It seems like GIS is showing up everywhere – but what is it really? And how can I use it to solve real world problems? Answering these questions has been one of the most exciting parts of my first year in the dual, MPA-MSES, degree program, and I am happy to say, SPEA has excellent resources to learn and use GIS on a number of projects.
Simply put, my professor would say that GIS – Geospatial Information Systems – is the hardware, software, people, data and money needed to perform analysis of geospatial data. For me, it means learning a new way to think and visualize solutions to problems. For example, last semester I worked with a small group of students to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the proposed I-69 highway development through Monroe County. We were able to take paper maps, digitize the corridor of the proposed route, create a layer that represented our best approximation of the road surface, and then overlay this virtual highway over data layers of interest for natural resources and economic development. In this sense, we could get a real world perspective on the tradeoffs inherent in development in terms of the number of acres and people that might be both positively and negatively affected. My classmates also created a number of other amazing projects, such as an assessment of potential sustainable development sites in the Atlanta metropolitan area, an estimate of wetland loss in Northern Indiana, an environmental equity assessment for Indianapolis and more efficient book mobile route for a local library.
All told, SPEA offers three courses in GIS – an introductory course, an applications course, and a remote sensing course – and many students also choose to study with the geography department, which offers a Masters in GIS. The flexibility of SPEA’s curriculum means that the interested student can find a way to incorporate GIS into any field or interest of study, which is great, since GIS will only continue to increase in importance.