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Let’s Better the World

Esri’s User Conference brought together GIS lovers from around the world. The four-day event held in San Diego on July 20-24 explored problems unique to every sector while exposing attendees to fellow users and experts on the latest in spatial analysis, web and mobile apps, location analytics, big data, open data, and ArcGIS.

As an avid GIS user and appreciator of everything Esri, I was pretty upset when I couldn’t attend the conference. Thankfully, the majority of sessions and keynote speeches are posted on Esri’s website.

After watching several videos here are my favorite takeaways:

1. GIS is applicable in almost any field
During the opening keynote, Esri CEO, Jack Dangermond, highlighted maps that have made impacts on several areas of public service. The amount of fields where GIS can make a real impact on efficiency and productivity is incredible. Examples include: environmental monitoring and assessment; managing land information; business analysis and management; understanding human health patterns; and preparing for and understanding disasters.

2. GIS can be leveraged at any level of expertise
Dangermond gave out two awards during his keynote. The first, Enterprise GIS Award, was awarded to Irish Water. Paul Ahern accepted the award and expressed, “When we were asked by the government to set up Irish Water, we were faced with three challenges: we had very little time, we had no data, and we had very high customer expectations.” Despite these challenges and little knowledge of GIS, Ahern and his team were able to leverage Esri technology to inform better decisions while increasing water quality and affordability across the country.

The second, The President’s Award, went to the National Audubon Society. President David Yarnold and Doreen Whitley, Geospatial Information Officer of Audubon accepted the award. Whitley expressed, “GIS is really the connective tissue for the entire organization.” Although the society had a whole team of GIS experts and years of mapping experience, they were able to continue innovating with new visualization and data tools.

3. The future of GIS is in the hands of the millennials and it’s going to be awesome
During the Mentoring the Next Generation session, sisters Sarah Alohilani Jenkins and Lily Nalulani presented their data on the invasive species Molokai mangrove. Habitat deterioration and rapid expansion of this species threaten the shores of their home island, Molokai, Hawaii.

The high schoolers utilized ArcMap to collect and display data on the invasive species that could destroy the longest fringing reef in the world. They hope to use their data and map to show the world how important it is to remove the mangrove population due to their prediction that in 70 years the species will reach the fringing reef resulting in irreversible conditions.

Their hard work paid off when they received first place in the Earth and Environmental Science category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

These sisters are truly incredible, but without access to GIS through their high school, their work would not be possible. Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri’s Education Manager, asked the audience to remember what it was like their first time using GIS and realize where they could be if they started learning in high school. He then encouraged everyone to promote throughout his or her local community Esri’s GeoMentor Program. The program, in congruence with President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, offers any K-12 school an ArcGIS Online license with free instruction.

Esri’s vision for GIS has evolved and expanded since its creation and this year is arguably the most relevant as global problems such as climate change and overpopulation reach even higher levels. The conference promoted Geographic Enlightenment, or an understanding of the connectedness of things: people to people, people to planet, people to technology, and more. Esri ultimately urges people to apply this knowledge and make the world a better place.

To learn more about Esri’s vision and GIS, check out the rest of the videos from the User Conference.

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