Dustin Nelson attends ESRI UC 2017

I attended the 2017 Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) user conference in San Diego, CA thanks to registration funds provided by the UWM GIS Council. ESRI is the world-leader in GIS software services and their week-long event is attended annually by thousands of GIS professionals from around the world. Many opportunities to expand my GIS knowledge were available at the conference. There was an expo floor that showcased GIS products and services from start-up companies to nonprofit organizations. There were technical workshops on advanced GIS operations, and lecture sessions that explored GIS techniques for real-world projects. The event was a venue for experts to meet via special interest group sessions; GIS for Parks and Zoos, Cartography, Fire/Rescue/EMS, and Agriculture are a few examples of the many industries that convene at the UC. The Conference tagline was “Applying the Science of Where”. It conveyed the limitless applications of GIS technology for any problem where location matters. It was a brilliant theme because it succinctly represents what GIS can offer to science, government, and business.

The most striking feature of the conference was the sheer variety of content, epitomized at the map gallery. The map gallery was held in an immense room filled with posters that showcased hundreds of GIS projects the world over. From the opiate crisis to wetland restoration, there was something of interest to nearly any field.. I want to use GIS as a tool for biological sciences, and thus prioritized sessions about wildlife research and management.
My favorite presentation was about kernel density analysis for Sea Turtle conservation. Location data on turtle nests plundered by predators was used to identify at-risk sites. The researchers demonstrated how nest relocation can save turtles by showing the difference in depredation losses between original and relocated nests. Their GIS analysis statistically proved the efficacy of nest relocation, setting an example for future conservation efforts. Another exciting project used public surveys on mobile GIS apps to identify areas prized by sportsmen. The resulting heatmap proved useful for statewide campsite planning and wildlife management. In addition to these lectures, technical workshops introduced me to tools like ESRI Story Maps, which I plan to experiment with in my coursework.

The expo hall was an excellent resource for familiarizing myself with various industries. There were meeting stations for GIS users in business, education, law enforcement and more. I made several connections with wildlife and conservation agencies, and gained greater insight into how these professionals use GIS technology. In the trade show area, I visited booths advertising a wide variety of products and was sure to take note of anything that could be useful to the GIS program. I was especially impressed by a virtual reality flight simulator from Somniac called “Birdly”, which was being used to demonstrate 3D city models and allowed you to fly through Manhattan using bird flight mechanics. There were several vendors advertising drone services, my favorite was high-resolution aerial photography of river systems for conservationists. Outside the convention center, ESRI offered fully catered socials nearly every night for conference attendants, providing opportunities for networking and relaxation after a long day of events. At the Young Professionals Network Social, I met people from New York to New Zealand, even Esri’s CEO! Looking back, the things I learned and the people I met made my trip very successful. My first user conference experience greatly enhanced my professional and personal development and I can’t wait to apply my new insights to future projects. I look forward to attending in the future, and want more students to have access to this incredible event.

I strongly urge GIS professionals to support students by donating to the UWM GIS Council to provide travel assistance to this conference. Further financial investment offers both greater organizational representation for our University in an increasingly important field and advanced professional development opportunities for students at a vital stage in their GIS studies.