Brock celebrates the ‘science of where’ on GIS Day

What do hockey analytics, forest fires, vineyards, biodiversity, permafrost, defunct railway lines and West Nile virus have in common?

They’re all areas that can be researched using Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The many applications of GIS were demonstrated by Brock students who presented at the annual Esri Canada Scholarship Competition, which took place on campus Wednesday.

“The Esri Canada GIS Scholarship program aims to recognize excellence in research at institutions across Canada by supporting and encouraging students in their future work,” said Krista Amolins, Higher Education Developer and Analyst with Esri Canada, who visited Brock to hear the presentations.

GIS Day cake

Guests at Brock’s annual GIS Day were treated to a cake complete with a 3D model of campus.

Undergraduate and graduate students demonstrated how GIS software can be used to visualize and analyze geographic information in order to solve the real-world problems that are the focus of their research.

The competitors represented a cross-section of disciplines, including geography, oenology and viticulture, biological science, earth science, biotechnology and history.

The competition was the highlight of Brock’s seventh annual GIS Day, hosted by Brock’s Map, Data & GIS Library and the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies. GIS Day falls during Geography Awareness Week.

Competitor Brian Giordano, a PhD candidate for the Centre for Biotechnology who studies the spread of West Nile virus, finds that GIS software helps him share his findings more widely.

“Trying to explain complex analyses to the general public can be difficult,” said Giordano. “Mapping software provides a simple yet elegant way to showcase the data in a way that the general public can relate to and easily understand.”

Brent Thorne, who is working on a master’s degree in the Department of Earth Science, believes that GIS can be applied to almost any project.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on an accessibility web map application and remote sensing of Niagara region vineyards, and to conduct GIS analysis on Arctic vegetation,” said Thorne, who also completed a BSc in Physical Geography at Brock. He credits his GIS courses with opening his eyes to the possibilities of GIS software.

Thorne now shares his GIS knowledge and experience with others by posting tutorials on his YouTube channel.

With presentations complete, Assistant Professor Kevin Turner and instructor Brodie Hague, both of the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, and Colleen Beard and Sharon Janzen, both of the Map, Data & GIS Library, will meet to deliberate and choose a winner, who will be announced in mid-January. The winner will submit a poster illustrating the results of their research to Esri Canada before receiving the scholarship prize.

In addition to a cash award of $1,000, the winner will receive several of Esri’s ArcGIS products, including desktop software, an ArcGIS Developer subscription, publications, training, conference registration, and eligibility for future awards and opportunities — a value of more than $50,000. They will also be added to the gallery of recipients at

Brock has an education site licence for Esri’s ArcGIS software suite, and Beard, head of the Map, Data & GIS Library, would like to see its use expanded to a wider audience.

“GIS creates a multidisciplinary approach to research, and is used everywhere from digital humanities to sports analytics, from community health to institutional analysis and beyond. The presentations (Wednesday) are a testament to that,” Beard said. 

“GIS doesn’t need to be complicated. It doesn’t take a lot to turn your data story into a web app for others to explore.”

Students, staff, and faculty interested in obtaining ArcGIS software can learn more on the Map, Data and GIS Library web page.

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