh has had the opportunity of seeing a variety of wildlife that include grizzly bears, muskox, peregrine falcons, golden eagles and tundra swans. The data collected are used for various conservation, science and environmental monitoring projects.

The rest of the year, Hayleigh spends her time creating digital maps, using GIS to make decisions and solving problems in different program areas such as cultural resource management, visitor safety, external relations, visitor experience and resource conservation. Working closely with the Indigenous groups in the area, she has recently completed a set of maps on each of the Parks Canada sites that include traditional Inuvialuktun place names.

Avid camper and nature enthusiast Hayleigh Conway loves making maps. She is pictured here in front of a couple of her map creations of traditional Inuvialuktun place names.

In her first year in Inuvik, she helped organize a four day GIS Day event in 2017 that highlighted the importance of maps and GIS. It was a joint project between Parks Canada, the Aurora Research Institute, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) and the NWT Centre for Geomatics. Along with the Aurora Research Institute, Hayleigh presented to all the grade four, five and six classes from East Three Elementary School. The principal from the school commented on her contributions: “During the GIS Day event, I watched as several of the children interacted with the large Canadian Geographic Giant Floor Map; they were soaking up the learning while having a lot of fun. Thank you to your team for all of the mindful preparations that have gone into making each of the activities full of learning and fun!”

Hayleigh has also been a part of the first Inuvik Girl Guides group where she’s incorporating GIS into the badges and activities for the girls. So far, the Girl Guides have explored a Girl Guides story map created by her and some members of the Education and Research group. They have also examined a large Canadian Geographic Giant Floor Map, and they learned how to use a compass. Next month, Hayleigh plans to create a scavenger hunt using Survey123 for an upcoming camping trip to engage the girls in a collaborative mapping activity.

Recently, Hayleigh shared with us why it is important for her to get involved with GIS education. “Being a GIS Ambassador has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. I’ve learned just as much from the kids as I’ve taught them. I’m constantly impressed by their thoughtful questions, ability to solve problems and how quickly they learn new technologies. Being spatially aware is so important; it’s neat to see kids calculate the distance from their school to their house and present story maps they’ve worked on all semester. I am so excited to help educate a new generation of geographers. It’s fun to give back to the community, especially in such an isolated small town. Having geographic skills in the NWT is very important. If kids are out on the land hunting or exploring, driving on an ice road, hiking in the Mackenzie Delta or making the trek down the Dempster Highway to Whitehorse, the ability to read a map or use a GPS unit is an essential skill. We have very few roads and even less cell phone service. There’s also a certain sense of pride when visiting “the south” and being able to point on a map and say, ‘I live way up there!’”

Looking ahead, Hayleigh is planning to set up a “virtual field trip” with a teacher from Glen Echo in Hamilton. This will allow the teacher and her class to see a Parks Canada site in the Northwest Territories. Many students have not left their city, and this is a great way to introduce them to other parts of Canada. Through this experience, they can compare the geography, wildlife, weather, roads and population size of their city to a town in the NWT. She hopes to be able to connect with more teachers across Canada who are interested in seeing how life in the Arctic is different from where they live. In November, Hayleigh plans to be part of another GIS Day event to promote the use of GIS in the K-12 classroom. This time she would like to involve more organizations from the NWT.

Hayleigh, continue the great work you are doing up north! We look forward to hearing more about your GIS adventures with teachers and students in Inuvik.

If you are a teacher in the NWT, sign up for a free account in the NWT ArcGIS Online subscription. You can also request accounts for your students. Find resources to get started at k12.esri.ca/resourcefinder.

If you are interested in connecting with a GIS Ambassador in your community, fill in the online request form.

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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