Early in 2022, three members of the Education and Research team – past blog contributors Tasos Dardas, Hossein Hosseini and Mike Leahy – moved on to new positions. While it is always sad to say goodbye to people you have worked with closely, sometimes it means that you get to welcome new people. Learn a bit about our newest team members, Mohamed Ahmed and Alex Smith, and how they will be helping at the 5th GIS in Education and Research Conference on March 1.
The Education and Research team has spent most of the last three years working remotely. At first, we were all generally in the Toronto area but we were soon joined by new team members supporting French educators from Montréal, providing urban solutions from Vancouver, and, most recently, higher education specialists in Calgary as well as Toronto. I had exchanged emails with both Mohamed Ahmed and Alex Smith in 2017 – with the former regarding the Esri Canada GIS Scholarship, and with the latter regarding his presentation in the GIS in Higher Education and Research track at the Esri Canada User Conference in Vancouver that year – and since we have both been going into the office part time, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Alex. But I wanted to get to know my new colleagues a bit better. More importantly, I wanted to introduce them to the higher education community. So, I sent them a few questions that they graciously answered.
KA: Esri Canada’s offices are now open, but most people are still working remotely. As a new employee, what do you see as the ideal work arrangement? Are there any factors that would make you want to work more or fewer hours at the office?
AS: I’m a supporter of a hybrid work arrangement. Being able to work from the office helps maintain a good work-life balance by creating a separation between work and home. At the same time, the flexibility of working from home has many benefits like the lack of commute, the ease of eating healthier, and being able to wear pajamas when not on a video call. If more people were in the office I would come in more often, but I’m already in the office three days a week. Having affordable and healthy food options would also be a good incentive to come in. One thing pushing to me to work fewer hours at the office is the high cost of living in Toronto. If I move further away, I can save money in almost all aspects of life.
MA: I work remotely from Calgary and occasionally go to work in the office 1-2 days per week. I prefer flexible work arrangements as they allow me to work more during the most productive hours. The ideal work arrangement for me would be one that allows for a balance of autonomy and collaboration, with opportunities for skill development, career advancement, and a positive work culture that supports work-life balance.
Currently, I am the only one from the Education and Research team in Calgary. So, I might consider going to work more in the office if I had one or two members of my team working in the office. On the other side, the commute time is usually one of the main factors that makes me work fewer days at the office. That said, I like biking and I will fully take advantage of the sunny and dry weather in Calgary during the summer to be in the office more often. I think being in the office sometimes allows for face-to-face interaction and collaboration with colleagues, which will lead to better communication and provide a sense of belonging.
KA: What aspects of your past research or work experience do you think will be of greatest benefit in your role as a higher education specialist?
MA: I love my role as a higher education specialist at Esri Canada as it includes two of the best things I enjoy doing, research and teaching. My research interests and previous work experiences lie mainly in chemical oceanography, sea-air gas exchange, geospatial technology, and studying marine ecosystem changes due to natural and anthropogenic changes. Throughout my PhD work at the University of Calgary, I conducted field experiments in the Arctic waters where I installed and monitored continuous ship-based underway and eddy covariance systems. I have about 10 years of experience working as a teaching assistant and sessional instructor at universities in my home country (Egypt) and Canada. During that time, I taught introductory and advanced GIS, remote sensing, quantitative analysis, oceanography, and core geoscience courses for undergraduate and graduate students.
Learn more about Mohamed’s research measuring and modeling the sea-air exchange of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the Canadian Arctic coastal waters.
In my role, I am developing various resources related to spatial analytics, data engineering, and GeoAI, among others. Also, I am providing technical support and training through tutorials and webinars to higher education students that use Esri's technologies. The role allows me to build a strong relationship with professors and researchers at higher education institutions to understand their needs and develop solutions to support their research and teaching. Given my academic experience, I am hoping to assist in developing and maintaining the company’s objectives to build actionable climate change solutions founded on detailed risk analysis and response using Esri’s technologies.
AS: Sometimes I feel like my entire life has guided me towards working in this position, and higher education in general. Growing up, the typical dinner conversation at home was about my parents’ research and courses. However, I didn’t officially enter the world of higher education until I started my undergraduate degree in Geomatics at the University of Waterloo. In most of my co-op jobs, my main tasks were the automation of manual jobs using ArcPy to interact with Esri technology through Python. I stayed at the University of Waterloo for my master’s degree with Dr. Derek Robinson, working with land use and cover change, focusing on the classification of both using various methods including machine learning. This was my first exposure to working with terabytes of data at a time, and with machine learning, which should be a big help with the spatial data science projects that Mohamed and I will be working on.
I then went on to do my PhD at Simon Fraser University with Dr. Suzana Dragićević, where I made my entrance into the world of 3D geospatial data. My PhD consisted of three main projects, a 4D (3D space and time) agent-based model of forest-fire smoke propagation, developing multidimensional statistical methods through 3D and 4D Fuzzy Kappa, and a final model that is in the process of publishing. Through this I gained a lot more experience programming with Python and Java, including parallelization of processes which should again help with our work in spatial data science.
Over the course of my graduate student career, I taught hundreds of students as a Teaching Assistant and a Sessional Instructor. I think this has prepared me well for developing resources and tutorials for our Resource Finder, and for working with our ECCE Student Associates.
KA: Alex, you have taken over managing the Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) program. Do you think your experience as an ECCE student associate and app challenge participant will help you in this new role?
AS: During my time as an ECCE student associate I didn’t realize how much work goes into running the ECCE and app challenge, and it is very interesting seeing it from the Esri Canada side. Having been on the student side I understand what motivates students to participate (beyond free food) and I think I will be able to use that to continue its growth. It is also a valuable experience as it meant that I already knew what the program is and how it operates. Dr. Michael Leahy left the ECCE in an amazing state, and I don’t currently see many things to change. I just hope I can run it as well as he did.
KA: What are you most looking forward to working on (or with, in the case of software)?
AS: I’m excited to manage the ECCE program and interact with the students, staff, and faculty from across Canada. I’m blown away by the work I’ve seen from our associates, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’m also looking forward to expanding my skills through the innovative projects that our team works on, both external with grad students and faculty, and internal within the Education and Research team. I’m currently learning more about Android app development and I hope I get to implement what I learn. Also, this year I get to develop some resources with Mohamed, so I’m pretty excited about that.
MA: We have a fantastic Education and Research team at Esri Canada. I am looking forward to collaborating and working closely with Alex and the rest of the higher education team, especially in developing resources about spatial analytics and making GeoAI less intimidating. I am excited that I am involved in a couple of research projects that focus on studying and understanding the impacts of climate change on our health and ecosystems.
ArcGIS software is a comprehensive geospatial platform and there are many new products and capabilities added to the software each year. Given my role as a higher education specialist, I should be one of the first people using these new emerging technologies, which is exciting and challenging at the same time. Fortunately, I have great support from the Education and Research Director (Dr. Jon Salter) who understands the need for me to explore and use some of my time in learning new things. I am looking forward to advancing my skills in AI and Machine Learning and real-time visualization and analytics.
KA: Mohamed, our first interaction was in 2017, when you received an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship. How much of the software included with the scholarship did you end up using? Is there any part of the scholarship that you wish you would have made better use of?
MA: I was honored to be one of the Esri Canada Scholarship recipients. Interestingly, it was you (Krista) who emailed me that I received an award from Esri Canada. So, thank you again!
Although I had access to ArcGIS software through the University of Calgary, I found the award package great, especially the one-year complimentary maintenance access to e-learning resources through the Esri Academy site and the one-year ArcGIS Online Organization Plan, which included 100 service credits. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to use the complimentary registration and attend the Esri Canada User Conference in 2017 as the conference time conflicted with my fieldwork onboard the CCGS Amundsen icebreaker.
KA: One last question. The (formerly) biennial GIS in Education and Research Conference is being held again this year. It will be the first time attending for both of you, and you’ll both be running workshops. What are you looking forward to most about the conference? What are your workshops about – and who do you think would benefit most from attending?
AS: This will be the first conference that I have been able to attend since the start of the pandemic, so it will be great to see people again. I have been living in Vancouver for the last few years working on my PhD, so I hope to reconnect with a lot of people. It will also be my first time meeting some of the Education and Research team in person that I have only met virtually. I will be running a workshop on Python Notebooks using the ArcGIS API for Python in a Jupyter Notebook, Notebooks in ArcGIS Pro, and a hosted notebook in ArcGIS Online. I am targeting this workshop to users that are already familiar with Python but have limited to no previous use of Python Notebooks. Python beginners are also welcome but may want to spectate instead of follow along for some parts.
MA: First, I am looking forward to meeting the entire Education and Research team at Esri Canada in 3D!
I am hoping that by attending the GIS Education and Research conference and delivering a workshop this year, I will expand my network and build connections with students, educators, and researchers. As well, I will have the opportunity to learn from students and experts how they use GIS and Esri technologies in their work and classrooms. I will be delivering the “Applied Deep Learning in ArcGIS Pro & Python” this year. In this workshop, the focus will be on deep learning, which is the most complex and humanlike approach that is currently used in AI. By attending this workshop, you will learn how to use ArcGIS tools in combination with deep learning techniques and gain a valuable skill set and insights for solving real-world problems in fields such as remote sensing, urban planning, and environmental management.
If you want to meet Alex and Mohamed in person, too, develop your skills, and hear how GIS is being used in research in a wide range of fields, join us at the 5th GIS in Education and Research Conference at Hart House, University of Toronto, on March 1. Visit our website for details and registration information or contact email@example.com