Esri Canada Interview: Dr Brent Hall Discusses Going Back to School this Sept with GoGeomatics
Esri Canada is an active supporter of GoGeomatics Canada and our grass roots efforts to bring the sector together. Esri is sponsoring 12 Back to School Socials this September and inviting you to attend.
These events help mark the the start of the school year; it’s where we welcome new and returning students to the sector. The goal is to have students and grads mix and network with professionals and companies who attend to get a feel for our industry. This strengthens and empowers our sector.
In a first for the GoGeomatics community – last year in Toronto, Alex Miller President of Esri Canada, came to the Toronto Back to School Event to show his personal support. It added a lot of excitement to our event and he networked with students and young professionals who attended. Many thanks for that Alex! Hope you can make it again this year.
I sat down with Dr. Brent Hall, Director of Education and Research at Esri Canada, to discuss the upcoming GoGeomatics Back to School Socials across Canada.
GoGeomatics: Thanks for supporting the Back to School Socials again this year. Why do you feel these events are important to the Canadian GIS community and specifically for students?
Brent: These events are quite unique globally as far as I know, and GoGeomatics deserves major kudos for creating the concept and the effort put into organization of them. It goes without saying that we (Esri Canada) are very pleased to be an annual sponsor.
In general, the Meetups provide Canadian GIS students with, basically, the only major opportunity they get during the year to network and interact with other students studying GIS at different universities or colleges in the same city.
Moreover, they provide a good opportunity also for Profs to come out and socialize with their own and other students, and also for members of the GIS business community to attend and speak to students in an informal setting.
Beyond the Back to School Socials there are relatively few opportunities, other than social events that a specific school may organize, for this type of interaction to happen. From Esri Canada’s perspective, the socials provide a great opportunity to meet with and speak to students about what they are using GIS for in their program, what ideas they have about project work they may be planning, and inevitably what their employment prospects are on graduation and how they should best position themselves for success.
While the latter conversations aren’t always easy, especially since many of the students have their eyes on Esri as a potential place to work, there are many practical pointers that can be given to students to help increase their chances of standing out when it comes to the hunt for a job.
These socials contribute to GIS community building, which I firmly believe in, as a means of bringing all members of the GIS community, including those who are well established and those who are new, together to discuss hopes, dreams, and setbacks.
Networking and dialogue contributes to strengthening the community in general, and without it students don’t really have the opportunity to socialize and talk GIS with peers, profs and professionals.
GoGeomatics: You’ve been to a few of the Back to School Socials over the years. What are your favorite aspects of the socials?
Brent: I have attended Back to School Socials in St. Catharines with students from Niagara College’s specialist program, Brock Universities Geography Department, and the ever-present figure of Darren Platakis from Geospatial Niagara, a stalwart of the local GIS scene on the Niagara Peninsula.
I also attended the Back to School Social with Alex Miller and several of the staff from my group at Esri last year in Toronto. These events have been excellent – in St. Catharines the turnout is regularly around 30-35 people including faculty from Niagara College and Brock, as well as a significant group of students.
The Toronto event included, as I note above, staff from Esri, John Roos from Digital Globe, and a couple of Profs from local universities, as well as a lot of students and others working or looking for work in the GIS sector. The nights are filled with conversation. My favorite part is doing a draw for some Esri giveaways. No matter how trivial these things may be, the students are always genuinely pleased to win something!
At these specific events we also take the opportunity to add to one of our own very important communities, namely the GIS Ambassador community that we started two years ago. During this time we have swelled the ranks to over 250 members across Canada At the Meetups we take the opportunity to encourage attendees (and not just students) to become an Ambassador and visit a K-12 school, such as their old high school, to talk about GIS and its importance in society and the economy.
GoGeomatics: Can you explain to students and new grads your thoughts on the importance of “networking” when it comes to finding a job in GIS? As well any advice to students looking for Co-op placements or projects?
Brent: I allude to the importance of networking above, and this can’t be underscored enough. The more students network actively within the GIS community the more likely it is that they will move smoothly to the next level in their career path. Over the thirty plus years that I have been a part of this community in Canada and elsewhere I have seen abundant evidence, both from work as a Prof and now work as a major GIS business employee, which suggests that the students and who network earliest and most widely end up doing best in their career. Hence, students and especially new grads should avail themselves of every opportunity presented by an event such as a back to school social, a GIS user conference, a hackathon or app challenge.
Co-op work opportunities or internships can arise out of these events for students and at least transmission of a business card for follow-up contact can lead to opportunities. However, it is important to note that networking is still no panacea for or guarantee of employment. The best path toward this starts at school and in individual course and program selection. Often, I will suggest to students that they need to supplement what they are learning at school with online courses that will extend and deepen their knowledge on things such as coding and use of GIS on the web, among others.
GoGeomatics: I understand Esri Canada will be providing a few choice prizes for the socials across Canada. Can you give us a hint at to what it might be?
Brent: This year I am going to do my best to arrange for at least a recently published Esri Press textbook titled “Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro” to be made available for a draw at each back to school event across the country. I’ll also provide some copies of Esri’s 2017 Map book (Volume 32) of the best maps produced during the year with Esri software.
GoGeomatics: Esri Canada Education and Research department has a few great initiatives on the go now. Can you tell our readers about some of them.
Brent: The last two to three years have been a period of very rapid growth in activity for the Education and Research group staff at Esri Canada. As a foundation for this, we have launched several new web sites that are literally packed with content for all members of the education community and beyond to include the national community of GIS practitioners.
Specifically, the K-12 microsite can be reached at http://K12.esri.ca, and the higher education site can be reached at http://highered.esri.ca. Within these sites, several pages of interest can be singled out. First, both sites contain a new resource finder page (respectively http://k12.esri.ca/resourcefinder/#/lang=en and http://hed.esri.ca/resourcefinder/#/lang=en). This tool allows users to find tutorials (all with accompanying data), instructional videos, and assignments created by staff members on virtually all aspects of the Esri software platform.
Speaking not immodestly, the tool is the most flexible GIS resource finder on the web and is very enjoyable to use – in fact Esri UK cloned it almost immediately after we launched it (https://schools.esriuk.com/teaching-resources/#-) for their own collection of ArcGIS Online teaching resources, and Esri Portugal is in the process of deployment.
In addition to the resource finder tool, the higher education microsite contains a link to our Esri GIS Scholarship Portal where you can browse current and past scholarship winners, including their poster submissions, highlighting those selected by their school as the outstanding GIS student of the year. This site also highlights our Esri Young Scholar winners for each of the last 4 years.
Another initiative is the Esri Canada Centres of Excellence network in GIS, which has now been underway for 4 years. Review this page for information on the annual App Challenge competition participants and winners, blog posts by student associates and much more.
GoGeomatics: On behalf of the GoGeomatics community and group leaders across Canada, please accept our sincere appreciation for your support. Without the support of Esri Canada and our other sponsors and contributors we would not be able to host these great events.