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Scholarship recipient François Veillette found a new career with GIS

As part of the requirements to receive an Esri Canada GIS scholarship, students must submit a poster and report on a project that uses Esri technology. While there is always a broad range of topics among the submissions, sometimes there is one that stands out more than others. Such is the case with François Veillette’s CartoChamp! project, a proposed app for amateur mycologists. Find out more about François’ app idea and what led him to study GIS.

Esri Canada has been awarding GIS scholarships to college and university students in Canada for more than a dozen years. Because there is such great diversity in the programs where GIS is used, our criteria are broad: scholarship recipients must be good students and they must be using Esri technology. Participating institutions are encouraged to use methods that they feel are fair to their students to select the person who is most deserving of the award. As a result, each cohort of scholarship recipients includes students at various academic levels, from college diploma to PhD, and with varying levels of experience with GIS.  

One of the 2019 recipients, François Veillette, had no experience with GIS when he enrolled in the Advanced Diploma in GIS program (DÉSS en SIG) at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) last year. Having worked in the television and digital media industry for two decades, he was ready for a new challenge and soon discovered a passion for GIS. The project he submitted for the scholarship caught my eye: a mobile app that identifies places to find wild mushrooms. I contacted him via email to find out more about the app and why he decided to study GIS.

The project you submitted for the scholarship, CartoChamp!, is a proposed app. Do you have any plans to create the app or at least part of it?

I’d love to do it! However, I currently have too many other projects and don’t have time. You also need to remember that creating an app means more than just building it. You need to update, maintain, and promote it. I think it’s important not to underestimate the amount of time required to create a good product.   

How much of the analysis and coding for the maps that are in the app have you completed?

Very little. It really is just a proposed app. The first steps would be to create a prototype. The real challenge is to find the time!

François Veillette’s idea for an app, which he calls CartoChamp!, would show the types of mushroom and time of year they can be found in a particular region. Users would also be able to add their own observations.

There is a proverb that says all mushrooms are edible, but some only once. Do you foresee any negative consequences for an app that encourages people to pick mushrooms?

No, not really. It would be important to have clear warnings in the app stating the potential dangers of eating wild mushrooms and that the developer and contributors cannot be held liable. These types of warnings can be found in most books and on web sites about mushrooms. It would also have to be clear that the app is not a guide to what is edible and what isn’t. Anyone who picks wild mushrooms must educate themselves about the different types before eating any.

According to your LinkedIn profile, you worked at Trinôme for 20 years and were vice-president there. Why did you decide to enroll in the Advanced Diploma in GIS program (DÉSS en SIG) at UQAM? 

I had worked in television and digital media for many years and felt that I had accomplished everything I could in that field. I wanted to reinvent myself. I was drawn to the sciences but at the same time I wanted to do something that had a very visual aspect.

How much experience did you have in GIS before you started the program?

I didn’t have any experience at all. I didn’t even know what ArcMap was, how it could be used everywhere, or the impact it has on our everyday lives. When I discovered the possibilities, something clicked for me. I quickly realized that GIS was at the intersection of several fields that I enjoy: science, technology, graphic design, and exploration.

Do you have any plans to continue with GIS after completing your diploma?  

I’ve enrolled in a masters of geographic sciences program to continue my studies. My thesis topic is the use of photogrammetry to measure the growth of spruce trees in boreal forests.

I’m also working on a number of other projects, such as creating maps of free parking in Montréal and a database of off-track cross-country ski trails in Quebec.

The scholarship award includes three-year term licenses for the core components of the ArcGIS platform (ArcGIS Desktop and extensions, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Enterprise). Are there any particular tools or applications that you plan to put to use?

There are so many different ArcGIS products that it’s hard to choose which ones to focus on! I definitely want to spend more time exploring ArcGIS Pro because I’ve only worked with it a little bit. I also want to explore ArcGIS Online. The book Getting to Know Web GIS, which is also included in the scholarship, is well-written and demonstrates the possibilities.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Can I say hi to all of my profs and fellow students from the advanced diploma program? I really loved working closely with all of these passionate people and I wish them all the best in the future!

I’d also like to thank Esri Canada for the scholarship and for their involvement in sharing knowledge!  

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