Mapping Out a Career in Cartography

Maps have guided travelers around the globe for hundreds of years. And after careers in archaeology and IT, a longtime love of maps led Julie Witmer to Fleming’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – Cartographic Specialist post-graduate program.

“I’ve always loved maps – I collect map brochures when traveling and have poster maps decorating my home,” she said.

Discovering the Fleming program and realizing she could make a career of map making, Julie now owns her own cartography business, Julie Witmer Custom Map Design. She creates custom maps for a range of clients such as local associations, publishers, authors, small business owners, non-profit organizations, and municipalities.

Fleming College graduate Julie Witmer is mapping out her own path as a business owner and Cartographer.

“I love that I get to design maps every day! I love being my own boss and choosing what projects to work on. Every day I make maps, usually working on a few client projects at a time,” she said. And, as a small business owner herself, she handles all the marketing, social media, accounts, and administrative work that comes with entrepreneurship.

“In many cases, my clients start out with little or no knowledge of the map-making process. But that’s never been an issue, because an essential part of my approach is to create an experience that is informed, easy and enjoyable from start to finish,” she said.

“While a primary function of maps is to help people get around, they aren’t just tools for navigating. They help people learn about their communities and to become more active and connected to them. Maps can guide visitors, but they can also attract them to events and points of interest,” she added.

Julie initially studied and worked in archaeology, digging in ancient sites in Israel and Jordan as well as in southern Ontario. Deciding a career in academia wasn’t for her, a second career in IT landed her to a job at RIM (BlackBerry). However, a layoff in 2011 prompted Julie to research new career opportunities.

“When I saw that I could learn how to make maps at Fleming, I jumped at the chance!” she said.

Students in both the GIS – Cartographic Specialist and GIS – Applications Specialist programs take the same foundational first semester courses before choosing one of the specializations, which Julie appreciated.

“I loved designing with MAPublisher and Illustrator so that’s why I chose the Cartographic Specialist stream.”

She added that her favourite part of the program was the geovisualization courses.

“The program gave me good exposure to GIS software programs and the opportunity to work on several projects during the courses. I like that students can choose a specialized stream after the first term and have the opportunity to work on projects for real clients in the final co-op term. It helped me develop a workflow for custom map creation, which I still use today,” she said.

Geographic Information Systems are computer systems or software that capture, store, and display all types of spatial and geographic data. Working within those systems, GIS practitioners create, analyze and manage that data. Within the Cartographic stream, students analyze and visualize data using a variety of mapping techniques.

Fleming’s GIS programs feature multiple options for post-graduate learners. Students can study full-time or part-time in the Applications Specialist and Cartographic Specialist programs. The GIS – Applications Specialist program also offers an online option for distance learning.

“If you love maps, GIS, cartography, and being creative, I recommend this program.”

Interested in a GIS career, but not sure which stream might be right for you? Visit flemingcollege.ca/discover-gis for more information.

Beginning Again, and Inspiring Others

Sara Khabbazi needed to begin again. 

The new Fleming College graduate took a leap of faith when she enrolled in the Electrical Techniques program in January 2020. Khabbazi admitted she was surprised by her interest in electronics. But she was inspired by the technicians at her former workplace. 

“I went in as a completely blank canvas,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to solder.” 

“I was like an old system of DOS,” Khabbazi, 47, joked. “And I needed to upgrade myself.”  

Two years before Khabbazi’s “upgrade,” the mother of two had spent much of her adult life working in her family’s distillery business. She had held that job since she came to Canada in her early 20s, putting aside her own dreams of a post-secondary education in her new country.  

Then things fell apart.  

Her marriage ended, and Khabbizi said that meant she was out of a job, with nothing to fall back on.  

It was a difficult time in her life. Feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to turn, Khabbizi thought long and hard about her next steps. She said she came up with two options.  

“I had a choice between going to therapy and going to school,” Khabbazi said, “and so I went to school.” 

Khabazzi, a Peterborough-area resident, knew Fleming College would get her where she wanted to go.  

“I needed to learn about all this new technology and this new world we are living in,” Khabbazi said. “At Fleming, I felt like I was home.” 

Fleming College graduate Sara Khabbazi and her daughter Monakha hug at the end of a convocation ceremony at Peterborough Sport and Wellness Centre on Friday June 17, 2022. Photo courtesy of Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner

She threw herself into her studies, taking advantage of every tool Fleming College offered, from research and studying tips to the counselling services available to students.  

“I used every opportunity for me at Fleming,” she said.  

For two years Khabbazi worked hard. She asked questions, studied, and grew her knowledge. Khabbazi would later transfer to Fleming’s Electrician Engineering Technician program.  

Her months of hard work paid off. On June 17, with her family and classmates looking on, Khabbazi represented the School of Trades and Technology as Valedictorian.   

“In two years, I learned what I’m made of, and what I’m capable of,” Khabbazi said. “It was a huge confidence boost.” 

That same boost has motivated Khabbazi to continue her education through Fleming College’s education pathways, with the intent on earning her Bachelors of Electrical Engineering at Technological University of the Shannon in Ireland.  

“It’s like opening the door to a big playground,” she said. “I don’t know what is going to happen, but I’m open to all the possibilities.” 

She has inspired her youngest daughter-who starts school in September-to follow in her footsteps and pursue a career in aerospace engineering.  

Khabbazi hopes her inspiration travels beyond her family. She said she wants to inspire others to go into a career in skilled trades-particularly older women who may find themselves in similar situation. 

“I wanted to do something I am proud of, and my kids are proud of,” Khabbazi said. “Now I am proud of this new life.” 

Unique Dual Diplomas Open Up Career Opportunities

Sometimes, it takes two to make a thing go right.

Fleming grad Sara Franchuk is using the knowledge and skills gained from two diplomas to help fulfil her goal of becoming a wildlife biologist.

Sara, a graduate of both the Forestry Technician and Ecosystem Management Technician programs, is currently working as an intern biologist at the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.

Within that role, she is getting valuable experience in planning, developing and implementing strategies to ensure the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. This supports fisheries, wildlife and forest management planning in the province.

“I pursued a career in natural resource management – including forestry and environmental management – to learn more about our landscape’s biodiversity and how to conserve it,” she says. “The thing I enjoy the most about forestry is leading fish and wildlife value collection projects to support forest management planning and the protection of our natural resources.”

Sara was able to take advantage of some unique-to-Fleming pathways that have helped along her career path: the dual diploma option, which allowed her to complete both diplomas in just three years, as well as the opportunity to transfer seamlessly to another institution for further education.

Returning to school, Sara attended Lakehead University. With her Fleming credentials, she was able to enter directly into third year and graduate in just two years with an Honours Bachelor of Environmental Management, specializing in Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Management.

“With a smaller college size and such a positive learning atmosphere it made me excited about going to class each and every day. Both my diplomas prepared me well with a good base of knowledge and technical skills that rounded out my education,” she said. “I transferred to Lakehead with a variety of hands-on experience and field work that most university students had not acquired yet.”

As a woman in the forestry sector, she says she sees both public and private sectors rapidly changing.

“I’ve noticed an increase in representation of women in forestry and there are plenty of opportunities in a wide range of jobs. There are still many challenges that women face, but every day I see more changes being made for the better.”

Most diploma programs in the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences offer the opportunity to complete a dual diploma. Visit flemingcollege.ca/dual-diplomas to learn more about this unique option.


Questions? Contact us: askus@flemingcollege.ca