New GIS Initiative

Stuart Hamilton, program director of the new CGA.Funded by the Mellon Foundation, the expansion of the GIS program officially began in June 2008. We hired an exceptional and energetic GIS director in Stuart Hamilton, who comes to William and Mary from the University of West Florida. Stuart built a dynamic GIS program from the ground up at West Florida, and is actively working to do the same here at William and Mary. His primary research focuses are monitoring and assessing the impacts of mangrove deforestation in Latin America and the integration of GIS and remote sensing technologies.

The Center for Geospacial Analysis (CGA) launched in Fall 2008 with a student poster session, a guest lecture delivered by Professor Jean-Claude Thill of the University of North Carolina's Center for Applied GIS and an introductory GIS workshop. We are currently working on a dedicated space to house the CGA permanently, and in all likelihood it will be in Swem Library.

The CGA has appointed a workshop coordinator to develop GIS hands-on learning activities for faculty and students. Several heavily attended workshops were delivered in the fall and covered such topics as an introduction to ArcGIS, GIS for natural resource management and GIS for the developing a geographic understanding of international aid distribution. The CGA will build on this success by offering several more workshops in the spring of 2009. These workshops will cover subjects such as spatial analysis and mapping in Google Earth. In addition to the lab-based workshops, the CGA is developing an online workshop that will be available in spring 2010. In all, over 100 students and faculty will have attended a CGA workshop in 2009 and the goal is to increase the number of attendees during 2010. Workshops are offered free of charge.

The CGA launched its website and blog in the fall of 2008 and both provide information on our courses and resources. A number of new GIS courses and technology infrastructure enhancements are also underway. For example, The Introductory GIS course has been updated to include a project component that gives students GIS experience working on relevant local and global issues. Integration of a hands-on research component was achieved by the addition of two teaching assistants who work one-on-one with students on their individualized GIS research topics. These traditional GIS offerings are in high demand and remain over-subscribed. For this reason, several new GIS courses are being developed. For example, the CGA will support a new research-based GIS course in fall 2009. This course, called Geographic Methods for the Social Sciences, will provide students a hands-on research experience that relies on the extensive application, collection and analysis of original geographic information. The CGA is also exploring an expanded environmental/ biology offering in 2010 to address the curricular needs of students in the biological and environmental sciences.

Other on-going activities include the creation of a GIS server and storage infrastructure to accommodate the growing use of GIS across campus. New equipment has been ordered that will allow for central storage of all spatial data projects across campus in a spatially-enabled database. CGA staff will test the new GIS server during the summer and provide campus-wide access to the server by the fall 2009 semester. The CGA has also been active in developing a new campus map, evaluating land-use in the local reservoir watersheds, providing technical advice for an NSF proposal to build a nationally comprehensive GIS database of U.S. schools, assisting with the campus bio-fuels project and international aid projects. The CGA has supported students from anthropology, biology, geology, history, public policy, and sociology who are collaborating with faculty on GIS-intensive research projects.