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GIS Career Day: Learning about cartography careers


By Lawrie Keillor-Faulkner

To celebrate GIS Day, students and staff in Fleming College’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Geomatics Technician programs heard first-hand about careers in the cartographic field when four GIS professionals visited the Frost Campus. 

GIS Day is an international event designed to increase awareness of GIS, celebrated on the Wednesday of Geography Awareness Week. This year’s presentations had a cartographic emphasis.

The professionals gave presentations on what their day-to-day work involved and shared the many career options available to graduates in the industry.

Guest presenter, Paul Heersink, is an alumnus of Fleming and currently Production Manager of Esri Canada’s Community Mapping Program. This project is part of a global initiative to input data from multiple sources and make it into a seamless series of maps of the world, available online and for mobile mapping applications. Heersink’s role is to oversee the Canadian portion of these maps and has recently hired a number of Fleming graduates.

However Heersink started out on a different career path – initially working as a social worker. A love of maps led him to Fleming College and he graduated from the Cartographic Technician program in 1997.

Since then he has held various positions, including with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and Rand McNally Canada (Canadian Cartographic Corporation). Heersink has also done freelance map work and recently published a book on cartography for kids: Maps and Mapping for Canadian Kids.

The first presenter, Tammy Sikma, Manager of GIS for the County of Peterborough, shared the relevance and necessity of municipal mapping. In her 10 years at the county, she has overseen the move from paper maps to layered digital maps.

County maps assist EMS with dispatching, she said. Public works can use mapping for planning or to locate existing infrastructure. Land use planning and historical development are also vital aspects of municipal mapping.

Sikma, also a graduate of the college’s Cartographic Technician/Technologist programs, said online county maps are available to the public at the county website. They can assist with tourism, business planning and allow land-owners to verify property lines and zoning.

She offered tips to students applying for jobs in the field; “Know the company you’re applying to,” she said. Resumes should be clear and concise and graduates should always bring a portfolio of their work to job interviews, she added.

The next speaker, Venessa Michalsen spoke of her work at the Provincial Geomatics Service Centre (PGSC) based at the MNR in Peterborough. A graduate of the University of Windsor, Michalsen learned her GIS in the field and on the job at Algonquin Provincial Park and while working on her thesis. 

“Be a team player,” she said, recommending students should be willing to learn new skills and try new directions. 

The PGSC has been working on many interesting projects, such as mapping the spread of invasive species like Phragmites, a tall European reed seen in local gardens, which has spread to many Ontario wetlands, outcompeting native species. Another interesting project was a canoe tripping map, updated from a simple map to a newer more attractive and understandable relief map.

The last presenter, Shawn Bulbrook, IT Architect of Scalar Inc., comes from a different point of view. Responsible for emergency and disaster preparation for many large enterprises and corporations, Bulbrook agreed with the previous three professionals when he said “it’s all about the data.”

The amount of data and information available globally more than doubles every year and organized backups and redundancies are vital to the information industry. He spoke of the ‘cloud’ and how data is duplicated, divided and “bounced” to servers around the world to break up the possibility of hackers or disaster destroying all of a company’s precious data.

Bulbrook recommended students regularly update their certifications: “you never know what you might need to know.”

He was recently in Boston learning a new backup system; training that was interrupted by evacuations due to Hurricane Sandy. 

The presentations were followed by a brief forum and a Q and A session along with an opportunity to mingle, which the students greatly enjoyed. It was a highly successful GIS Day career event!

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