Postsecondary students interested in geography as a career would be well advised to look up Ryerson’s Chang School for Continuing Education, which offers two certificates in Geographic Information Systems, or GIS.
The “basic” certificate, applied digital geography and GIS, “gives students the opportunity to use GIS in a variety of different fields, geology for example,” says Don Kendal, the Chang school’s academic co-ordinator of GIS programs. The advanced certificate in applied digital geography and GIS “is for people who are in the GIS industry and need a much higher level of skill to do their work.”
GIS has a wide variety of applications beyond what most people think of as geography. It allows companies “to analyze data based on location and then map the results using fairly sophisticated mapping software,” says Kendal. “You can build maps based on aerial photography, analyze the demographic structure of communities within your area of interest … It’s been used in retail marketing for a number of years now.”
The technology was first developed in 1962, and has been taught at Ryerson since the 1980s.
The basic certificate includes two introductory courses, plus industry-specific electives such as utilities planning and environmental management, and theory courses including programming and web mapping.
“Our graduates are well versed in a variety of software packages, so that they can go to almost any employer and use the software that that employer’s invested in,” Kendal says.
Some graduates become GIS analysts, though many fields, including urban planning and zoology, use GIS as part of their regular activities. “Whatever they happen to be doing, if it’s got a spatial component they’ll be using GIS,” Kendal says.
Students interested in the basic certificate must possess a university degree or college diploma, and pass an interview with Kendal. “I want to make sure they understand what GIS is and what they’re getting into,” he says.