Esri Young Scholar’s Award

User Conference Experience

Lehlohonolo Pule Thipe, an ICT Management masters student at the University of Pretoria, won the Esri Young Scholar Award 2018 for his honours research in “Evaluating animated 3D geo-visualizations of the El Nino phenomenon for teaching at the University of Pretoria”. As the winning scholar from South Africa, Lehlohonolo presented his research at the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California in July 2018. His project was displayed in the Esri Map Gallery, where a special exhibition was prepared for young scholar award winners from 27 countries across the globe who have shown excellence in research associated with the use of Esri technology.
Here he shares some details about his experiences at the 2018 Esri International User Conference.

Opening plenary

Nothing was as overwhelming as the opening session. With an attendance of approximately 18 000 delegates from all over the world, it was the highlight of the conference.

The conference was a huge success. President and founder of Esri, Jack Dangermond, delivered the opening address of the UC under the theme “Inspiring What’s Next”. His talk introduced some of the latest technology that has been developed in line with Esri’s goals of learning, sharing and growing as a community of GIS professionals in an ever-changing world. Dangermond ended his talk with a Charles Darwin quote which he says is the basis of inspiring what’s next in a changing environment: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.


Prior to presenting my research at the UC, I was asked to talk on GIS education in South Africa at the FIG Young Surveyors Network session. Titled “Surveyors Across Borders: How Geospatial Education Differs”, the session provided me with a great opportunity to tell “the world” about my country and how young people are channeled into the GIS space, the market they go into and some of the challenges they face when moving from tertiary education to the work environment.


There were so many people from different countries that it was almost impossible not to network because of the mindset inspired by Jack Dangermond’s opening address. The notion of collaboration and growing as a community of GIS professionals resonated with a lot of the people I met. Although I went to the user conference with the intention of networking, it became a highlight because I gained friends and heightened awareness to what is happening elsewhere in the world in the process.

Demo sessions

After a mind-blowing introduction to the new technologies by Jack Dangermond, the demo sessions allowed for delegates to interact with the software. Although sessions were available for all the newly introduced technology, I was particularly interested in Esri Drone2Map, ArcGIS Indoor and ArcGIS Urban. For the South African context, I felt like the application of these programs would make a big difference across several industries.

Award ceremony and closing plenary

Special moments: Receiving my award from Jack Dangermond and featuring in the closing plenary.

Closing party

After a stimulating week of learning and connecting, a closing party was held at Balboa Park. It was a beautiful, warm night with wonderful food, live performances and a very special vibe. The 2018 Esri User Conference was an amazing experience.

“Thank you Esri South Africa for the opportunity” – Lehlohonolo Pule Thipe