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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

16 June 2017 - Congratulations to Daniel Liadsky (MSA 2015) and Dr. Brian Ceh who recently published a paper entitled “The interaction between individual, social and environmental factors and their influence on dietary intake among adults in Torontoin the journal Transactions in GIS.

09 May 2017 - This is the 4th story based on the CAP project following the reports by the Toronto Star, Ryerson Today, the City Building Bulletin (April issue) by Ryerson City Building Institute.

Upcoming Event: The annual MSA Poster Day event will be held on Thursday, May 4th, 2017. Please see poster for additional information.

18 April 2017 - Congratulations to Joseph Ariwi, Gabby Lee, Ela Lichtblau, Gary Moloney for their work from the GIS Project Management course in Fall 2016 profiled on Ryerson Today on Apr 13th, 2017, in a story entitled “Students and police work together- Ryerson geography students develop mental health app with Toronto Police Service”! In this project, the group applied their skills in data handling, spatial analytics, web GIS, statistical modeling and critical social analysis, to develop the Community Asset Portal (CAP), which is a partnership between Ryerson, TPS, the City of Toronto, and Find Help/211 that seeks to create an efficient, map-based system for practical front-line use. The project continued after the course through placement for Gabby and a part time summer position for Joseph.  

21 February 2017 - Congratulations to Joseph Ariwi's success with two 2nd prizes at YSGS's "Why Ryerson?" and "My Voice, Our Future" contests!

The first contest was for a 20-word statement explaining why the student chose Ryerson for their graduate education: 2nd Place: Joseph Ariwi, Spatial Analysis MSA "I chose Ryerson for my graduate education because of the depth of expertise and diversity of culture found on campus."

The second contest was for a 1-minute video on who they are and where they are headed after Ryerson: 2nd Place: Joseph Ariwi, Spatial Analysis MSA.

16 November 2016 - We had a successful 15-year MSA Reunion that took place concurrently with the EA user conference reception and a GIS Day-themed display of geovisualization projects from the MSA cartography course on Nov 16, 2016! Many thanks for the enormous support provided by Environics Analytics! Environics Analytics founder and president, @statslady Jan Kestle, is quoted with identifying "Geography as the secret sauce" that integrates data for advanced analytics. The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University received shout-outs and accolades for training the next generation of data analysts through its BA in Geographic Analysis and MSA in Spatial Analysis programs. See an event report from Dr. Claus Rinner (

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