How can Young Professionals Connect with the Education Community?

09-27-2022 01:58 PM
Esri Notable Contributor
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Why should you, Young GIS Professional, care about educating the next generation of spatial thinkers?  First, all 21st Century problems are spatial:  Energy, equity, water, health, biodiversity loss, habitat, political instability, climate, natural hazards, sustainable development, supply chain management, and much more.  To solve these problems requires a continued flow of people who learn about GIS while at their educational institution, and then enter the workplace empowered with skills and perspectives to tackle these problems.  Second, each of you in the YPN community has an education connection:  You have alma maters from which you received your education, from primary school to your college or university, you have kids in school or know people who do, and you care about the future of the profession and the future of planet Earth.  

I serve on the Esri education team, focused on expanding use of GIS in instruction, research, and facilities management in schools, colleges, libraries, museums, and universities.  Our goal is to engage students with GIS so that they become empowered to be positive change agents in their future workplaces.  Despite the fact that my team has been working in GIS education since 1992, it is a massive global effort, involving thousands of educational institutions worldwide.   Encouraging students of all ages to become engaged in GIS and empowering them to do so requires more than the effort of my small team.  In short, we rely on you, the YPN community, to partner with us in the noble effort of deepening and widening the use of GIS throughout education.   Deepening implies encouraging students and faculty to think about GIS as a platform that can be built upon.  Widening implies the use of GIS beyond GIScience, environmental science, and geography, into history, economics, data science, mathematics, civil engineering, planning, business, and many other disciplines.  

Why should you consider connecting with the education community?  First, the GIS industry has a continued need for people to work in this growing field:  Acute GIS workforce shortages exist, and the lack of awareness of geospatial as a viable career path is one of the chief obstacles.  By working with educators, you help build this awareness.  Second, this is a way for you to give back to your alma mater, a school or college near you or one you have a particular affinity for, or an after-school program.  It is a way for you to shape the future.  Third, helping others use GIS and think spatially will help you learn more GIS as well--sometimes, teaching others is the best way to advance our own knowledge.  


How can you connect with the education community?  

One way is to be a "geomentor".   As a geomentor that is connected to an educator, education administrator, or someone else in education, you can assemble data, maps, and apps for them to teach with, give presentations and workshop for their class, guide them in other ways through advice and strategies, sponsor an educator for them to attend professional development opportunities such as education conferences or the Esri Education Summit or UC.   You can connect with educators through events such as the Esri Education Summit, Esri UC, or other conferences, through friends and colleagues, through your own connections in LinkedIn, through your alma mater, through educators who have submitted story maps competition entries, and via other ways.  You can work with a school, a college, a university, or an informal program such as 4H.  You can focus on specific aspects of geotechnology that you have expertise and a heart for.  This could be a technical aspect of GIS such as visualization or coding, or an application of GIS such as public safety or water quality.  

Specific strategies to think about when you mentor a course, a class, individual students, or faculty, are to (1) make it personal--tell your own story about how you journeyed into GIS.  But don't just focus on your own story--be sure to listen, and to discuss what others do with these tools in fields that your audience is interested in.  (2)  Anchor your approach in key societal trends, such as geo-awareness, geo-enablement, web GIS and visualizations, citizen science, and storytelling with maps.   (3)  Anchor your approach to key trends in GIS, such as 3D analytics, the joining of the BIM, CAD, and GIS worlds, real-time data and analytics including the IoT, enterprise and web GIS, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.   (4)  Anchor your approach to 5 top skills that are needed for geotechnology professionals:   Be curious.  Ask good questions.  Be able to work with data and be critical of it.  For examples on data and societal issues around data that make for good discussion topics, see our Spatial Reserves data blog.  Know your geographic and geotechnical foundations.  Be adaptable.  Go outside your disciplinary and/or geographic comfort zone.  Nurture good communications, including your "elevator speech".

Be sure to listen to educators and speak their language.  For primary and secondary educators, this includes discussing how GIS is connected to state and national content standards in social studies, language arts, and science, for example.  If you are working with primary and secondary students, you will need to start with the teachers and the school for permission to work with minors.  For all levels of education, be able to articulate why GIS matters to decision making and society without resorting to technical jargon.  Focus on what's important:  Don't stop at putting data on the map, but the three-fold mantra of what's where, why is it there, and why should we care?   Don't focus just on the tools.  The tools change!  Focus on geographic and scientific inquiry--asking meaningful questions, acquiring data, analysis, mapping and visualization, assessing, making recommendations, communicating the results of your research, inspiring others to take action; all of which leads to asking additional questions.  Using GIS in educational settings involves 3 legs of a stool of geoliteracy:  Content knowledge, skills (not just GIS skills, but skills in communicating, researching, and more), and the geographic perspective.

Focus on career opportunities, particularly in technical, tribal, and community colleges where workforce development is one of the chief goals.  Discuss how GIS can be a relevant tool and way of thinking in fields literally from A to Z - agriculture, archaeology, and anthropology, to zoology.  Anchor how GIS fits into the world employment and industry outlook.  

Employ educational strategies that reflect the changing nature of GIS.  This includes focusing on problem solving, using GIS lessons that already existed in a curated library, and elements of the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM).  

It is good to show what GIS professionals can do with the technology, but make sure you showcase student work as well.  Consider showing this GIS and the data citizens project, a secondary student's work with UAVs,  a student's research on right whale deaths, a teacher who lets students be creative, and many more examples that exist.   

When you present to any educational institution, since GIS is so visual, make sure you focus on demonstrations over static slides, and a workshop format over a "presentation".   Use real-world examples of what is happening now in your community, region, or the world, showing how GIS is helping, in a "geo-news" format.  Pose questions, model inquiry.  Use "name this place" and other fun quizzes that use GIS.  Use the ArcGIS Living Atlas apps, the cool maps gallery, activities from my colleague, here, and these resources that I created as a source of ideas. 

You may ask, "Do I have time for this"?   What is the return on investment?   I ask you to consider:  What are the consequences of you NOT doing this?  You not doing this could mean that GIS will continue to be smaller in scope and influence than it could be, and that decision-making will suffer with the lack of geographic approaches.  If not you, who will step up?  I can also assure you that in the work I have done over the years with educators and students, that I have gained far more than I have received.  It is gratifying to be involved in touching the future.  You may also ask, "Am I the right person to get involved in education?  I'm not a GIS guru!"   I would respond by saying "You don't need to be a guru.  The world of education needs your expertise.  None of us feels 100% competent in all aspects of our jobs."  

For more details, examples, and recommendations, see this story map that I have created on this subject.  

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.