I don't know of another tool other than GIS that can implement all sorts of data in one place and make it accessible to everyone.
University Students in Bulgaria Adopt GIS Skills for Careers in Sustainable Mining
Bulgaria is as rich in opportunity as it is in mineral resources. The country's industrial economy relies heavily on the mining sector, which oversees approximately three billion tons of recoverable mineral reserves. The capital city of Sofia is home to the University of Mining and Geology (UMG)—the only higher education institution in Bulgaria dedicated to training qualified specialists for the needs of the mineral sector.
Since the university's establishment in 1953, more than 22,000 engineers have received training in the fields of geology, mining, energy, and raw materials. Their studies focus on the ways in which minerals are used and the complexities of mineral production systems. These systems include exploration, extraction, processing, storage, and transportation. Since nearly all data related to mining and geology has a locational component, students are required to study and gain real-world experience using geographic information system (GIS) technology.
GIS at the University of Mining and Geology
UMG uses GIS to Enhance Student Job Opportunities
The University of Mining and Geology in Sofia, Bulgaria, is using the latest Esri technology for its education programs to enhance its students' job opportunities in the mining industry.
- UMG instructors use ArcGIS Learn lessons to keep GIS coursework up-to-date.
- Graduates and current students are using GIS to make a difference at local and national levels.
- Because of their experience with GIS, UMG students and graduates are prepared to fill in-demand roles in the mining industry.
UMG instructors began teaching GIS in the 1990s and gradually incorporated Esri's ArcGIS technology into their coursework. In 2015, the university invested in ArcGIS Online enterprise-level licenses, harnessing the technology's capabilities to enter a mapmaking competition at the 17th celebration of World GIS Day in Sofia. Using ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Web AppBuilder, and ArcGIS StoryMaps, UMG students and faculty in the Department of Mine Surveying and Geodesy created a three-part presentation with three main objectives: to promote geotechnologies to first grade students and their educators, develop crowdsourcing and teamwork skills among UMG students, and inform students about careers and professional opportunities within the mining industry. The presentation was awarded for its lasting contribution to the development of GIS capacity in Bulgaria.
UMG faculty use ArcGIS Learn lessons to keep coursework up-to-date with the latest developments in GIS. This Esri resource offers guided lessons and hands-on tutorials to showcase how GIS can be applied to real-world issues. Esri experts actively update ArcGIS Learn, and the lessons can be adapted to suit the needs of specific courses and projects.
"There were many proper lessons [in ArcGIS Learn], some of which we managed to refocus, reform, and repurpose for our goals," says Asparuh Kamburov, an associate professor in the UMG Department of Mine Surveying and Geodesy who teaches GIS courses.
Students Gain Real-World Experience
UMG students can work with a variety of GIS tools. For instance, they can explore their local environments and perform mobile data collection using ArcGIS Collector, then use 3D capabilities in ArcScene to view data. For those engaged with the Department of Mine Surveying and Geodesy, experience with 3D tools proves especially important.
Scientists and students at UMG participate in various research projects to assess geological and geomorphological hazards. One such project uses 3D GIS tools to analyze erosion in the eastern Rhodopes—a mountainous region in Bulgaria that is rich in thermal mineral springs. Funded by the Ministry of Education and Science's National Science Fund, the project aims to reveal the space-time dynamics of erosion and develop erosion susceptibility models in a GIS environment. Representatives from UMG's Department of Geology and Geoinformatics and Department of Mine Surveying and Geodesy worked with researchers from the Institute of Soil Science, Agrotechnologies and Plant Protection "Nikola Poushkarov." Together, they acquired data from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) technology, and the data was processed and analyzed using ArcGIS Pro.
Another UMG research project, supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of Bulgaria, uses GIS for the purposes of protecting the environment and reducing risks from events such as natural disasters. Researchers use tools in ArcGIS Pro to develop digital elevation models (DEMs) and derivative models of areas of interest. These models are used to determine changes to topographic surfaces related to debris flows and other hazardous natural phenomena.
According to research assistant Valentina Nikolova, working with GIS facilitates better understanding of the spatiotemporal features of studied objects and phenomena. She adds that students find GIS tools and capabilities appealing to work with, which helps strengthen and expand research capacity at UMG.
The ability to use 3D extends to creating digital twins. For example, graduate student Monika Valchanova employed ArcGIS CityEngine for her diploma thesis. Valchanova began by importing a satellite image of the city of Varna, Bulgaria, into CityEngine, which automatically generated models of existing buildings. She added public building data to bring the models into 2.5D (a blend of 2D and 3D) and make them spatially accurate. From there, Valchanova imported models of future buildings. Work on her thesis is ongoing, and eventually Valchanova will use a 3D model of Varna to analyze potential impacts of new building developments.
UMG's applied education program has made it easier to maintain connections to businesses, organizations, and government entities within the mining industry. Graduates and current students alike are utilizing GIS to make a difference at both local and national levels.
As a first-year UMG student, Pavel Ivanov was approached by Bulgaria's largest real estate company to create a GIS map. The company wanted a single map capable of displaying office and rental property locations, property information, and the locations of current and potential investors. Ivanov had little GIS experience, but Kamburov supplemented coursework with ArcGIS Learn lessons that gave Ivanov the insight and resources he needed to complete his project.
"Data is data," says Ivanov. "You know how to make it, you know how to get it, and you know how to gather it. But the way you make it move just gives it a certain feeling. Data comes alive with GIS."
Students like Ivanov also bring data to life through the storytelling tools in ArcGIS StoryMaps. They can create visually appealing narratives that include photographs, interactive maps, multimedia content, and text. Recently, a UMG graduate was able use the classic Esri Story Maps Journal template in StoryMaps for their work in Bulgaria with the Ministry of Energy's Natural Resources Concessions and Control Directorate. The resultant story included a map that shows 537 locations where concessions have been granted for the extraction of mineral resources. Now, the ministry—and anyone who had access to the story—could see all the locations on a single map.
Enhanced Awareness, Enhanced Job Opportunities
While GIS methodologies have not yet been widely adopted across Bulgaria, UMG instructors understand the technology's value and potential for strengthening the mining sector as well as other aspects of the national economy. To help spread GIS awareness, the university and its students engage with various communities. At science communication events, professors and students demonstrate the power of GIS and create opportunities for hands-on learning. Children as young as five years old can experience GIS by participating in treasure hunts using web apps or learning to use drones for data collection.
UMG also participates in local and global events such as the Sofia Science Festival and World GIS Day. Faculty and students are active in European Research Night events, sharing the results of their academic activities with 300 other organizations from across Europe.
As awareness of GIS and its capabilities grows in Bulgaria, so does the demand for industry specialists with GIS expertise. Businesses and organizations in mining and related industries are currently offering more than 30,000 jobs and have already hired around 120,000 employees. With their GIS education and skills, UMG students and graduates are uniquely positioned to fill these roles.
According to Kamburov, the directorate requests data in GIS formats from companies to assess projects like enlarging concession zones or building infrastructure in mines. "There is no obligatory regulation for [the directorate] to request data in GIS format, but this is the [most common] way," says Kamburov. "That's why, more and more, we enlarge the focus of GIS within the students because, knowing the power of GIS, they can certainly select this type of software to do the job."
The postgraduate studies program at UMG can prepare students to manage and maintain a geospatial database like the one used by the Bulgarian ministry directorate. Experts from the directorate are responsible for collecting, maintaining, and storing data, all of which is done using ArcGIS Pro. This data, in combination with publicly available cadastre (real estate) data, is added to a GIS to create and maintain a specialized map. The map contains information for prospecting and exploration licenses, locations of subsurface resources, and concessions that have been granted for subsurface resource extraction.
Kamburov adds that nearly all graduates from the Department of Mine Surveying and Geodesy obtain jobs in the industry. Students like Valchanova will be able to use their GIS skills to create 3D models and digital twins, which will play a significant role in the industrial and commercial development of Bulgaria—especially considering the numerous historical buildings, archaeological sites, and areas of interest that must be evaluated for preservation.
As the world pushes to conserve and protect more of its natural resources, UMG professors believe GIS will be crucial for creating and implementing sustainable business practices. In Bulgaria, such practices will be key across the mining industry. For the university's students and graduates, this means there will be more opportunities to apply their GIS expertise and make a positive impact—not only in specific industries, but throughout their country.