Vancouver Island University’s MGISA program creates new opportunities

April 3, 2017 Krista Amolins

Learn about Vancouver Island University’s new Master of Geographic Information Systems Applications program that offers students the opportunity to strengthen their GIS skills while conducting research in an area of their choice.

Vancouver Island University (VIU) offers a wide range of graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational and trades programs, as well as access programs. Since 2005, one of those programs has been the Advanced Diploma in GIS Applications (ADGISA), which provides students the opportunity to learn both how to use GIS and how to apply it to real-world issues. Now, students who are looking for further opportunities to research and develop GIS applications can also pursue a Master of Geographic Information Systems Applications (MGISA).

I asked the faculty members at VIU involved in the development of the MGISA program, Dr. Michael Govorov, Dr. Paul Zandbergen and Dave Cake, via email to tell me more about it.

KA: What was the motivation for creating the MGISA program?

VIU: Our ADGISA program is a post-graduate diploma that takes 9 months to complete on campus and 16 months online. Over the years, many of our graduates have asked that we expand the program to make it possible to complete a master’s degree and create opportunities for more research. Faculty at VIU are also interested in doing research and working with master’s students creates more opportunity for that.

We also see that many positions, especially in mid-level management, now require a master’s degree. There are several master’s degree programs in GIS in Canada, but a few years ago none of these were online, so we also wanted to make sure that students from all over Canada would be able to get their master’s without having to quit their jobs and move across the country. Our MGISA program can be completed on campus as well as 100% online.

KA: Who is the program aimed at?

VIU: The target audience consists of several groups. First, we see several students coming directly out of an undergraduate program, and they already know they want to get additional GIS skill and conduct research. So, they apply directly to the MGISA program.

Second, and, more commonly, we see students who have already been employed for some time, and they recognize the need to strengthen their GIS skills to create new career opportunities. Some of these students are already working in GIS, but we also see students with limited GIS experience.

And third, there are many GIS professionals who have already completed an advanced diploma in GIS at some point, have been working for quite some time and are now seeking to upgrade their education. These students qualify to apply directly to Stage 2 of the program and can get their master’s in one year.

MGISA graduates can apply for positions other GIS students are not always qualified for, such as senior GIS Analyst and GIS Manager positions, as well as research positions at universities and in the private sector.

KA: What makes the MGISA program different from existing GIS programs in Canada?

VIU: The MGISA program at VIU is unique in several ways. We offer both on-campus and online options, which gives a lot of flexibility. Students can complete the entire program on-campus or online, or they can  decide to complete only stage 1 on-campus and stage 2 online. Although we encourage on-campus presence for things like meetings with advisors and research presentations, we use online learning management systems, web conferencing, e-mail and regular phone calls to interact with our students.

The program is also unique because it allows advanced career professionals who already have an advanced diploma in GIS to apply directly to stage 2 of the program and get their master’s in one year, while the full program takes 2 years for on-campus and 2.5 years for online study. While many of our own ADGISA graduates are interested in MGISA, we get many applicants who have completed their advanced diploma at a different institution. We currently have an agreement with Fleming College to facilitate the graduates of their GIS programs to enter our MGISA program, but students with a post-graduate diploma from other institutions are equally welcome and have been successful in the past.

KA: The program has now been running for about a year and a half. So far, has it met your and the students’ expectations?

The first cohort of MGISA students started in September 2015 and is looking to graduate by August 2017. It has been great to see them develop their interests into research projects. We don’t tell the students what topics to work on, but we instead allow them to develop their own research topic. This results in a wide variety of topics. In many cases, students bring a lot of experience relating to a topic that they have been interested in, and we make sure they have the technical skills to carry out the research —  skills like spatial analysis and statistics databases, remote sensing and photogrammetry, desktop and web programming, etc.

Students have made great progress, and we are excited to see the first cohort graduate later this year. Students are expected to submit their research for publication or present at a conference, so we are also encouraging our students to share their work more widely to not only their peers, but also the wide GIS professional and academic communities. Here are a few examples:

George Barian’s research project is on modeling oil spill slick trajectory by using a Cellular Automata algorithm. Effects of winds and tidal currents pattern in the study area are accounted for to forecast the possible spill movement. Oil slick evaporation and interaction with shoreline are also simulated in the model. In the final phase of the project, the simulation model function will be built into a web application on ArcGIS Portal/ArcGIS Online.

George Barian’s project models the possible movement of oil spills.

Aaron Wong’s research is focused on the coral reefs near Belize, one of the first countries to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) to preserve the coastal ecosystem and aims to provide information about whether the MPAs are functioning effectively. It will utilize the monitoring efforts from the past to analyze the rate of growth in coral cover and fish abundance in the different zones, and it will compare and contrast the rate of growth amongst the different zones. Preliminary results show that preservation zones show a higher rate of coral growth than other zones although without statistical backup.

Aaron Wong’s research project will analyze the effectiveness of marine protected areas near Belize.

About the Author

Krista Amolins

Krista Amolins is a Higher Education Developer and Analyst in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. Her responsibilities include developing resources for use by students and faculty at colleges and universities, focusing particularly on LiDAR, JavaScript and Android app development; collaborating on projects with researchers at select universities; and coordinating the Esri Canada scholarship programs. She has a PhD in Geomatics Engineering from the University of New Brunswick and also holds the Esri ArcGIS Desktop Associate Certification.

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