GIS at Niagara College: Janet Finlay
Today we are doing an interview with Janet Finlay from Niagara College. She is an instructor for their GIS-Geospatial Management Postgraduate Program.
GoGeomatics: Welcome to the GoGeomatics Canada community. To begin, can you tell us where you are from?
Janet Finlay: I was born and raised in North Bay. I attended McMaster University where I majored in Geology. I decided to supplement my geology degree with a second degree in physical geography at the University of Ottawa.
GoGeomatics: What made you want to get into GIS? Where did you receive your GIS education?
Janet Finlay: I needed a course to finish my degree at the University of Ottawa. I was interested in a self-study course but my dean suggested this relatively new course in computer cartography. This led to my interest in GIS. There were no dedicated courses in the field of GIS when I was at school. While working at the Ontario Geological Survey, there was a research group investigating the use of GIS in geology. I was the only one who had ever used any type of GIS, so I was asked to join this research group.
GoGeomatics: What was your first job in GIS like?
Janet Finlay: My first job in GIS was at the Ontario Geological Survey where I assisted the field geologists analyze their field data. We spent a great deal of time researching how to best represent geological data. I was fortunate to be able to participate in many conferences both as an attendee as well as a presenter.
GoGeomatics: How would you describe your career thus far? How have you got to be where you are now as a GIS instructor?
Janet Finlay: My career has been ever evolving. Upon leaving the OGS, I was looking to stay involved in GIS and was invited to guest lecture at Mohawk College. I then became an instructor in Mohawk’s continuing education. At the same time, I was involved in a fabulous program at the Six Nations Reserve where aboriginals from across Canada moved to Brantford for a period of 15 months to learn GIS. Their goal was to be able to return to their reserves to help monitor their resources. I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. It was exciting to see the progression in their skills as many of them had never used a computer.
GoGeomatics: How have you seen GIS evolve throughout your time as an instructor? How have you adapted your teachings to coincide with this?
Janet Finlay: There are days that I think I can not possibly absorb any more new information. The technology has changed so much. Concepts are now easier to teach, but one still has to understand the background. Students tend to simply accept what the software tells them, without thinking of the implications. Each summer is spent upgrading lectures, labs and assignments to work with the newest releases of each piece of software.
GoGeomatics: What makes an excellent GIS program in your opinion?
Janet Finlay: We have a fabulous dedicated faculty. We complement each other with our skills. And we have a similar philosophy toward teaching. We try to communicate regularly with each other regarding assignment results and student issues. We listen to our PAC and try to implement changes that they deem necessary for industry. Our thesis project pulls every aspect of our program together into a nice package. Our students are taught to be problem solvers and not simply users of software.
GoGeomatics: How do you, as Faculty, make sure that what you are teaching and imparting to new students is giving them the skills and the problem solving they will need for the work force?
Janet Finlay: Our PAC gives us some direction with respect to teaching material. We also focus on the professionalism aspect. We are consistent across all courses so that we are reinforcing concepts. We encourage students to work together and assist each other as there is always something you can learn from your peers. Our assignments are thought provoking; not simply something that they learn for a short period of time.
GoGeomatics: What are some examples of what you are teaching that achieves this? Do you have any assignments you could share with GoGeomatics Canada?
Janet Finlay: I have no assignments that I am able to share but I do have some examples of work produced through our thesis projects. (link to be up on Monday)
GoGeomatics: What does the Niagara College look for in a prospective student?
Janet Finlay: We look for a strong work ethic and a high level of commitment. We have had many very successful students from outside the typical background of geography. As long as students are dedicated and work hard, we embrace all backgrounds.
GoGeomatics: What is the website address to your program website. Are there any project pages we could share with the GoGeomatics Canada community?
Janet Finlay: Our program website is:
We don’t really have any project pages but I have included some materials that were created by one of the bloggers, Darren Platakis, for his thesis project.ProjectPoster
GoGeomatics: What makes your program stand out from all the other programs out there? Why should someone go to Niagara College?
Janet Finlay: I believe that our thesis project is what draws students to our college. We give students the opportunity to work with organizations on a real piece of work. We teach them how to be young GIS professionals. Graduates often comment that their transition into a professional role has been quite easy given our strict guidelines for submissions as well as our focus on professionalism.
GoGeomatics: Is there anything about the location of your campus that entices prospective students?
Janet Finlay: Niagara College has a beautiful campus. We are nestled below the Niagara Escarpment, amongst the grapevines of the Niagara wine industry. We have a fabulous culinary school and they run a fine dining restaurant as well as Bench-to-go where we are able to taste their work. The horticulture school runs a greenhouse offering seasonal plants. In addition, there is a wine store and a brewery store that receives high praise.
GoGeomatics: What are the job prospects like for graduates of your program? Who’s hiring your graduates?
Janet Finlay: Our graduates are very successful in finding employment. Our placement rate is anywhere from 75-95% within 6 months of completing the program. We have graduates who are located across Canada and worldwide. Many have been able to improve their positions within a company quickly. We are very proud of how they represent Niagara College.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to GoGeomatics Canada and showing us what your Niagara College GIS program has to offer for current and prospective students.