Planning & Data/GIS Administrator
Regional Municipality of Niagara in Thorold, Ontario
Founder and Executive Director of Geospatial Niagara
During his studies, Darren Platakis noticed the geo-literacy challenges that students faced and the continual growth of the geospatial technology sector in the Niagara region. In response, Platakis founded an educational non-profit organization called Geospatial Niagara in 2013 while working full-time at the Regional Municipality of Niagara. The former promotes geo-literacy and community participation through geography, as well as provides geographic education, geospatial technology support, and skilled resources to geography educators who may not otherwise have access to them. To date, Geospatial Niagara has provided projects with an estimated market value over $600 000. Major projects include TreeOcode, Day of Geography and Niagara Region Minecraft Project. Platakis also hosts the GeoNiagara Radio Show, which airs on Brock University’s community radio, 103.7 CFBU. The radio show targets high school students and aims to generate discussions on issues and careers in geography. The episodes are downloadable as MP3 files, and are practical for educators to use in their classrooms.
1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?
I went back to university as a mature student. At the time when I finished high school, I applied to the geography program at Brock University and I was accepted. But, I was playing in a band at
that time, and I wanted to see how far that would go. When I had children, I did not want them to use my choices as an excuse to not to go to university, because education is important.
After finishing my undergraduate degree in 2010, I pursued the Post-Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems and Geospatial Management (GIS/GMS) from Niagara College. I obtained my full-time position at the Regional Municipality of Niagara before I received my certificate. I am very lucky to find employment where I can apply what I studied.
2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
The GIS/GSM program is very hands-on, technical and intensive. When students finish the program, they are immediately employable. It gave me real-world applications of geospatial technology, in terms of GIS, remote sensing, and data-based development. My thinking behind getting that GIS/GSM certificate was that it would separate me from other applicants who may only have a Bachelor’s degree. Even on the business side, it expanded my knowledge of time management and budgeting.
3. What skills do you wish you learned during your education that would have helped you in the job market today?
If I could wish for any university course, it would be a community engagement course or a grant writing course. There was not a course that I knew of, offered at the University level, that taught public engagement. For example, tackling subjects on how to run a session, how to promote community engagement, or how to gather information from the public. A significant portion of any large government project is engaging with the community. When it comes down to it, gathering information from the communities is a necessity.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
As educators, do not ask students what they want to be. Instead, ask them what problems they want to solve. Students will be happy when they can marry their education to something that they are passionate about. No one benefits if you do not enjoy what you are doing. If you are passionate about something – anything – or if there is a problem you want to solve, target your education to solving that problem. In my estimation, 90-95 percent of those problems are geography-based or have an associated location.