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A Brief History of the MSA Program

By Phil Coppack and Claus Rinner, January 2012

The MSA program in the Department of Geography was one of the two founding graduate programs at Ryerson University. In 1993, Ryerson was granted full university status by the Province of Ontario. Almost immediately following this significant change in the university’s status, the Department of Geography started planning a master’s program in spatial analysis jointly with the University of Toronto. Given the department’s expertise in applied geographic education and geographic information systems (GIS), it seemed very appropriate that we would develop one of the founding graduate programs at Ryerson, as we had developed one of the university’s founding undergraduate programs in the early 1970s. With funding from Ryerson through the Province of Ontario’s university status grant, the department developed jointly with UofT a ten-credit one-year full-time master’s program, with a two-year part-time option. Two fields of study were offered: business information analysis to be taught at Ryerson and physical/landscape analysis to be run through UofT’s Department of Geography. The program was to be co-hosted by the two academic departments along with the Centre for Study of Commercial Activity (CSCA) at Ryerson. The key people in developing the program included Dr. Phil Coppack, Ryerson’s Chair of Geography, Dr. Carl Amrhein, UofT’s Chair of Geography, and Dr. Ken Jones, the Eaton Chair in Retailing and Director of the CSCA.

But the approval to grant graduate degrees does not come easily. The first iteration of the program followed the traditional Master of Arts in Geography model, and then became an MA in Spatial Analysis. But the degree program had to fit into an existing array of graduate offerings from other Ontario universities, especially those in Toronto. We also had to convince Ontario’s governing body for graduate programs, the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies that we could deliver a quality graduate program. This task was taken on by Dr. Maurice Yeates, who joined Ryerson as an Adjunct Professor in Geography and a Research Associate at the CSCA. As one of the most widely recognized scholars in urban geography and spatial analysis, Dr. Yeates’ guidance was invaluable. The program was eventually approved as the Master of Spatial Analysis and given the unique degree designation of “MSA”.

The department submitted its degree proposal to OCGS in the spring of 1999, hosted the external appraisers that fall, and received Senate approval for the program in the spring of 2000. At the same time, the School of Graduate Studies was formed (now the Yeates School of Graduate Studies). The first program director was Dr. Marie Truelove, and under her leadership the program’s “brand” was established. Ryerson’s intake was ten students in each of the fall semesters of 2000-2002. Then, under the direction of Dr. Shuguang Wang, Dr. Beth Carlson, and Dr. Claus Rinner, our intake increased to 15-25 new full-time and part-time students each year. With the successful periodic appraisal of the program in 2007/08, Ryerson took over the sole responsibility for the MSA degree from UofT, and a third field of study in social and community information analysis was added. The 100th MSA graduate was celebrated in the fall of 2008, and the 200th graduation is expected for fall 2012.

The program structure with four mandatory core courses, two field-specific electives, a part-time practicum placement, and an academically rigorous major research paper is basically unchanged, attesting to the foresight of the program developers and the success of the MSA alumni in the workplace. Practicum placements have been developed with a number of GIS and geospatial data vendors, major banks, retailers, real-estate developers, municipal and provincial government, non-government organizations, conservancies, environmental consultants, and hospitals. MSA students are regularly finding employment before or immediately after graduation, including as GIS analysts and developers, database analysts, market analysts, business analysts, crime analysts, and planners in any of the three broad fields of application. MSA students have been involved in numerous research projects with their supervisors, including those funded by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. With the recent introduction of a directed studies course and a thesis option, student contributions to scholarly research and publication are expected to further increase, and more MSA graduates will pursue an academic career. In just over a decade, the MSA has come to embody the special mission of Ryerson University to advance “applied knowledge and research to address societal need”, and to offer “programs of study that provide a balance between theory and application and that prepare students for careers in professional … fields”.

Spatial Analysis:
Program Details
Program-Related News

27 August 2019 - Orientation event for a new class of 22 MSA in Spatial Analysis candidates: Welcome to Toronto, Ryerson, and the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies!

10 July 2019 - MSA thesis student Arsh Grewal presents his research with MSA faculty members Drs. Stephanie Melles and Claire Oswald on “Source, Transport and Fate of Cohesive Sediment in Aquatic Systems: Implications for Water Quality and Ecosystem Health” at the 27th IUGG General Assembly in Montreal.

30 May 2019 - Congratulations to MSA faculty member Dr. Claire Oswald, winner of Water’s Next academic leader award for her work on road salt and the impact on surface waters!

4 April 2019 - MSA student Selasi Dorkenoo presented in the Geospatial Health Research Poster Session at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the AAG. Her topic “Accessing informal and formal social supports among older immigrants in Canada: A mixed-methods approach” is part of a collaboration of MSA faculty member Dr. Lu Wang with researchers at Ryerson and three other Ontario universities.

1 February 2019 - Are you interested in impervious land-use feature classification? Check out the new paper by MSA graduate Ela Lichtblau and MSA faculty member Dr. Claire Oswald, “Classification of impervious land-use features using object-based image analysis and data fusion”,

29 January 2019 - MSA faculty member Dr. Lu Wang, Gabby Lee, MSA ‘17, and Ian Williams, MSA ’09, and Head of Analytics & Innovation at the Toronto Police Service, co-authored a paper on “The Spatial and Social Patterning of Property and Violent Crime in Toronto Neighbourhoods: A Spatial-Quantitative Approach”, which is available at

14 November 2018 - GIS Day2018 event in collaboration with Ryerson University Library and Archives and Esri Canada includes a presentation on big data in retail analytics by MSA faculty member Dr. Tony Hernandez and Joe Aversa, MSA ’10 and PhD cand. at Wilfred Laurier University. The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies will also participate in the City of Toronto’s GIS Day event on November 20th with a presentation of select MSA student work.

13 November 2018 - Thank you, Environics Analytics, for allowing 25 MSA students to present their cool cartography and geovisualization course projects at the 2018 EA User Conference!

11 October 2018 - Congratulations, MSA class of 2018 on today’s convocation ceremony!

11 June 2018 - MSA student Krystal Siebert presented her research on “Use of Wetland-to-Lake Hydrologic Connectivity Metrics to Better Understand Broad-Scale Patterns in Lake Dissolved Organic Carbon Concentrations” at 2018 meeting of the Canadian Geophysical Union.

1 June 2018 - At the 2018 meeting of the Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA), MSA student Melanie MacDonald reported on her course project on mapping informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, using OpenStreetMap with an associated story map and some artwork too. Congrats, Melanie, on being selected for the CCA’s best student paper/presentation award at the conference!

17 May 2018 - Andy Charles, MSA '01, who served as Analyst and Retail Consultant at Scotiabank, and Sears Canada, and now is Senior Manager of Strategy, Analytics, and Insights at Loblaw Co, was profiled for Ryerson University’s 70/25-year anniversary. Andy was among the first eight Ryerson students to ever receive a graduate degree - see him cross the stage at Fall 2001 convocation at

3 May 2018 - At the MSA Poster Day, 19 students presented their major research paper or thesis research plans. The photo at shows faculty, staff, prospective MSA students, and industry representatives listening attentively to the student’s presentation across an extraordinary range of topics.

28 March 2018 - Sean Marshall, MSA ’05, spoke to an undergraduate Geographic Analysis class today about potential campus locations in Brampton. In addition to his day job as Geospatial Health Analyst, Sean blogs about urban transportation issues and is a contributing writer for Spacing Magazine and TVO.

14 March 2018 - Taking a daily dive into Data Lake… For International Women’s Day, Scotiabank’s Digital Factory profiled the work of Margaret Woo, MSA ’01, and Senior Manager, Applied Analytics at the bank.

2 March 2018 - Ryerson’s “Alumni of Grad Studies” series features a portrait of Amanda Maze, MSA '04, and Director of Spatial Strategy and Real Estate Insights at Walmart Canada. The Master of Spatial Analysis is one of Ryerson’s longest-running graduate degrees with extraordinary career opportunities in geography, GIS, retail, marketing, banking, and real estate.

10 February 2018 - New article by a group of MSA faculty and students: K. Wayne Forsythe et al., “Assessing fine particulate matter concentrations and trends in southern Ontario, Canada, 2003-2012.” Get your open access copy at

2 February 2018 - Ryerson Today  article on “Why your geography degree will get you a job”, highlighting the transferable skills acquired in the MSA program: “From retail to crime analytics to public health, geography is in high demand”, citing the experience of MSA alumni Heather Hart and Joe Aversa.

23 November 2017 - Celebrating the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity's (CSCA) 25th anniversary with an evening event around Canadian retail, real estate, and consumer behaviour trends. The CSCA is a founding partner of the MSA program and has hosted numerous MSA student research projects.

13 November 2017 - GIS Day event in the MSA lab. Students presented their completed Geovisualization projects, ranging from interactive and animated maps to 3D prints and other physical models.

19 October 2017 - The annual MSA practicum host reception showcases experiential learning at its best. Quotes from placement hosts overheard at the reception: MSA students make “maps that really change the conversation” about city planning and are “fully involved in our work group”, not just given a project to go off with. In other organizations, MSA students use GIS to help estimate mortgage risk, and employ location intelligence in environmental conservation. In retail network planning, MSA students consult on store cannibalization. As information designers at a major consultancy, MSA students will contribute to turning analytics into actionable decisions. MSA placement students will also participate in addressing police accountability and cost using geospatial data analysis. There even was a bit of competition between hosts about which is the coolest placement in conservation!

12 October 2017 - Congratulations, Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) class of 2017 @RyersonU! Eggy, the mascot, likes #Geography #GIS and #WomenInAnalytics, see our tweet at

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