Goodchild: Engage the world; don’t block it out

“Your mind is a beautiful thing – celebrate it, challenge it,” Michael Goodchild, a global leader in geographic information systems, told graduates at the Tuesday morning session of Western’s 305th Convocation.

Paul Mayne // Western News“Your mind is a beautiful thing – celebrate it, challenge it,” Michael Goodchild, a global leader in geographic information systems, told graduates at the Tuesday morning session of Western’s 305th Convocation.

Great things can happen if you are open to new opportunities and prepared to respond accordingly, said Michael Goodchild, global leader in the ever-evolving field of geographic information systems.

“Looking back, very little of my life has been planned. None of (my accomplishments) could have been anticipated – it came from responding to opportunities,” he said, noting that when presented with an opportunity to input maps into computers in 1967, he thought the idea was “strange.”

Goodchild spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Social Science and School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 9, morning session of Western’s 305th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Science, honoris causa (DSc), upon Goodchild in recognition of his esteemed academic career in the field of geography and science.

“Engage the world – don’t block it out,” he told the graduates.

Travel as much as you can, experience the world and reality first-hand, he continued. Geographical information systems can give a “wonderfully rich view of the world,” but often, what’s most important is not what you get from a computer. What’s most important is what you learn from physically being present, wherever you are.

Goodchild, whose research has focused on geographic information science, spatial analysis, and uncertainty in geographic data, received his BA from Cambridge University in Physics in 1965, and his PhD in geography from McMaster University in 1969.

The former chair of Western’s Department of Geography, Goodchild won the Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud, considered the Nobel Prize for Geography, in 2007. He is a leader in geographic information systems. While at Western, together with academic and government colleagues across Canada, he developed new techniques, theory and research applications for geographic information systems and spatial modeling.

Today, Goodchild is emeritus professor of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where prior to his retirement in 2012, he was the Jack and Laura Dangermond Professor of Geography, and director of the school’s Center for Spatial Studies. Goodchild also holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington.

“Say ‘yes’ often,” he encouraged graduates seeking new opportunities. Seize the challenges, take risks, and you’ll go where no one has before.

An elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and Foreign Member of the Royal Society of Canada (2002), Goodchild is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006) and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (2010).

He served as editor of Geographical Analysis from 1987-90 and editor of the Methods, Models, and Geographic Information Sciences section of The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, from 2000-6. Goodchild also sits on editorial boards of 10 other journals and book series, and has published more than 15 books and 500 articles.

Among other positions, Goodchild also chaired the National Research Council’s Mapping Science Committee from 1997-9, and of the Advisory Committee on Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation from 2008-10.

In his citation, Geography professor emeritus Brian Luckman called Goodchild an “unchallenged global leader” in the science of geographic information systems.

“He has led many innovative projects involving remote sensing, open access to data, crowd sourcing, and creating maps using volunteered geographical information from individuals using the Internet or even cell phones. This has led to discussions of ethics and privacy concerns with these data. Mike has effectively engaged a large academic and non-academic community in teaching and investigations that utilize spatial thinking and GIS science,” Luckman said.

“He is an outstanding teacher, excellent motivator, organizer and visionary who has led the development of GIS science in the Americas, and globally.”

“Resist the temptation to rely on helpful apps; use them to augment your mind. Your mind is a beautiful thing. Celebrate it, challenge it to keep it active and engaged,” Goodchild said. “And above all, make a habit of focus.”

Also during the ceremony, the title of professor emeritus was conferred upon Sociology professor William Avison, while the title of professor emerita was conferred upon History professor Margaret Kellow and Political Science professor Veronica Schild.