The Finger Lakes Institute has been awarded $899,000 from the National Science Foundation to launch the Finger Lakes GIT Ahead Project. The project, which focuses on geospatial information technologies or GIT, will provide teacher professional development, educational software development, and career awareness and preparation experiences for high school students in schools throughout the Finger Lakes region.
The project, co-directed by Jim MaKinster at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Nancy Trautmann at Cornell University, aims to help high school students see geospatial technologies as pathways to relevant, exciting, and high-demand careers. Other members of the project team include John Halfman, Professor of Environmental Studies at HWS, Marion Balyszak, Director of the Finger Lakes Institute, Dana Piwinski and Karen Edelstein at the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology, and Abu Badruddin, Associate Professor of GIS at Cayuga Community College.
Geospatial information technologies are the “use of computer software to capture and analyze geographic data and create complex and layered maps,” said Balyszak. “They are a visual tool on which to base decision making.”
In the two-week GIT Ahead summer institute, high school and middle school teachers will learn how to use geographic information systems to address relevant local environmental issues, and they will develop inquiry-based, watershed-focused projects to conduct in their science classes. “We’re interested in creating a real life application for these technologies,” said Balyszak. “Educators will be able to make tangible connections between the students and the communities of the Finger Lakes.” Teachers will also have the opportunity to earn college credit or professional development credit for their participation in the Institute.
Participating students will have opportunities to experience GIT-enhanced units in their high school classes, enter the GIS Associate’s Degree program at Cayuga Community College, and participate in summer internships at the Finger Lakes Institute, the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology, and regional businesses in collaboration with the New York State Geographical Information Systems Association.
According to MaKinster, “This project is an excellent example of how the Finger Lakes Institute can serve as an umbrella, under which various organizations and entities come together to create and sustain new and meaningful collaborations.”
The Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is an optimal natural laboratory for a high school-based, interdisciplinary approach to its study and protection. The diversity in physiography, water quality, ecology, land use, bedrock and soil characteristics make this region ideal for scientific study, modeling, and impact assessment comparing various management strategies. The Finger Lakes are large enough to mimic many processes that occur in the Great Lakes and the oceans, yet small enough for watershed-scale investigations to be feasible. Using GIT, high school students will be able to work with a wide array of stakeholders to investigate issues of relevance to their home communities or the entire Finger Lakes region.