GIS Technology in the Classroom – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

GIS Technology in the Classroom

A 911 operator dispatches fire trucks in Akron, Ohio. McDonald’s executives decide to build an additional restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. A group of executives use a GPS device to locate a conference center in Atlanta, Georgia. And, if you can believe it, all of these people are using the same technology: GIS.

GIS, short for Geographical Information Systems, is a computer-based system that allows users to store, analyze and display spatial data. The system has the potential to change the way many go about their day-to-day business, and it is already used by large companies, environmentalists, government agencies and the military for tasks as varied as protecting wetlands and creating disaster relief plans.

During the spring 2007 semester, 12 Hobart and William Smith students joined the growing list of GIS users when they studied the basic functions of the system in the Fundamentals of Geographical Information Systems course taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Eugenio Arima.

“Proficiency in GIS will enhance our students’ competitiveness in the job market because it is a growing industry in both the public and private sectors, says Arima, who joined the Colleges in 2006.

After learning a bit about what the system can do, the students each selected a research project and then used GIS to analyze their data and create visualizations of their conclusions. They presented their final projects, in the form of either a poster or Web site, to community members on May 8 in Eaton Hall.

The final projects largely focused on environmental issues, like junior Thomas Rood’s project, which looked into the reasons Zurich Bog has been decreasing in size over the past 30 years. Several of the students, though, studied the kinds of data that are frequently analyzed by large companies. One student, for example, determined where to place cell phone towers, while Greg Dlubac ’08 investigated where hydrogen fuel stations would reach the largest number of consumers.

William Mills ’08 plans to use his project to inform real-life policy decisions. As a member of the Town of Southhold’s Renewable and Alternative Energy Committee, Mills has a voice in developing regulations that may bring wind power to the small town on the North Shore of Long Island in New York. His project determined where it would be viable to place small windmills without violating zoning laws or coming too close to trees, homes or roads, and he plans to bring his findings to the next committee meeting for consideration.

“GIS is another very useful piece of knowledge that I’ve gained at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It’s a skill that has a real world application, said Jared Desrochers ’07, whose final project utilized GIS to examine old growth in the Adirondack Mountains. Desrochers is headed to Indiana University in the fall to begin work on a Masters in Atmospheric Science, and he plans to continue studying GIS in grad school.