I call them Google Maps on steroids and Greencastle, Indiana’s DePauw University is leading the way in incorporating them into their curriculum. What I’m talking about are Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
By definition GIS is a computer system for capturing, storing, checking and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. The system can then show many different kinds of data on one map so that people can easily see, analyze and understand patterns and relationships.
At DePauw, interest in GIS grew out of an effort to help some of the university’s professors in their research. The National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) awarded DePauw’s GIS center with its Sustainable Program Award, an award that recognizes programs that incorporate GIS into classroom curriculum.
Another shining moment for the DePauw GIS team was when their testimony before the Indiana Senate led to the defeat some proposed legislation. The legislation sounded good on paper but when, through the help of GIS, the senators saw the overall effect of the proposed legislation, it was obvious that it was going to be extremely impractical to implement.
In the midst of all the traditional fall activities that college campuses have, DePauw has an annual GIS Day at which it displays the most recent GIS projects from students and faculty members. Over the years this event has featured everything from how glaciers created Indiana’s farmland, to the effects of deforestation in Brazil and Zambia.
I first became aware of GIS several years ago when a friend of mine showed me the GIS system he uses for the county I live in, Steele County, Minnesota. I was amazed at all the things the system could tell us about our area. Then a few weeks ago the city I live in, Owatonna, MN, announced that it had created a new staff position, hiring Rubin Seifert as its new GIS coordinator.
According to the article about this in our local newspaper, Seifert’s job will be to streamline a variety tasks and challenges in all of the city’s departments from parks to street maintenance. Once the city’s GIS system is operational the city will make it available to the public so anyone can use it. City residents may even be allowed to update the GIS data in real time.
DePauw University was founded in 1837 by the Methodist Church. At its conception the school was to be an ecumenical institution of national stature. The college was “forever to be conducted on the most liberal principles, accessible to all religious denominations, and designed for the benefit of our citizens in general.”
Recognizing the importance of having a quality institution of higher learning in its midst, the citizens of Greencastle, Indiana worked diligently to raise $25,000 to attract the school to its town.
As part of DePauw’s 175th Anniversary celebration, the DePauw GIS Center helped generate a 3D interactive campus map that is viewable using Google™ Earth.
For more information about DePauw’s GIS program go to: http://www.depauw.edu/it/gis/