Meet the IGNITE Finalists – Shaun Williams

This week we hear IGNITE Finalist Shaun Williams talk about his Smart M.App, the SNAP M.App. In this Q&A, Shaun tells us about his passion for geography and his vision for building a better future, and how it became the motivation behind his innovative Smart M.App.

Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up in a working class family in the small southwestern Louisiana town of DeRidder. For most of my childhood, walking was the most reliable form of transportation for my family and for many families across my community. Whether it was walking to the ice cream shop with my grandmother Mabel or tagging along with my older sister to the park, walking engaged me with the people and places within my hometown. Growing up in a small town atmosphere without many resources helped establish my fascination with geography. I would often lose myself for hours upon hours as I drew maps that depicted the better future I envisioned for my community. My humble upbringing in a small town fostered creativity and imagination as core characteristics that I still carry to this day. For me, where I’m from and who I am are one in the same.

Q: Where did you attend school and what did you study? Why did you choose this subject?
A: I am currently pursuing a PhD in Geography at Louisiana State University (LSU). All of my post-secondary degrees have also come from LSU. Geography and GIS have been my main areas of focus. I actually avoided Geography early in my academic career. In following the advice of others, I initially tried what were deemed to be more “lucrative” fields of study in terms of future income. I was unhappy, and decided to pursue my lifelong passion, Geography. I realized I can do what makes me happy and be financially successful as those factors do not have to be mutually exclusive. What some may have viewed as a risk, I viewed as a necessary action to pursue my goals, dreams, and happiness. Whenever I consider whether or not taking a risk is worth it, I’m remind of David Viscott’s words: “If you cannot risk, you cannot grow. If you cannot grow, you cannot become your best. If you cannot become your best, you cannot be happy. If you cannot be happy, what else matters?”

Q: Where do you currently work? What is your job? What are your responsibilities?
A: I currently hold two jobs. I work as a 9-1-1 database assistant in St. Tammany Parish located in the Greater New Orleans area. I’m responsible for ensuring location information is valid, accurate, and consistent across various maps and databases essential to first responders. I also am an instructor at Baton Rouge Community College, where I teach an introductory GIS course.

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do during your free time?
A: I enjoy catching up with friends, visiting off-the-beaten-path locations, reading autobiographies and Marvel comics, blogging, conversations with my mom, creating historical GIS projects highlighting Black history, and catching Pokemon.

Q: Where did your interest in geospatial/mapping/information services come from?
A: My interest in mapping dates back to my childhood. I was obsessed with creating maps of my community. The maps I created displayed both how my community existed and how I envisioned the future of my home. Map making in certain aspects exceeded my interests in more predictable hobbies like sports and video games. I genuinely felt as though I could change the world through mapping, and that realization continues to inspire me today.

Q: How did you hear about IGNITE?
A: I frequent various GIS message boards. This I how I first learned about IGNITE. From day one, I recognized the unbelievable opportunity the IGNITE competition presented. I was all in from the first reference.

Q: Why are you excited about this competition?
A: This competition provides the perfect balance between idealism and realism as innovation is boundless, with a clear cut focus on solving real-world problems. Plus, geospatial concepts are in the spotlight. In sum, this competition provides a blank canvas for GIS and mapping to be redefined and refined for necessary evolution in addressing complex global issues.

Q: What is the problem your Smart M.App addresses?
A: Spatial crime analysis products tend be oriented toward crime locations almost exclusively. My product can provide insight into actors suspected of being involved, their connections to other individuals and groups, and the distribution networks across space.

Q: What is your Smart M.App called?
A: The Social Networking and Policing (SNAP M.App)

Q: What IGNITE Theme does it support?
A: Safety

Q: What does it do?
A: My product, the SNAP M.App, goes beyond more common approaches to understanding crime environments by focusing on networks and associations. The SNAP M.App can identify networks based upon criminal activity. Network identification can span from local or global.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your Smart M.App?
A: I hope my Smart M.App challenges the perceived limitations of GIS in crime analysis. I hope the SNAP M.App can contribute merging core geographical concepts within GIS based crime analysis. Finally, I have hope and faith that the SNAP M.App will be of value to users in vast settings helping them comprehensively address community safety.

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