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GIS Ambassador Jennifer Link: Supporting GIS in Thunder Bay

Jennifer Link is a GIS Ambassador from Thunder Bay who’s been promoting the use of GIS in K-12 education and encouraging GIS professionals like herself to support K-12 teachers and students in the area. Find out what she has done and what her plans are in the future.

Jennifer Link is a freelance GIS software consultant in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She’s been volunteering her time as a GIS Ambassador to promote GIS to K-12 schools and has been working to establish a network of GIS professionals to support teachers in Thunder Bay. Believing in the importance of GIS, Jennifer is committed to showing teachers in her community that it’s a powerful tool for analysis, it engages students in learning and it’s an option for a future career.

Jennifer Link, a GIS Ambassador who understands the value of GIS in K-12 education.  

K-12 School Support

As a geography student at McGill University, Jennifer’s first exposure to GIS left an impression on her because she discovered GIS analysis can be used in many disciplines. According to Jennifer, “As a new generation of tech savvy young people make their way through the K-12 schools, GIS continues to be a powerful tool that can spark students’ interest because of the highly interactive and engaging way spatial problems can be solved using models, workflows and maps. The benefit of exploring through GIS is that while students are learning a tangible technology, they are also developing critical thinking, troubleshooting and analytical skills, which are all vital skills for those entering the workforce. The versatility of GIS and the number of subjects to which it can be applied makes it an ideal toolkit for the classroom. As a GIS Ambassador, my role is to help teachers feel comfortable in reaching for this toolkit, so they have confidence in using the tools available and providing innovative ways to show and analyze spatial information with their students.”

In the fall of 2016, Jennifer and Keith Hautala, a fellow GIS Ambassador who’s a Program Coordinator at Confederation College, along with GIS professionals, Krista Bullock and Jason Freeburn, facilitated a two day GIS workshop with grade eight students from Kingsway Park Public School. This event was part of the Let’s Talk Science program. On the first day, the students collected data using GIS units while on a guided hike with an Indigenous elder at the Kingfisher Outdoor Education Centre who identified plants and trees and provided information on their uses in traditional medicine. On the second day, the students worked in pairs at a Confederation College computer lab to create story maps highlighting the location of the plant and tree information they collected. In this workshop, students learned from an Indigenous elder and worked with mapping tools that would allow them to present their findings in a professional manner.

A story map displaying data collected by students from Kingsway Park Public School while on a guided hike with an Indigenous elder.

At the end of 2017, Jennifer completed a project with teacher Geoff Lindberg and seven of his grade nine students from Dennis Franklin Cromarty, a First Nations high school on a Survey123 activity. This two day project started in October with a trip to Mount McKay, located south of Thunder Bay, on the First Nation Reserve of the Fort William First Nation to collect data on vegetation, climate and soil on two different plots. One plot was located on the north face and the other was located on the south face of the mountain. The students measured the height and width of trees, did a tree inventory to include the number of trees and scanned the floor for vegetation while looking at the soil health. The second day of the project was in December. During this visit, Jennifer showed them how to explore their collected data in ArcGIS Online and how to display their findings in a story map. In this engaging, hands-on project, the students gained knowledge about their local geography, and they learned how to use new tools to collect and analyze data.

The Thunder Bay GIS Group – A Network of Professionals

Jennifer has worked in environmental management, utilities, real estate and public safety, allowing her to make connections with other GIS professionals in the area. As a GIS Ambassador, she not only provides support to K-12 teachers, but she also encourages GIS professionals to get involved too.

Jennifer explained how she started the Thunder Bay GIS group, “In 2016, Keith Hautala and I discovered that we had both been reaching out to local schools to help to bring GIS into the classroom. I had contacted the principal at Dennis Franklin Cromarty to look at bringing a workshop to the school, and Keith had communicated with several Lakehead Public schools on the same topic. We realized that we should combine our efforts and held our first GIS volunteer meeting in September 2016 at KBM Resources Group. We held regular meetings to keep up our momentum, and the core group of individuals who attended these meetings worked to come up with opportunities and ideas to bring GIS to teachers and students.”

The Thunder Bay GIS group consists of professionals in the community that use GIS as major components of their work. The core group consists of:

  • Keith Hautala, Program Coordinator, Confederation College
  • Arnold Rudy, Partner, KBM Resources Group
  • Shawn Mizon, Partner, KBM Resources Group
  • Krista Bullock, GIS Analyst, KBM Resources Group
  • Jason Freeburn, GIS Technician, Lakehead University
  • Jennifer Link, Freelance GIS Software Consultant 

With the new chapters of GoGeomatics and URISA started in Thunder Bay, Jennifer plans to continue her promotion of the GIS Ambassador Program to professionals, and the Thunder Bay GIS group will continue supporting teachers in the area through their connections with organizations like the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre (NOIC). They will be continuing their work with Kendall Kerbashian from NOIC who’s responsible for organizing many local events centered around science and technology for young people in Thunder Bay. The group is planning to be involved in the upcoming Tech Week event, and they are also interested in working toward expanding our volunteer services outside of Thunder Bay.

We appreciate all the work Jennifer and the others have done to support the use of GIS in K-12 education in Thunder Bay. We look forward to hearing about your future endeavours! If you are interested in receiving support from a GIS Ambassador like Jennifer, contact, and we would be happy to connect you. 

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