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GIS scholarship recipient lands dream job at McGill

Most GIS users at colleges and universities are students, learning skills they will use in their future careers, or they are researchers, applying GIS to learn more about their chosen field. Ian Tattersfield, one of this year’s Esri Canada GIS Scholarship winners, belongs to a third group: planners and administrators. Find out how Ian uses GIS to support the Campus and Space Planning department at McGill University.

Ian Tattersfield dreams of designing maps for video games. But for him, the next best thing is his new job as the Geospatial Data Administrator and Interactive Map Developer for McGill University’s Campus and Space Planning (CSP) department. “I get to work with students and professors and for an institutional community which has a really unique natural and built environment. We have two campuses and three official research stations that have different topography and composition.”

His long list of responsibilities includes preparing an annual report for the Quebec provincial government that details how classrooms, labs, offices, meeting rooms, libraries and every other square metre of space is allocated. That report is used by the government to calculate the university’s operational and capital grants. In addition to ensuring that any changes to space allocation are properly recorded, Ian provides support to departments and other groups on campus who need to decide how to assign available space.

LiDAR data from Montreal’s Portail données ouvertes blended with CAD data provide additional information about land use and topography on campus.

One of the challenges and opportunities that Ian faces is that up to now all of the data for McGill’s facilities and planning work has been in CAD format. He has been tasked with developing a database to store the university’s geospatial information as well as developing a standard for the university to apply to its GIS data with the goal of making facilities management tasks such as landscape management and custodial services GIS-driven. Although Ian has primarily been using ArcMap to manage the data while the database is under development, he plans to eventually use ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online to make it accessible to the whole university community. Currently, many faculties and other groups on campus create their own maps as needed. Having a centralized data source and standards will help ensure map consistency and information accuracy.

While an undergraduate student in geography, Ian worked as an intern in the CSP department and helped develop McGill’s interactive campus map. One of the client requirements for the final product was that it resemble Google Maps, which precluded the use of ArcGIS Online or the ArcGIS API for JavaScript, but Ian did use ArcGIS to convert CAD files to KML files, and ArcGIS is still used to keep the map updated. As a full-time staff member, he now supervises student interns. One student is conducting a green space study, locating and digitizing green space and paved areas on the downtown campus to add to the university’s geospatial database. Once collected, the data will be analyzed to determine the best location to install sensors for a project led by Dr. Raja Sengupta on the urban heat island effect.

A second student is working with the Office for Students with Disabilities to conduct an accessibility assessment on campus. Using Survey123 for ArcGIS, they are assessing pathways and building entrances to assign scores which will be used to create a localized weighted path and node based transportation network for the downtown campus. This will allow people with accessibility needs to map customized routes and navigate campus using an interactive map or plain text instructions designed for use with screen readers.

GIS wasn’t Ian’s first choice when he started university. Most of the courses he took in first year were related to economics. However, when he returned to university after taking a break for health reasons, the combination of technology and applied science in GIS appealed to him. “I have been coding since high school and wanted to choose something for a major that would have a practical application and be technology-forward. I never want to fall out of touch with the latest tech gadgets, computers, drones, 3D scanning, laser imaging and gaming because it all makes me really happy!”

About the Author

Krista Amolins is a Higher Education Specialist with Esri Canada. Her career in GIS started when she came across the Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick and thought it sounded interesting. She earned a PhD in Geomatics Engineering, focusing on lidar data classification, and now she supports teaching and learning with ArcGIS at colleges and universities across Canada. Krista particularly enjoys interacting with the students who receive an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship or apply for the Esri Young Scholars Award each year. She also enjoys playing with apps and doing a bit of coding when she has time.

Profile Photo of Krista Amolins