Fleming GIS graduate Matt Pietryszyn launches COVID-19 Alerts System to share data with the public

When the shift to essential services began in Canada, Qwhery founder Matt Pietryszyn noticed the struggle many people faced with finding localized COVID-19-related information. The Fleming College graduate decided to put his Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills to use and launched a platform to help keep the public informed.

“While working on another project (ProjectPandemic), I met Sabrina Tang, owner of SaFuture Inc. We discussed how there was so much information about COVID-19 cases on the Internet, yet many people still didn’t know where to get it, in terms of their own communities,” said Matt. “We decided to collaborate on a solution that would send that localized information directly to anyone who registered for the daily or weekly notifications.”

The platform, which is a collaboration between Qwhery and SaFuture Inc., enables people to receive local COVID-19-related data directly to their phone for free. Subscribers receive alerts or daily and weekly summary notifications for confirmed cases, recoveries, tests and deaths within their health region in Canada or county in the United States. The COVID-19 Alerts System utilizes data curated by Esri Canada provided by Health Regions across Canada and Johns Hopkins University for American data.

“We felt it important to keep this a free service because we wanted to be able to help get this information out to everyone who wanted it, with no restrictions or barriers,” said Matt. “We were able to secure a grant from Twilio, a leader in SMS technology, and have been able to support and sustain the COVID-19 Alerts System at a very low cost.”

The response to the platform has been positive, with people subscribing from all over North America. “As subscribers to our service continue to receive their daily notifications, they get a better understanding of the pandemic and what’s happening in their own communities,” said Matt.

The GIS graduate said he entered the industry in 2003 with confidence and a head-start thanks to his Fleming College education, which trained him on industry-standard tools and software and encouraged him to be creative with projects and assignments.

“I believe that my experience at Fleming gave me the confidence to enter the workforce and provided me with a strong network of peers and mentors that helped me since I graduated,” said Matt. “The faculty was very knowledgeable of the industry and having that insight shared with me at the beginning of my career really helped me be confident in my decisions to pursue various roles in GIS.”

After working for the City of Brampton, Esri Canada and the City of Hamilton, Matt founded Qwhery in August 2019 as a creative outlet to experiment with ideas and develop solutions to benefit a wide audience. Qwhery is a leader in implementing voice technology and geographic information systems. Their flagship product, Q11, connects smart home devices and voice assistants to local government open data portals, and the Qwhery cloud helps cities connect their services to residents through smart home technology, open data and community engagement.

Matt is currently focused on connecting Amazon Alexa and Google Home with Municipal Open Data, location-based information and services to efficiently provide citizens with information from their municipality– without needing to search on a website or call 311.

After working in GIS for 17 years and founding Qwhery, Matt continues to use his Fleming College skills and knowledge and highly recommends the program to those interested in this career path.

“I enjoyed my time at Fleming College very much. I got involved through a job at the computer lab and really immersed myself in the program,” he said. “I would absolutely recommend the GIS program to others, and I do every chance I get.”

For information about Qwhery, Location Intelligence and Voice Tech, please contact Matt Pietryszyn at matt@qwhery.com.

GIS students gain real world experience through collaborative projects

From the Town of Nebo archaeological project in Jordan to a 3D visualization of Peterborough Airport, the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Open House 2017 featured an array of collaborative projects.

At the June 23 event, GIS – Application Specialist and Cartographic Specialist graduates showcased their projects, which they completed in partnership with non-profit and government organizations. The projects were from a variety of fields, including archaeology, forestry, municipal, natural resources, ecology, and technology.

Cartographic Specialist graduate Sean McPherson, who worked with classmates Mackenzie Marsh and Dillon Ward to create a 3D visualization of Peterborough Airport, enjoyed partnering with the County of Peterborough for their collaborative project.

“It shows you more about the real world and how they plan things…” – Sean McPherson

“My experience working with the County was great,” said Sean. “It shows you more about the real world and how they plan things, their structure and how they operate.”

Sean McPherson (left) and Mackenzie Marsh demonstrate the 3D visualization of Peterborough Airport
Sean McPherson (left) and Mackenzie Marsh demonstrate the 3D visualization of Peterborough Airport

The team utilized existing LIDAR data to create a 3D representation and a 2-dimentional map service. LIDAR is the most accurate method of gathering 3D data and in 2015 a joint project between the City of Peterborough and the County of Peterborough was undertaken to collect 10 point/m2 of LIDAR data. The County sought the expertise of Fleming’s GIS program to create an online visualization tool to help demonstrate the value of this data to users.

“They were eager to learn because they didn’t have much experience with the LIDAR there to put it on the web,” said Sean on collaborating with their community partner.

Application Specialist graduate Colleen Gibson believes more government organizations will be using GIS to help share information with constituents.

“I believe within the next five years the government will be pushing for more open data across the board,” said Colleen, who worked with her classmates Colleen McNamara and Brittany Zucchetto to create an Open Data Portal for the City of Barrie. “It helps make the government more transparent and increases community engagement.”

Colleen came to Fleming College after earning her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Geography with a specialization in Geomatics and minor in Global Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, where she was introduced to GIS.

 “I heard lots of good things about Fleming College. It seemed like a great route to go and I’m happy I came” – Colleen Gibson

“I heard lots of good things about Fleming College. It seemed like a great route to go and I’m happy I came,” said Colleen. “I immersed myself in school life. These walls became my home and I know it sounds strange but I really enjoyed it.”

Shannon MacDonald
Shannon MacDonald explains her collaborative project

Cartographic Specialist graduate Shannon MacDonald started her Fleming College studies at home through the online Applications Specialist program.

“It was a pretty intense couple first weeks working in my bedroom doing everything on my own,” said Shannon. “It was a lot, but there was a good support system of profs who encouraged us to network with other online students.”

When Shannon discovered she liked the cartographic side of things more than application, she took her education offline and attended the Cartographic Specialist program in-class at Frost Campus.

 “Everyone felt like a family” – Shannon MacDonald

“Everyone felt like a family. I’m lucky, I know all of the online students and all of the in-class students,” said Shannon, who worked with Application Specialist students Brittney Bourdages and Markus Fleming on the Otonabee Region Watershed Significant Woodlands Mapping collaborative project.

For Annie Brough, Brad Oster and Adam Prong, who worked together on the Conservation Areas Web Apps project for Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, graduating is extra sweet because all three have jobs lined up in their field.

(l-r): Brad Oster, Annie Brough, and Adam Prong
(l-r): Brad Oster, Annie Brough, and Adam Prong

Cartographic Specialist graduate Annie Brough has been hired as GIS Assistant for Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, Application Specialist graduate Brad Oster will be Planning Technician for the Township of Severn in Orillia, and Cartographic Specialist graduate Adam Prong will return to Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. – where he worked for three years prior to attending Fleming – as an Archaeological Field Technician. Adam hopes to take on more mapping responsibilities with his new skills and education, and has a meeting this week to discuss it.

“I had to answer lots of technical questions and I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise” – Annie Brough, who has been hired as GIS Assistant for Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority

Annie said her Fleming education was useful in her job interview. “I had to answer lots of technical questions and I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” she said. “And lots of the government workers there are graduates of this program and hire from this program. The majority come from Fleming– there and at the MNR.”

Brad said Fleming not only prepared him with the technical knowledge needed to answer his job interview questions, but with a strong and well-crafted resume as well. Brad explained that Fleming Career Services gave a presentation on resume writing to his class and he used this information to write his resume for the Township of Severn position.

And Brad and his teammates are entering the work world with real experience thanks to their collaborative project with Otonabee Region Conservation Authority. “It helps you get real work experience,” said Brad. “It shows you how things would operate in a real workplace before you graduate.

FME Desktop Tech Expert Trent Kading reflects on whirlwind time in Fleming’s GIS program

trent-kadingFor GIS – Applications Specialist graduate Trent Kading, his time at Frost Campus was a whirlwind. With 16 courses over the course of 10 months, intense group projects, intramural sports and on-campus events, the 2016 graduate reflects on his time in Lindsay, Ontario as being hectic.

Trent came to Fleming College after earning his Bachelor of Arts in Geography with a Geomatics Option from Wilfrid Laurier University. A GIS professor at Laurier had recommended the renowned Fleming program to Trent when he expressed interest in gaining more practical knowledge.

“My overall experience at Frost Campus was a memorable life experience,” said Trent, who spent every day on campus completing assignments and participating in extracurricular activities. “Throughout the weekdays the campus is buzzing with people, inside and out. The weekends, however, can be very quiet apart from the GIS labs where, as my fellow GIS students can attest, we spent more time there than anywhere else.”

Despite the heavy GIS workload, Trent said he was able to squeeze in some fun thanks to accommodating departments and services at Fleming College. “The Athletics Department was extremely helpful in arranging times for intramurals,” said Trent, providing the example of Indoor Soccer games being scheduled for a time GIS students could participate. “The same goes for the Auk’s Lodge Trivia; being unable to attend Trivia due to class, on request they would host a second-round of Trivia an hour later.”

One of the projects that kept Trent busy was his GIS co-op with classmates Michael Flewwelling and Keith Stickwood, where the team built a virtual tour of Frost Campus for the Fleming College Marketing Department. “The overall experience was very stressful but overall gratifying,” said Trent. He said the team strategically worked on the project during regular business hours like a job, explaining, “this allowed me to gain a greater understanding of time management, as it allowed the group to split up tasks rather than trying to do everything together.”

Trent said he is using the problem solving and client relationship skills he gained during the GIS co-op in his current job at Safe Software, where he was hired after graduating from Fleming College. “Being able to solve problems and interact directly with a client translates to exactly what my job entails. It allowed me to develop my skills in a positive way that I would not have experienced otherwise,” he said.

Trent currently works as the FME Desktop Tech Expert at Safe Software in Surrey, British Columbia, where he helps clients with technical inquiries. Safe Software incorporates GIS to handle spatial data, and Trent focuses on Esri and database topics in his role. He also creates articles and tutorials for Safe Software’s Knowledge Base.

“The Fleming education did help me get the job, especially with the problem solving aspect of the program and the direct correlation with the position I got,” said Trent. Although Trent believes no post-secondary program can fully prepare you for the “real world,” he does believe Fleming’s GIS program prepared him as much as possible. In particular, GIS students gain presentation skills, problem solving skills, and hands-on experience, which Trent said are applicable to your career.

The Fleming College graduate relocated for this career opportunity and is glad he took the risk. “BC has turned out to be a great experience. The scenery, the people, even the touristy attractions are wonderful,” he said. “The advice I would give to those pursuing this career path is to be open to new experiences. I found that when applying to jobs, I was limited by what was within travel distance within Ontario (GTA namely). By broadening my scope, I was able to find a position that matched exactly what I was looking for.”

Fleming College celebrates GIS Day in Peterborough

Fleming College celebrates GIS Day at Sutherland Campus with the GIS Day in Peterborough event. Fleming’s GIS programs are hosting the event, which highlights how the community uses geographic information systems (GIS) to make a difference.

Kendra Chalmers, event organizer and Fleming GIS faculty

GIS Day in Peterborough features classroom seminars, presentations, and booths in the main foyer with representatives from the City of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Esri Canada, City of Kawartha Lakes, Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and more. Students from Fleming’s GIS – Applications Specialist and GIS – Cartographic Specialist programs, which are part of the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences, took the Frost Campus Shuttle to Sutherland Campus to participate.

“Typically, you don’t get to meet the people who do the software you’ve been using for months in school, like Esri Canada, PCI Geomatics, Avenza Systems. There are potential employers here, as well as people who use GIS, like the City of Peterborough,” said Kendra Chalmers, event organizer and Fleming GIS faculty. “It’s a great way to think ahead and see how others use GIS.”

Kendra hopes the event inspires GIS students to think about their future after graduation, and that the public discovers how their community is using GIS to make a difference across many fields.

Nicole Schleifer (left), GIS Coordinator for City of Peterborough, at GIS Day

Nicole Schleifer, GIS Coordinator for City of Peterborough, is one of the representatives at the GIS Day in Peterborough event. “We’ve been able to improve day-to-day functions,” said Nicole on GIS technology being used by the City. “Public Works can now take information with them, which has improved their ability to see data in the field,” she said.

In particular, winter catch basin clearing has improved greatly for Public Works. “Because of GIS, they can see on a map where the catch basins are. They used to use a pole through the snow to find them, but now they can just follow the map! It takes half the time,” said Nicole. She added that it also helps the office interact with the community; if someone calls asking when their catch basin will be cleared, the office can look on the map and see where the crew is located (the map turns from red to green once a catch basin is cleared).

The City of Peterborough hosted the GIS Day event last year, and this year they gave Fleming College the honour of organizing it. Fleming was the first college in Ontario to offer GIS training more than 20 years ago. Fleming’s leadership in the field has been recognized by industry, government and business through their support in establishing the Geomatics Institute at Fleming. These partnerships provide students access to the latest computer hardware, software, data resources and field technology used in the industry, as well as unprecedented learning and employment opportunities.