Geography deals with some of the most exciting issues on Earth. It studies the interaction between human beings and the global environment and the resulting problems and opportunities.
We, as human beings, are an intrinsic part of the global ecosystem. We are a powerful part of nature and create imbalances that can have global influence. Geography is also concerned with spatial analysis: the distribution characteristics or network structures of a wide variety of physical and human features on the Earth's surface. It is from these concerns that Geographical Information Science (GIS) has emerged.
For geography alumnus James Banting (BSc ’09, MSc ’16), the University of Lethbridge was the environment he needed to discover his passion. Banting bounced around between a few programs in his first year before he decided what kind of degree he truly wanted to pursue. He started with general science, looked at political science and finally settled on geography. Perhaps his childhood fascination with National Geographic maps played a role in the decision? Nevertheless, it was the University’s liberal education approach that allowed him to explore these opportunities.
“I was also able to meet some very smart and interesting people through my studies, student groups and extracurricular activities which has helped immensely in my professional career,” says Banting.
During his undergrad studies, Banting worked with Dr. Sarah Boon on some of her environmental research work in the Oldman River watershed. This was his first experience with geospatial work outside of lab or class settings and it helped shape his understanding of the requirements for geospatial work outside of school. Some of his favourite class experiences were trips into the field, as well as Dr. Hester Jiskoot’s glaciology lab where he was able to build a replica glacier to simulate how ice flowed around obstacles.
“My professors encouraged me to always think of the bigger implementations of my work. Why were we doing some task? Could there be a better way? The environment in which they taught allowed me the freedom to question methods I did not understand and seek clarification in areas I poorly understood. Through their guidance, I was able to realize the meaning behind the saying, ‘The more you know, the more you know you don't know’.”
Banting gained further work experience when he joined the Co-operative Education program and completed a work term with the Alberta Geological Survey. His experience helped him understand the governmental approach to GIS work, and was his first introduction to computer programming.
“The biggest advice I can give to future students is to take a basic course in computer programming. Knowing how to code is immensely useful in any discipline, even more so in geography and GIS,” advises Banting.
Banting now works as a geospatial developer at Sparkgeo, which provides geospatial expertise to tech companies. There he studies cloud native approaches to geospatial problems. He is very enthusiastic about the business applications for machine learning on remotely-sensed data.
“The projects I work on cover a wide range of geospatial topics including remote sensing, geographical information science, cartography and data collection,” he explains.