Greetings to new GIS students!

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on Sep 8, 2020

In this video, and in this essay, I extend my greetings to students that are new to GIS this semester, and also welcome back returning students.  Whether you are online or experiencing your education face to face, I wish to (1) salute you for embarking or continuing your geospatial journey, (2) give you encouragement to use geospatial technology in your university life and in your future career, and (3) discuss where geotechnologies are going in this decade.  I have had the honor of serving in 4 major sectors of society--academia, private industry, government, and nonprofit, and reflecting upon my own journey and how GIS has evolved, I have not seen a more exciting time than the present in the world of GIS.  


I encourage you to build your network even while you are a student.  Networking is important in any field, and the GIS community is an incredibly generous international community that can help you in your journey.  Each person in GIS has an Earth ethic and believes in the power of GIS to enable our planet to become safer, smarter, healthier, and more sustainable.  Like you, I am a lifelong learner, and I have found that networking also provides another way to keep learning and growing.  For those of you who have been in GIS for awhile, consider giving back to the community by serving as a GeoMentor


What do you want to see in society?  This may seem like a deep question as you begin your semester, but I submit to you that it is worthy of consideration.  This is a disruptive time but also a pivotal one.  You have a major role to play in helping shape our society with your newfound knowledge and skills.  Modern life offers a wide variety of technologies and tools for you to dig into, and you have to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of immersing yourself in any of them.  For each thing you decide to spend time on, you have less time for something else.  While it is true that having GIS on your toolbelt will help you to be more employable, more important, I believe, is that GIS is a technology that you can feel good about!  It is being used by the Jane Goodall Elephant Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the World Health Organization, your local government, your university's facility management department, and thousands of other organizations to make your campus, your community, and our world, to make smarter decisions.  Take our COVID-19 situation that we are in.  People are consuming COVID-related maps, dashboards, and infographics by the millions per hour.  Organizations are hosting Hubs, data portals, and other sets of information for their citizens and users.  Why?  Because these tools are needed, and valued, and enable decisions about health and safety to be made with data, and made thoughtfully.  


I would encourage you to learn about tools, such as field tools (Collector, Survey123, QuickCapture), spatial analysis tools, visualization capabilities such as with ArcGIS Insights, apps and app builders such as story maps and the Experience Builder.  Learn about methods and models, and the data structures behind it all, because the methods you use and the data that you use all influence the results of your research.  But in my view the most important tool is your brain.  The ultimate goal in using GIS is to enable you to think critically and spatially, and to be able to effectively consider the "where" element in solving problems.   The goal is not "points on a map", but to understand something better, in a richer, more meaningful way.   In so doing, you are also building your skills in collaboration and communication.  No matter whether you enter the field of health, business, transportation, economics, natural resources, energy, engineering, planning, or any others, studying the where and the whys of where will increase in importance during this decade. Also this decade will see an increased realization that to solve the complex problems of our 21st Century world will take a holistic view, and the ability of people to collaborate in interdisciplinary ways.  The holistic view of the interconnected earth as a system of systems--the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and anthrosphere--is fostered by the geographic perspective.  The problems in our world cross physical boundaries, political boundaries, and disciplinary boundaries. 


I submit that the following forces are important as you move forward in your university work and beyond--geoawareness (the increasing recognition by the general public that issues of energy, water, population, and other geographic issues are of concern and need to be addressed), geotechnologies (cloud-based, powerful, connected to larger IT trends such as the Internet of Things), geo-enablement (the empowering of larger segments of society to use geotechnologies), storytelling with maps, and citizen science (ordinary people collecting scientific data).  In the video, I discuss how these forces have brought us as a society to a key moment, and why I believe that you are in the right place at the right time.  Society needs you!   Think about what you are really passionate about, and use your training in GIS to begin grappling with those issue(s).  Communicate your research goals and results using tools such as story maps.   


Five trends in GIS will also be important in this decade:  1.  The merging of CAD, BIM, and GIS for interior space mapping and planning.  2.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning.  This transforms the types of GIS related job tasks, and even more importantly, greatly enhances GIS in a decision-support system.  3.  Remote sensing--small satellites, Lidar, UAVs, providing custom and often real-time imagery and derivative 2D and 3D map products.   4.  3D analytics.  We have had 3D visualization for several years, but 3D analytics is perfect because we live in a 3D world.   5.  The web SaaS software as a service GIS infrastructure, bringing some aspect of GIS to virtually any device, any time, anywhere, where it is most needed, fostering collaboration and decision-making.  


Consider nurturing these five skills that I believe will be important as you move forward:   1.  Be curious, about the world, about tools, about people, and about problems.   Curiosity leads to tenacity and problem solving.  2.  Be able to work with data; be critical about data--know its benefits and its limitations.  See our spatial reserves data blog for where to find data, how to evaluate it, and related societal issues (such as location privacy and data manipulation).  3.  Know your geographic and geotechnical foundations--spatial statistics, map projections, geodesy, spatial analysis methods, symbology, classification methods, scale, systems thinking, and more.  4.  Be adaptable and flexible.  Be willing to go outside your regional comfort zone, and also your disciplinary comfort zone.  5.  Develop good communications skills.  Develop a one minute, five minute, 20-minute "elevator" speech as to what you are doing, why you are doing it, and why it needs to be supported and funded.  


GIS has become easier to use than ever before.  That said, it is still a system, comprised of a rapidly evolving set of tools, methods, and data; many moving parts.  Give yourself time to learn it, but the key is to start.   Again I respect and salute you for doing just that--starting.