By Glenda McCarthy
Bonn, Germany is a long way from Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. But for 32-year-old Vancouver native Kristen Scott, her time spent in this province was the stepping stone for her employment overseas.
Kristen studied psychology and sustainable community development for her undergrad, receiving a Bachelor’s degree from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. And while it led to some interesting administrative positions, first as a genealogical researcher, and then as a project coordinator for a market research company, there was still something missing.
“While the jobs I was doing after graduation were interesting, they were not really a specific career. In my work with the market research company, I was introduced to doing more technical work such as working with the company database and advanced Excel work,” Kristen says. “I realized this type of technical work was very interesting to me. I was also interested in continuing with the research aspect of those other positions. I then decided that I wanted to obtain some specific and advanced skills.”
Kristen went into research mode and quickly found out about CNA’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Applications Specialist program. While she knew about GIS from her studies in sustainable community development, she didn’t have a clear understanding of it until she was researching additional post-secondary options. She discovered the post-diploma GIS program utilizes current high-end technology tools to collect, store, manipulate, analyze, interpret, and communicate geographic information.
“Location had a large part in choosing this particular program. I was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the time and felt that studying in Newfoundland was the best option in the area. CNA’s GIS program website does a good job of describing the program and the courses and I thought it sounded very interesting. I also emailed the head of the program, Darin Brooks, and he answered all my questions and made me feel that it would be a good choice of program.”
Once she was settled in Corner Brook, she realized she had made the right decision.
“The program was a great experience,” Kristen says. “The courses were quite intensive and I learned a huge amount. The learning was definitely relevant to work I have done since the program. The class size is small and you work with the same group throughout the entire program. This was very positive because we were able to create a strong supportive and collaborative network.”
For Kristen, the learning experience was highly personalized and in-depth in a way that she believes would be hard to find elsewhere.
“I found the instructors to be highly engaged and involved, which was great for learning. They were also very knowledgeable in their field,” Kristen says. “What was really nice was that all the instructors had extensive industry experience and they were always willing to discuss their experiences, answer questions and provide insight.”
After Kristen graduated in 2012, she found a job immediately in a contractual position and then obtained a permanent full-time position shortly after.
“The continuous learning required, and the wide variety of industry applications for GIS, means that I never get bored,” she says.
Kristen has even found a way to combine two things she loves – her career and travelling. She’s been to Columbia and has embarked on several backpacking trips to destinations in Europe, South East Asia and South America. However, in January of this year, Kristen packed her bags for her latest adventure – working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Bonn, Germany.
This small city of approximately 300,000 people is certainly rich in cultural diversity, due in large part to the United Nations office.
Kristen’s department within WHO focuses on environmental health, climate change and sustainable development. In her role she contributes to the work on geographical analysis of climate and environmental risks; helps prepare technical papers and materials regarding extreme weather events, climate-sensitive illnesses and selected environmental risks in the European region; contributes to publications; and also assists when her department is involved in conferences.
“My current position requires that I use skills learned in my undergraduate studies, such as research and report writing,” she says. “The GIS program definitely gave me a strong background in GIS, along with other important skills like project management, programming and data organization.”
It’s an exciting opportunity for Kristen to work with GIS in the fields of environmental health, climate change research and sustainable development.
“Many GIS positions do not involve research or statistical analysis, which is fine; there are many other interesting uses for GIS, but this is an area I have wanted to get experience in. Also, as a person who loves to travel and learn about the world, getting experience working in an international organization and working with people from all over the world is invaluable.”
When she isn’t working you can find Kristen out exploring her new home.
“Bonn is a lovely looking town with some beautiful old architecture, which is much different than Canada,” Kristen says. “It is on a large river called the Rhine. In fact, I bought a cheap used bicycle and bike to work along the Rhine every day. I have managed to do some traveling on the weekends. I have been to Amsterdam, Berlin and Frankfurt already and plan to see more.”
Kristen’s internship concludes in July, although her visa for working in the country doesn’t expire until 2016, so she’s flexible to remaining there or returning to Canada for work.
“I’m not sure what I will do after that but I will be applying for jobs in Canada and jobs abroad related to GIS in international development and GIS and environmental health research.”