Developing a Tech Hub to Promote the Use of Geographic Information System Technology across SUNY

Mary Perrelli

Project Team
  • Wende Mix, Buffalo State
  • Kelly M. Frothingham, Buffalo State

Buffalo State College

2014

Tier One

Project Abstract:

Developing a Tech Hub to Promote the Use of Geographic Information System Technology across SUNY

Project Narrative:

Geographic Information System (GIS) integrates computer hardware and software for displaying, querying, managing and analyzing all forms of geographically referenced data. In a GIS, many data layers can be viewed together; for example, road networks, hydrology, and soils. This allows users to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps. GIS provides the means to visualize scenarios, and develop effective solutions to real world issues. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in Geography are projected to increase at a rate of 29% over the next ten years (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers). This is a much faster growth rate than average and many of these jobs require training in GIS. ESRI is the preeminent leader in GIS technology and its software products are used globally. Students trained in the use of ESRI software are employable in many job sectors due to the applicability of GIS technology across disciplines.

The GIS Tech Hub at SUNY Buffalo State will create a new collaborative system to be used across SUNY campuses that is designed to improve the efficacy of GIS technology, research, and the management and analysis of diverse data sets. Funding is sought for the development of: 1) a website to serve as the portal for the GIS Tech Hub, and 2) training courses designed to teach users GIS technology and the potential utility of using GIS across disciplines. The main goal of developing these tools is to broaden access to and knowledge of GIS with the aim of fostering interdisciplinary conversations and stimulating an array of academic and student learning research projects. By providing an access portal to GIS software and describing practical applications, the GIS Tech Hub will serve as a platform for greatly expanded GIS research and grant writing potential, networks for student learning, collaboration and internships, and training courses for the application of GIS techniques in different fields. The training courses will be developed in a variety of formats ranging from traditional academic courses to online modules to impact as many potential GIS users as possible across the SUNY system.

The creation of a GIS Tech Hub will benefit a number of users on and off campus. The training courses developed will augment core academic GIS courses currently being offered through the Geography and Planning Department to undergraduate students enrolled in the geography major and GIS minor and graduate students. As part of this project, we will also reach out to other SUNY institutions, such as SUNY Fredonia, SUNY Brockport, Erie Community College, Niagara County Community College, and the University at Buffalo, to identify student, faculty, and staff needs related to GIS. Making connections with other SUNY institutions will allow the courses developed here, particularly online courses, to be used to introduce or enhance GIS skills being offered in their programs.

In spring 2012, several meeting were convened at Buffalo State to discuss the potential of a GIS Tech Hub. We learned that there is widespread support across the Buffalo State campus for GIS technology from academic departments to campus facilities. Some departments are currently using GIS, and there are others that would like to use it, but need training. Academic departments at Buffalo State that are currently using or would like to use GIS include: Geography and Planning, Biology, Mathematics, Criminal Justice, Nutrition, Anthropology, Computer Information Systems, Business, Earth Sciences and Science Education, Sociology, and Hospitality and Tourism. There are also several academic centers currently using GIS to some degree, such as the Center for Health and Social Research and the Great Lakes Center. Non-academic use of GIS is sought by the Environmental Health and Safety Office for mapping the campus above and below ground infrastructure. The University Police Department is interested in using GIS to analyze crime patterns across campus.

The GIS Tech Hub meetings also included discussions on current topics in GIS, including the use of remote sensing technology (e.g., LIDAR), drone technology, and mobile data collection. Much of the data generated from mobile devices and other field equipment is spatially referenced and GIS is an essential tool to analyze spatial trends in that data. Learning to synthesize statistical and GIS skills will enhance the students’ academic experience and allow them to be competitive in the job market. The role of GIS in the management and analysis of “Big Data” also is a growing research focus in many disciplines. There is an on-going discussion at Buffalo State about developing an interdisciplinary Data Analytics Professional Science Masters (PSM) program that will prepare graduates to analyze “Big Data.” The GIS Tech Hub website will provide the means to encourage researchers in mathematics, economics, health sciences, social and natural sciences to collaborate and share ideas and solutions regarding Big Geospatial Data.

Finally, through this funding we would like to establish partnerships with local municipalities, consultants, and non-profit organizations to provide student internships. GIS is used extensively at the municipality level to manage infrastructure ranging from tax parcels, roads, and landuse to below ground utilities, such as sewer lines and water lines. We have worked with the Towns of Cheektowaga and Tonawanda to assist on GIS inventories for municipality-owned trees. Three Buffalo State undergraduate students worked for the Town of Cheektowaga in the summer of 2013 to map trees. Learning how to create mobile applications, as well as participating in actual data collection, is an invaluable experience for students that can be delivered effectively through an internship experience. The best way for students to learn GIS is through hands-on training to provide them with the skills to further their academic careers and to be successful post-graduation. Moreover, the professionals working with the municipalities inquired about available training to process the data collected in the field by the students. The GIS Tech Hub would provide the means to develop and offer the courses needed by these professionals.

There is demonstrated interest in expanding access to and the use of GIS at Buffalo State and beyond. The development of a GIS Tech Hub website will allow for the dissemination of information to campus users, as well as professionals in the community and GIS users throughout SUNY. The GIS Tech Hub website will include links to ESRI software components, which are available through our existing SUNY site license, and links to webinars and online training modules. Because GIS is an evolving and changing technology, it is essential to provide new concepts and applications to students, faculty, staff, and professionals across the state. Training courses that will be developed through this funding will cover content in the following areas: python scripting, geodatabase design, navigating census data, mobile application design, and ArcPad customization. The training courses can be delivered in a variety of ways (e.g., face-to-face, online webinars) and we expect that many of these courses will be delivered online and available to all SUNY students. All resources will be made available to SUNY faculty, staff, and students. We are currently investigating whether we can create a SUNY cloud to share the mobile applications that students build in our program, under the SUNY-ESRI contract. We envision that students will receive academic credit for the courses and faculty and staff can take the courses as needed to use GIS in their research and campus facility workflows. Professionals would have to register for the training courses and would be able to earn continuing education or professional development credits. The opportunity to offer professional development credits to professionals gives us the means to collect fees for the courses, which would bring in funding for the GIS Tech Hub. That funding source, along with potential external grant funding, would position the hub to be a self-sustaining unit on campus.

Project Outcome:

Outcomes TBD