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GIS Professionals Volunteering for a Better World 

May 2019
A Message From the Core Committee

Greetings Volunteers and Friends:  

The last three months have been a period of growth and spring cleaning at URISA's GISCorps. 

We launched eight new missions and began conversations with new partners that we expect to yield exciting opportunities for our volunteers in the near future. These newest projects bring us to a grand total of 163 missions launched and approximately 70,000 volunteer hours contributed since 2003. That's 70,000 hours that busy GIS professionals from 88 countries voluntarily spent working to make the world a better place... the dedication and selflessness of our volunteers never ceases to inspire!

Behind the scenes, we invested time in streamlining some of our workflows and reorganizing our leadership team. Now, in addition to our Core Committee of mission managers, we will be guided by an Advisory Board of seasoned volunteers focused on marketing, infrastructure, and strategy. We hope this new organizational structure and our workflow improvements will allow us to more efficiently and effectively pursue our mission of bringing volunteer GIS services to communities in need when and where they are needed most.

Looking ahead with renewed energy, we eagerly await the opportunity to catch up with volunteers, partners, and supporters at the 2019 Esri User Conference in San Diego. If you'll be there, please plan to join us for our annual meeting at 11:30 on Tuesday, July 9, in SDCC Room 29D. We'll look back at the hard work our volunteers have done this past year as well as ahead to some exciting new partnerships in the coming year. We are eager to collaborate with you!

As always, we thank you for your continued support of GISCorps and extend our heartfelt gratitude to our volunteers for their remarkable service. 

With warmest regards,

GISCorps Core Committee: Shoreh Elhami, Dianne Haley, Allen Ibaugh, Carol Kraemer, Wincy Poon, German Whitley, Troy Wirth, Leslie Zolman, and Chris Zumwalt

P.S. Please email  if you wish to be removed from this list.

Deployment and Partnership News

Missions in Progress

Thirteen missions are currently underway with two more ready to launch. More details on these projects are posted on our  What We Do  web page under New and Ongoing Projects .

Featured Projects

Mountain Rescue Association 
In March and April, GISCorps launched the first five projects in a long-term partnership with the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) , a North American nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing mountain safety for both search and rescue teams and the public through training and education. All five projects are managed by Core Committee member Troy Wirth.

For the first project , volunteer Shannon Cox of British Columbia is providing user support for MRA's Mission Data Portal, an ArcGIS Online based map interface where MRA member teams enter mission data. Shannon will respond to questions from search and rescue team members regarding login difficulties, data entry instructions, and other technical and workflow issues. She will also contribute to system documentation, bug reporting, and training.

For the second project , MRA requested a GISCorps volunteer to build an Esri Operations Dashboard to be used by MRA Regional Chairs to track mission data entry for the search and rescue teams in their region. Erin Arkison was a natural choice for this project since she has already built an Operations Dashboard for the canine search and rescue team she belongs to in Texas.

Volunteer Alice Pence of Oregon was selected to take the lead on the third project , which will focus on integrating several years of historic mission data into the current data structure. Bringing all this historical data into a common schema will enable multi-year analyses to inform MRA's training and public education programs.

The fourth project focuses on importing mission data that some search and rescue groups enter into external data collection systems. Volunteer Caroline Rose of Wisconsin is managing that effort.

Finally, Jim Kyle of British Columbia will tackle the fifth project , which focuses on spatial and statistical analysis of the comprehensive, multi-year mountain rescue dataset that the first four projects helped compile. Jim's analysis will aim to improve mountain safety experts' understanding of lost person behavior, mountain hazards, and the effectiveness of different search and rescue tactics and strategies in mountain and wilderness environments.

Texas Justice Initiative
The Texas Justice Initiative (TJI) is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to facilitating access to public data about aspects of the Texas criminal justice system that are otherwise difficult to obtain and understand. TJI's user-friendly website enables users to query, visualize and download data, and their technology is all open-source so that similar organizations in other states can replicate their model.

TJI came to GISCorps to request help adding an open-source map interface to their website to further its querying and visualization capabilities. This volunteer position demanded a very specific list of skills and knowledge, but fortunately Texas-based volunteer Jonathan Pascoe answered the call. Jonathan has an extensive background in both geospatial science and open-source web development, and is working closely with TJI volunteers to develop a custom web mapping solution. Read more about this project here .

Serve Squad
Charity Co-Op's Serve Squad is a virtual internship program for young people between the ages of 16 and 19 in Detroit, Michigan. Serve Squad interns learn technical and project management skills while supporting social safety net and anti-poverty programs in Detroit. 

Charity Co-Op requested a GISCorps volunteer to assist them with integrating a map interface into their Smartsheet project management application. This is a challenging request because Smartsheet map integration is a newly-introduced capability and there are few existing resources documenting the process. Maggie Peng of British Columbia was selected for the role for her knack for researching and developing novel solutions. Maggie will also document her workflow and develop training materials for Serve Squad interns. Read more about this project here .

WHO Kenya Foundation
As part of their efforts to fight a polio outbreak in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Horn of Africa polio office is monitoring cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in health facilities throughout Kenya. To facilitate this AFP surveillance, WHO needed a base layer containing the names and locations of all health facilities in the country. This layer would be used to populate a drop-down menu in the Open Data Kit data collection tool being used by the surveyors who visit the health facilities, resulting in a clean, consistent dataset.

WHO requested four GISCorps volunteers to clean the existing AFP surveillance data and produce the authoritative health facility layer using a custom ArcGIS Online application. Kenyan volunteers Kevin Otiego, Ken Kiema, Davince Koyo, and Waswa Barasa were selected for the project and work is underway.

HOTOSM Projects
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) continues to request support from URISA's GISCorps volunteers for urgent projects that have unmet demand for highly skilled OpenStreetMap editors. Since 2011, at least 177 GISCorps volunteers have contributed over 2,000 hours mapping and validating 18 HOT campaigns. Efforts are ongoing for the following HOT projects:

For more information about GISCorps's involvement with HOT, as well as information about how to join our HOT mapping efforts, please click here.

GIS Service Pledge 

The GIS Service Pledge (GSP) is a collaboration between Esri, URISA's GISCorps, and YOU! This unique program allows GISCorps volunteers to invent their own GISCorps missions, identifying organizations or causes that would benefit from GIS expertise, applications, or analyses. Esri generously provides one-year ArcGIS personal use licenses that volunteers can use to make a difference in their own communities or across the world.

So far, GISCorps and Esri have approved 38 GIS Service Pledge applications submitted by volunteers from different countries. As participants wrap up their projects, we delight in reading their reports and learning how they were able to contribute to organizations they care about. You can read them, too, on this page of our website , which is dedicated to GIS Service Pledge project reports. You can also see where GSP participants are making a difference on this web map .

Here are some recent reports:
  • Svetla Borovska  used Survey123 and ArcGIS Online to develop a web mapping application for Tsavo Volunteers. The Wildlife Observation Report App was designed to allow student volunteers to collect data and photos from the field at Lumo Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya's Tsavo West Ecosystem.
  • Luis Ricardo Rodriguez intended to use GIS to improve work flows and monitor outcomes for a partnership between a state prison and a local animal rescue organization. Unfortunately, Ricardo's project was stymied by factors outside his  control, but he has renewed his pledge and will try again with another local animal shelter.
  • Jim Kyle  developed a web mapping application for the Kootenay Emergency Response Physicians Association. The application allows the organization to map and analyze traumatic accidents and deaths in the West Kootenays. Jim opted to create an excellent story map to describe and visualize his project; be sure to check it out here .

  • Ali Rehmat Musofer pledged to use his Esri license to monitor glacial lake formation and glacial lake outburst flooding in the remote Hunza Valley in Karakoram, Pakistan. Unfortunately the glacial lake discharged much earlier than predicted last year, so he was unable to complete his project as planned.
  • Alexis Handelman used her Esri license to complete three projects for the Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF). In the first project, Alexis built a set of sample surveys enabling partner organizations to publicly crowdsource trail maintenance data and water feature status data as well as a survey for the Junior Ranger program. Her second project was a story map visualizing lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the third was a story map exploring how CLF grant funding has been put to use across the American West.

  • Daniel Specht provided validation support for the WHO/CDC mapathon in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Joseph Mueller mapped assets and land use for a local environmental management organization called SoJiBoJa Conservation Club in Minnesota.

Do you know of a nonprofit organization that could benefit from your GIS expertise? Review the GIS Service Pledge guidelines and apply for the program here. Send any questions specific to the GIS Service Pledge to And if you are a GISCorps volunteer who has identified a worthwhile GIS Service Pledge project idea, but would prefer to work within the supportive structure of a formal GISCorps mission, we'd love to hear about your idea too! In many cases, you can encourage the organization you'd like to help to request GISCorps support, and GISCorps can then launch a new project with you as the volunteer, bypassing the recruitment process.

Conference News & Announcements 

Thanks to a generous travel grant , GISCorps volunteer and part-time GIS Administrative Assistant Holly Torpey was able to attend the North American Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial ( FOSS4G-NA ) conference in San Diego in April 2019. The conference was an exciting opportunity to learn more about some of the free and open-source solutions available to GISCorps's partner organizations and to be inspired by the dedication and innovative spirit of the open source community.

2019 Esri User Conference
The 2019 Esri User Conference is right around the corner! This year's conference is July 8-12 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. This year's schedule is available here .

We hope you'll stop by the GISCorps kiosk in the Sustainable World Community and join us for our Annual Meeting on Tuesday, July 9, from 11:30 to 12:30 in Room 29 D in the Convention Center. We would love to catch up with you in person, hear your ideas, and share with you our plans for the future. Watch your email for more announcements on how to get involved with GISCorps at the Esri UC.  It's worth pointing out that Esri has substantially reduced the student registration price. This year, university students can attend all five days of the User Conference for only $100. The Esri User Conference is a great place to network, expand your expertise, and learn about the many paths a geospatial career can take. We hope to see our student volunteers there! 

GIS-Pro 2019
URISA's GIS-Pro 2019 conference  will take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 28-October 2.  Registration information is available here , and substantial discounts are available for full-time students, young professional members (35 or younger) and members of URISA.  The conference will again host a Silent Auction to raise funds to support GISCorps! Make plans to join us in New Orleans!

Volunteer Profiles 

Name: Kevin Otiego
Country of Residence: Kenya
Organization: Geospatial Engineer with Italia Investments Ltd.

GISCorps missions served :
Cleaning WHO Kenya Polio Surveillance dataset - May 2019 to date.
WHO Horn of Africa Cross-Border Mapathon - August 2018
WHO/CDC Democratic Republic of Congo Mapathon - March 2018
WHO Polio Eradication Mapathon in Democratic Republic of Congo Mapathon - July 2017
GISCorps/HOT Sri Lanka Flood Mission - June 2016
GISCorps TerraWatchers Project - July 2015

Experience serving on these missions: My dedication to offering my time and expertise for society is not a new experience for me.  I started volunteering as an undergraduate in 2010, working for Google to help put my country, Kenya, on the map. With the Google Map Maker experience came the urge for me to do more, and I knew I wanted to do more than maps. This sparked my curiosity about other available volunteer opportunities. In the process of doing my research, GISCorps came up, and I have never looked back since then.

With a passion for software and engineering, I needed something that could challenge me further in both my career and my cognitive abilities. This led me to working with TerraWatchers Project in 2016, which was my first volunteer work with GISCorps. The rest has indeed been history. I have worked with incredible volunteers on different missions and capacities, sharing the most critical information required to make decisions by tactical teams across the world, deriving insights and usable data where there was none before. The seamless coordination with people from different time zones working towards a common cause has enabled me to feel that I have to ability to work well with anyone that I meet.

I hope to share my experiences and lessons from volunteering and paying it forward for the next generation. Volunteering is indeed a noble thing to do and everyone should have a chance to volunteer in their lifetime

Anything else to share? My hope is that the world becomes a better place free of prejudice and with the spirit of supporting one another in times of crisis. This creates an entire shift in society and work. Everything else we contribute towards contributes to the growth of communities around the world.  

Thank you for your continued support of URISA's GISCorps!

In This Issue
Message from the Core Committee
Featured Projects
Featured Article

URISA's GISCorps Core Committee

Shoreh Elhami

Dianne Haley

Allen Ibaugh

Carol Kraemer  

Wincy Poon

German Whitley

Troy Wirth

Leslie Zolman

Chris Zumwalt


GIS/Administrative Assistant: Holly Torpey


Contact us: 



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URISA  Professional
 Education Calendar

GIS-Pro 2019

2019 Caribbean GIS Conference

For more information, click here.
News from Friends of GISCorps 


Nonprofit Organization Program  


Disaster Response and Assistance 


ArcGIS Online for Organizations

Support GISCorps with a tax-deductible donation in 2019. Your support is greatly appreciated! 
If you would like to donate specifically to support the #Map4PR project, please do so here