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Students define, measure community resources

Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Cool classes to take – Geographic Information Systems (ENVS 115)

There are many questions that we ask about the places we live or visit. Where is the good food? Where is affordable housing? Where are the fire stations and police stations? Where are the parks and open space? These and many other questions can be demonstrated through maps, covering many aspects and interests of our lives.

One local newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, has produced dozens of electronic interactive maps for its audience of 60,000, providing inquiring minds the locations of anything from “antique stores and bridal shops to water parks and wildflowers”, as well as asking and answering bigger questions that affect their fast-growing city. The maps show disparities in the city, mapping the neighborhoods with the “highest and fewest number of murders, the areas most victimized by gang violence and those left untouched. The blocks where the city’s most dangerous buildings are located and those free of dilapidated structures.” ("Electronic Mapping and Social Justice Journalism: A Perfect Match”, 2009)

The power of maps in providing and promoting social justice like the example in Bakersfield is supported through programs like Geographic Information Systems. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) manage, analyze, and display geographically referenced data using computerized systems and data to reveal relationships, patterns, and trends with maps, globes, reports, and charts.

GIS answers questions and solves problems by looking at and displaying data as education, outreach, and policy resources that can be easily displayed and shared. GIS is not just for geographers! There are many practical applications across the social and natural sciences and public policy fields. Sociologists use census data to study race, income, gender, and many other social issues by using GIS.

At Santa Clara University, students can enroll in a class through Environmental Studies and Sciences (ESS) with Assistant Professor Iris Stewart-Frey (the course is also an elective to fulfill the Science, Technology, and Society core requirement). In class, students apply their GIS skills on class projects exploring issues like food security in San Jose by measuring the distribution of liquor stores to healthier food resources (e.g., farmers’ markets or supermarkets). Two students from last fall’s GIS class got jobs after graduation based off of their GIS skills!

Marty Saunders '11, took the class last fall and continued to work on his research project focused on food security in San Jose after the class was over.

"I worked with Dr. Stewart-Frey on SCU's Food Security Project, making maps for NGOs like the Food Empowerment Project and La Mesa Verde. It's not every day you get to apply a skill you learned in the classroom to help people working in the "real world", but that was my experience with GIS."

Marty recommends the class because it presents real-world work opportunities for students because it is still a relatively new technology that not many people know how to use, although he does warn that it is challenging.

"Being able to make maps is a very marketable skill, because it is applicable to almost anything that has a spatial component. A lot falls into that category," said Marty.

“GIS looks great for graduate school and job applications because it demonstrates a quantitative computer skill with many practical applications,” said Dr. Stewart-Frey.

Interested in GIS? The class will be offered again in the spring 2012.


Article by Michelle Tang, '13, Sustainability Intern.

Tags: Community Engagement, Curriculum, Education and Research, Environmental Justice, Program Highlights, Research



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