Esri Young Scholar Award Winner’s User Conference Experience

Luke Boswell, a Business Analytics and Data Science masters student from the North West University in Potchefstroom, won the Esri Young Scholars Award 2019 for his masters research project titled “The development of a geolocation system to visualise and profile location-specific risk factors”, with a focus on credit risk analytics within the telecommunications industry in South Africa. As the winning scholar from South Africa, Luke presented his research at the Esri International User Conference in San Diego, California in July 2019. His project was displayed in the Esri Map Gallery, where a special exhibition was prepared for Young Scholars Award winners from 31 countries across the globe who have shown excellence in research associated with the use of Esri technology.

Here Luke shares some details about his experiences at the 2019 Esri International User Conference.


Opening Plenary and Introduction to the UC

Possibly the most exhilarating experience for anyone with a passion for GIS and geography, the opening plenary session for the 2019 UC was absolutely mind-blowing. The theme for the UC was “The Intelligent Nervous System” and was centred around the idea that geography not only connects us all, but also provides us with a means to make better, more intelligent decisions in everything that we do. The opening plenary provided an incredible showcase of the amazing possibilities that intelligent GIS solutions can provide to help almost any aspect of human interaction. From the ground-breaking predictive AI that was showcased by NatureServe regarding biodiversity conservation, to the amazing dashboards and story maps that were created by various other organisations, the plenary session truly revealed the unlimited possibilities that Esri provides their users with, through the vast array of software and tools they offer. To end off the plenary, we were all treated to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of engaging with none other than Jane Goodall, E.O Wilson and Jack Dangermond. All of whom offered such incredible insight and optimism, encouraging future generations to “map for good” and to use GIS to help others in protecting the natural world.

Presentations and Workshop Sessions

Throughout the course of the week, all UC attendees had the opportunity to attend as many presentations and workshops as they could fit into their days. The ability to choose which workshops to attend, the times at which they were presented and the venues in which they were held was all made so easy through the use of the Esri Events App. The app allowed me to select, mark as favourite, and read a brief summary of every presentation that was available at the UC. This was incredibly helpful in planning my own timetable so that I could attend as many sessions as possible. I personally attended sessions that focussed on spatial statistics, machine learning and AI, Python and Java Scripting in ArcGIS as well as a few of the introductory presentations for ArcGIS Pro 2.4.

The wealth of information that was made available at these presentations is unbelievable and I would seriously encourage future Young Scholars Award winners to attend as many of these sessions as possible. PS: The spatial stats team are super friendly, seriously knowledgeable and always willing to answer any questions. They were definitely my favourite team to visit at the Expo Theatre.

Networking and Making Friends

One of the most important things to remember when traveling to the UC as a Young Scholars Award winner is that you are not alone. Traveling from over 30 other countries around the world, are other incredibly intelligent young scholars who are just as nervous and excited to be attending the UC as you are. Some of whom may not be able to speak the same languages as you, some of whom have come from very different or very similar countries and cultures. This is an incredible opportunity to not only meet other Young Scholars Award winners, but also to experience the entire week with them, going on adventures together, getting lost together and sharing in all the fun of the UC and San Diego as a whole together. It is an eye-opening experience engaging with so many young people from so many different countries in such a short space of time, that it truly gives you perspective when you return back home to the comfort zone of your own country. 

I personally found this aspect of the UC the most valuable and memorable after having made friends from Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Canada and elsewhere. All of us  still keep in touch today via WhatsApp and are eager to see each other again sometime in the near future when we next travel abroad. I would like to encourage future YSA winners, to take this opportunity to step outside their comfort zones. In my experience, life begins where your comfort zone ends, and attending UC was a great opportunity for me to go beyond mine.

Exploring San Diego

Of course, there is always time for a bit of fun and exploring when you travel to a new country, and what better way to do it than with new friends or the Esri South Africa clients and staff. San Diego has so much to offer in terms of culture, entertainment and of course, an abundance of sports cars. Exploring the streets of the Gaslamp district during a lunch break or having a pint of craft beer in the evening after a long day of workshops was a great way to explore the vibrant energy that San Diego offers.

Alternatively, a 20 minute trolley (train) ride to the historic Old Town suburb is a great way to experience the Mexican and Spanish culture of San Diego. The tacos and traditional Mexican beer are definitely worth the experience (maybe not the beer so much 😉). But all in all, exploring San Diego was truly awesome and the weather was amazing which made walking, and riding a battery-powered scooter, super fun.

Award Ceremony

The award ceremony was an unexpected appreciation of the immense talent and hard work that the young scholars put into their projects and was a truly rewarding experience. Meeting Jack Dangermond was really special since he is genuinely passionate about the work that the young scholars do and is continually amazed at how the Esri software suite is being used across the world.


The Ultimate GIS Experience

“The opportunity to attend the 2019 Esri UC was perhaps the most memorable, and enjoyable experience of my life. The people that I met, the knowledge that I gained, and the adventure of traveling to a country I had never been to before to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with so many other YSA winners cannot be adequately described with words. I have returned to South Africa with new goals, new perspectives, and renewed passion for intelligent geography. This experience was truly, the ultimate GIS experience. Thank you Esri South Africa for this incredible opportunity.” – Luke Boswell