The Work of Freedom


The 2018 Esri International User Conference in San Diego was, as usual, abuzz with excitement, technical presentations and flashy exhibitor displays. Yet it was a quiet moment during the plenary session that really made an impact.

Jack Dangermond, Esri president and co-founder, presented the “Making a Difference Award” to teachers Alice Im and Mariana Ramirez. Im teaches English and Ramirez teaches history at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. For more than eight years, Im and Ramirez have partnered in the classroom, inspiring students to think outside the box when it comes to analyzing the world around them. They use GIS to create projects that map out the stories of their communities and identify real-life issues, trends and opportunities.

Ramirez, who spoke briefly after receiving the award from Dangermond, referred to the effort that she and Im are making as “doing the work of freedom.”

This really struck a chord.

After consideration, it occurred to me that only by dealing in facts do we gain access to our freedom. Im and Ramirez understand this intuitively and are passing this awareness to their students. They help them conduct research and analyze the facts underlying the issues facing their community. They also teach them how to present these facts in ways that are easy to understand and act upon.

Why is GIS the perfect tool for this type of work? Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager, describes it best in his 2017 article on Im and Ramirez in eSchool News:

“When gathering information and examining data related to any issue, GIS helps provide an important framework for placing that data into context and deriving insights. GIS and spatial analytics allows students to see interactions by mapping that data; providing a glimpse not only into physical location, but how places are related to one another and how they interact.  …..  As we strive to enhance critical thinking skills in our students, this type of analysis is a powerful skill.”

Through their visionary approach, Im and Ramirez are teaching their students how to drive fact-based conversations that have the potential to overcome inherent bias and unfounded conjecture.

In today’s political climate, unassailable facts are often described as “alternative” or “developing.” As practitioners of GIS, we spend a good portion of our day verifying factual accuracy and authenticity. If, as a GIS professional, you sometimes feel your job is not important, take heart—as a purveyor of fact, you are helping to ensure our freedom.


Frank Orr, GISP, PMP

Frank Orr is a GIS Program Director with decades of experience in nearly everything GIS. His well-rounded technical expertise helps him monitor minute details—as well as view the big picture and identify opportunities for cross-market integration.


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