UWindsor degree mapped out alumna’s future

Larisa JohnstoneSelf-described “map geek” Larisa Johnstone (BA 1998) says her time studying geographic information system (GIS) courses at the University of Windsor led to a lifetime love of all things map related.

“The GIS came from my interest in maps and remote sensing and satellite imaging,” says Johnstone. “I found it amazing that you could discover your world using satellites and photographs.”

GIS connects data to a map by incorporating the location of things or data with descriptive information. What is GIS to Johnstone? To describe the field, she starts with a saying from leading mapping and spatial analytics software company Esri: “GIS is the science of where,” and expands from there.

“You are taking the world around you, and you are relating it to everything else around you,” Johnstone says. “Where you are — how is that related to everything else and what relationships can you build with that? It can be anything, like how is me sitting here now affecting our water supply, our electrical supply, or our food consumption? All of these things are relative to each other.”

Her former geography professor, Placido La Valle, knew Johnstone loved field work and pushed her toward GIS courses.

“I took every course they offered,” she says.

“I found it really interesting that I could use it to study real world problems. I saw the power of GIS. With all the data that we had I could create scenarios to determine the best place to plant trees, best place to invest money for a business development, and everything in between. I think it was pivotal for me taking those GIS courses to get to where I am right now.”

Johnstone is currently a GIS data analyst with the City of Windsor. She has also served as a parks operation asset analyst with the city, a junior draftsperson at a land surveyors, and a GIS tech with Essex Region Conservation Authority digitizing watersheds, and mapping flood lines.

Because of Science“My career now is 100 per cent related to my education and I’m so grateful my education got me to where I am right now,” she says. “My GIS training at UWindsor was essential in me getting this position and that’s because of Science at UWindsor.”

In her current role, she says draws on her ecology background as well as her GIS knowledge.

“I’ve taken my training and knowledge in GIS and I’ve put it to in use because we do projects here that help the snake population. I’m involved in creating those apps and maps; that is my contribution.”

Johnstone completed an environmental resource management degree with a specialization in aquatic ecology and GIS. Now the University of Windsor’s School of Environment in the Faculty of Science offers a GIS certificate.

Johnstone is also a GIS ambassador for Esri.

“I go into high schools and colleges to talk about my career and experiences. My goal is to get women more involved in the science, especially GIS.”

—Sara Elliott

Because of Science at UWindsor is a series designed to showcase Faculty of Science alumni and the impact of their journey through science.