GIS Scholarships give students freedom to learn

February 12, 2019 Krista Amolins

Over the next few months, colleges and universities across Canada will be selecting their 2019 Esri Canada GIS Scholarship recipients from among their students who are learning GIS and applying it in a broad range of disciplines. Find out more about this program and how one of the 2018 recipients has been making use of his award.

Every year, close to 60 students at colleges and universities across the country receive an Esri Canada GIS Scholarship. Some are graduate students, who are applying GIS to explore a research question; some are post-graduate students, who are honing their skills for careers as GIS specialists; and some are undergraduate students, who are discovering the power and versatility of geography information.

Riley Cormier is one of the latter types of recipients. When he first started at Nipissing University, he was interested in criminology but an introductory course in physical geography soon had him switching to the Bachelor of Science in Environmental and Physical Geography program. I asked him, via email, to tell me more about the project he submitted after being nominated for a 2018 scholarship, what he has been doing with GIS, and ArcGIS, since winning the scholarship, and what his plans are for the future.

The project you submitted for the scholarship examines the susceptibility of the terrain in a region of British Columbia to landslides. Why did you choose this topic?

I have always had an interest in landslides and jumped at the opportunity to do a project so I could get to study them in depth. I chose my study location to be Terrace, British Columbia, after I came across a number of news articles from the CBC from 2007 about the highway into the city being cutoff due to large slides.

You originally completed the project for a fourth year GIS course. Do you think it could have practical applications beyond the classroom?

I think the project does have some practical applications since it is easy to modify the parameters and the data used is free. Terrace is a small town, so they won't have a large budget for doing in-depth surveys to try and manage landslide risk. My thought was to come up with a quick and cheap alternative that could be used to identify the most at-risk areas around the city and decide where the best places were to invest money in landslide studies or to try and mitigate the risk of landslides. If you take a look at my results, you can see there are a number of high-risk areas around Highway 16, which runs east-west through the Terrace. This is also the area that has seen some large landslides in the past.

Riley’s analysis shows that, while the town of Terrace itself is in a low-risk area, there are areas around the highways leading into the town that are at high risk of landslides.

Are you currently working on any other GIS projects?

I work as a research assistant with Dr. John Kovacs and we are collaborating with Dr. Norman Duke from James Cook University in Australia to assist in mapping mangrove health in Australia.

I am also a member of the Friends of Laurier Woods, which is partnered with the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority (NBMCA). They have full time GIS staff that help manage the wetland.

This past November I worked with one of my professors, Dr. David Rowbotham, to run GIS day at Nipissing University. A member of the Education and Research group at Esri Canada, Jonathan van Dusen, attended and gave a great talk about GIS software as well as some interesting examples on some of the things you can do with GIS. Also in attendance were representatives from a number of businesses and organizations from around North Bay who use GIS every day in their work. We had the local police and hydro company, along with the NBMCA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and a number of other businesses that highlighted what projects they were working on. I think it was great for the students to see some of the potential opportunities available to them just in North Bay.

The scholarship provides software, funding, books, training and networking opportunities. Which component do you feel has been of most benefit to you, and why?

Having access to the software has been the most benefit to me. Being able to work through tutorials from Esri Academy and from the textbooks I received as part of the scholarship and learn on my own time at home has been great. I have also really enjoyed being able to use ArcGIS Pro. I feel that having all the software at home has enabled me to spend a lot more time learning and has given me a lot more freedom since I can test out ideas as soon as I come up with them rather than having to travel back to the university. I’ve been experimenting with LiDAR data to test terrain analysis labs for one of my professors and am hoping to do some flow analysis in the future. 

Is there any component of the award that you wish you had put to better use?

The only component I didn't get much chance to experiment with, unfortunately, is CityEngine. I still have some time, but my computer doesn't have a good enough graphics card to run the software. Another aspect I have yet to use is the instructor-led training, but I plan to take a course over my reading week, so I am looking forward to that. I also really enjoyed the Esri Canada User Conference I attended in Sudbury. It was a lot of fun learning and meeting everyone in attendance. I think that every undergrad should try and attend one of the conferences if they get the chance.  

Do you have any plans after graduation?

Yes, I have applied to Carleton University to do a Master of Science in Geography. So hopefully this time next year I will be in Ottawa!

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You can find out more about Riley and other past scholarship recipients in the Esri Canada Scholars Web Portal. If you are a student at one of the participating institutions, check out your institution’s profile to see if you may be eligible for a scholarship and whom to contact for more information. If you are a student at any institution in Canada who uses Esri technology, consider applying for the Esri Young Scholars Award.

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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