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Joana Zyberaj: A student shares her GIS journey

Joana Zyberaj is a student at Ryerson University who has a GIS story to share with us. Find out why she was inspired to study GIS after high school and what her plans are for the future.

Joana Zyberaj, a former student of East York Collegiate Institute (EYCI), in Toronto, Ontario developed an interest in geographic information systems (GIS) in high school while taking some “exciting” geography classes.  She’s currently completing her last year in the Environment and Urban Sustainability program and minoring in Geographic Analysis at Ryerson University.

I met Joana a few months ago when Ralph Hepperle - Joana’s high school geography teacher forwarded me the very encouraging email message she sent him–thanking him for introducing her to GIS. Ralph’s classes were so engaging, that it inspired her to continue her post-secondary studies in GIS. Below is part of the email Joana wrote to Ralph.

Joana’s interest in GIS started in high school thanks to her geography teacher Mr. Ralph Hepperle.

“Hello Mr. Hepperle,

I recently came across an Esri Canada blog post about you and I couldn't help but reminisce about my time in your classes. I'm writing to thank you for the experiences and knowledge that you have given me in your geography classes, especially in grade 12 Geomatics. The ongoing engagement and hands-on projects were some of the best memories of my high school years and I still bring them up in conversations years after graduating.

Your Geomatics class is the reason why I am now minoring in Geographic Analysis at Ryerson University. With my major in Environment and Urban Sustainability, GIS knowledge is highly valuable, and I would have never known about it if it wasn't for you telling us in Grade 9 to enroll in Geomatics in Grade 12.  The class provided me with real life problems that urban geographers look at such as the mapping of improvements needed within an area, which we covered when we looked at the areas that needed repairing on school grounds. Recording observation data, noting GPS coordinates and creating analytical maps are skills that I was taught in your class, which gave me a large stepping stone in the transition from high school to university.

Thank you for teaching your students that geography is fun, diverse, never ending and how important it is in our daily lives! And thank you for running such amazing classes and for this lifelong knowledge. “

Teachers can influence students’ lives in very positive ways, and it’s wonderful to see how Joana has gained so much from one of her high school classes. Ralph continues to inspire his students. He was proud to let us know that annually an average of three EYCI graduates enroll in post-secondary geospatial programs in Canada and the school continues to offer geography courses beyond the mandatory grade 9 course. They are currently running four senior level courses and ArcGIS Desktop is used regularly in the World issues and World Geography classes for exploring and analyzing topics such as life expectancy patterns, megacity locations and water availability. 

  • Grade 11 World Geography: Urban Patterns and Population Issues
  • Grade 11 Travel and Tourism
  • Grade 11 Physical Geography
  • Grade 12 World issues

“Joana was a very enthusiastic student in my Geomatics course. Her GIS skills, map creation and ability to analyze data were excellent.” Ralph and Joana at the EYCI Commencement in 2015.

In a recent conversation with Joana, she shared with me the following reasons she believes GIS is a great tool for education based on her experience in Ralph’s Geomatics class:

  • GIS allows teachers to connect what students are learning in class with what is happening in the real world
  • Students using GIS in their learning are using relevant technology to help them gain a deeper understanding of local, regional and global phenomenon using maps, and to conduct data analysis
  • Engaging in GIS offers an opportunity for hands-on collaborative learning and problem-solving opportunities – skills that she is using in university
  • Teachers can share the applications of GIS in different industries and discuss career opportunities that exist, allowing students to explore possible careers path after high school

Joana’s currently working on her capstone project with a group of students to analyze Toronto's waterfront in relation to species connectivity and how increasing green space can decrease flooding around the downtown area.

After graduation, she’s interested in finding work on restoration projects around the GTA and flood risk management, and she’s also exploring the possibility of doing a Masters in Spatial Analysis or Planning.

We wish Joana all the best in her last year and we hope she will become a GIS Ambassador soon.

Are you a K-12 teacher looking for reasons to get started with GIS? Well, we hope this blog post will encourage you to get started with integrating GIS into your teaching and for student learning asap. Request ArcGIS at

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