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July’s GIS Ambassador: Alexandra Rutherford

This month’s GIS Ambassador is Alexandra Rutherford, a GIS Analyst working in St. Albert, Alberta. Discover what she’s done to support her son’s learning using ArcGIS and  her plans for the new school year.

Alexandra Rutherford is July’s GIS Ambassador of the Month. As a GIS Analyst working in St. Albert, Alberta, she was interested in sharing her ArcGIS knowledge with her son Aiden and his classmates earlier this year. Let’s find out how she used her GIS background to support her son’s grade 4 class that's part of the French school board in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

Alexandra’s a GIS Ambassador from Alberta who is passionate about sharing her GIS knowledge
with her son and his classmates.

Tell us about your GIS Background

While working on my undergrad in Biology at the University of Alberta, I discovered GIS in my search for a job one summer. There were so many job postings that required GIS, and this prompted me to take a course. The idea of analysing environmental biology data and putting it together on a beautiful map was very exciting to me.

After graduation, I began working as a biologist using GIS, but I quickly realized taking only one course in my undergrad was not enough. So I enrolled in a post-graduate diploma at The Université du Québec à Montréal in Quebec, where I was living at the time.

When I completed my GIS diploma at UQAM, I worked at an engineering consulting firm as a GIS Specialist. I stayed in Montreal for nearly 10 years before moving back to my hometown in the Edmonton area. 

I’ve been working in local government for nearly  5 years now.

How did you support your son’s learning with ArcGIS?

My son Aiden was in Grade 4 this past school year. He was looking for an interesting project to do for his science fair. Since we'd seen many of hares in our neighbourhood and hearing of reports of coyotes nearby, we became curious about what wildlife people observed in the city and rural areas. So, together, we built a survey in  ArcGIS Survey123, and I shared it on social media. Aiden loved playing with the tools to create the survey and then watch the results come in through the survey123 application. 

A story map displaying animals and text.

Alexandra’s son Aiden gathered his findings of animals and their habitats in a story map for his science fair project presentation.

I also showed him how to create ArcGIS Dashboards and ArcGIS Story Maps to showcase the survey results we created. I helped him do more advanced spatial analysis, to see the difference between rural and urban areas. We also set up a few filters to focus on individual animals, but he really dove into researching each animal’s habitat and then built the dashboards by species. 

A dashboard showing wildlife sightings in an area in Canada.

Wildlife sightings dashboard created by Alexandra to support Aiden’s science fair project.

How did you support Aiden’s class in spatial learning with ArcGIS?

I visited Aiden’s class virtually about 5 times over the spring. I introduced the concepts of GIS and started a project to design a new school for them, as they are currently in a temporary location. We began by discussing what surveys are and how they can help get public input for a new project. The kids then filled out the survey to tell us what they wanted in their new dream school. Some of the fun ideas included a pool, a skateboard park, and a videogame room. However, I am not sure the school board would approve any of those ideas.

In my last session, I demonstrated some of the 3D capabilities in ArcGIS Pro. It was great to use the tools in Pro to play with how this new school could look on the site if we made it 100 stories high or if we made it a more reasonable one story. As I'd been invited in for math class, I had the kids work out how much area the school would cover for the different heights they choose. The students enjoyed that, and so did I.

A map showing the 3D image of Aiden’s school in Alberta.

Alexandra enjoyed demonstrating the 3D capabilities in ArcGIS Pro to the students.

A map showing a 3D image of Aiden’s school with 100 stories.

In ArcGIS Pro, Alexandra showed the students their school with 100 stories.

Why do you think GIS is important for education, and why did you want to get involved as a GIS Ambassador?

After working in GIS for the last 15 years, I've noticed many people still do not understand all the benefits mapping and GIS can provide in all aspects of our lives. I believe it's so important to understand the power of 'where'  in decision-making in education and the real world. I signed up to be a GIS Ambassador because I wanted to share this knowledge with my children and their classes and to get them excited about the power of GIS.

What are your plans for using ArcGIS with students in the fall?

My children will be in grades 2 and 5 next year, and I hope to find some fun, longer projects to do with their classes. In the fall, I'll meet with their teachers to see what topics will fit well in their curriculum, and I hope this will get my children excited. I want to find something that will allow us to use the ArcGIS Field Maps and get outside to collect data in the field. 

Thank you, Alexandra, for your passion and commitment to sharing your knowledge with your son and other students at his school. We look forward to hearing about your continued work with them.

Read more inspiring stories about GIS Ambassadors across Canada  supporting students and teachers in their local area. If you are a teacher, you can request to connect with a GIS Ambassador in your area.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander