Mellon Foundation Supports Geospatial Analysis Center

  • Lauren Parker '08 and Associate Professor of Geology Greg Hancock
    Lauren Parker '08 and Associate Professor of Geology Greg Hancock
    Lauren Parker '08 used GIS for creating maps that help predict everything from landslides to contaminated water as part of a hazard evaluation project for Albermarle County, Va. Professor Greg Hancock expects the new Center for Geospatial Analysis to expand GIS teaching and access.
    Photo by John Wallace

Creating maps that help predict everything from landslides to contaminated water is a significant responsibility with which to be tasked, but Lauren Parker ’08 was up for the challenge. Parker, an undergraduate geology major, performed this hazard evaluation for Albemarle County, Va., using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)–based programs.

And Parker’s not the only one at the College using GIS as a tool for research. During the past several years GIS, which allows users to collect and analyze spatial data related to Earth, has taken on increased demand among faculty and students.

“The interest in GIS has exploded,” says Randy Chambers, associate professor of biology [http://web.wm.edu/biology] and director of the Keck Environmental Field Laboratory. “I think what has happened primarily is that more people have become aware of its power. Now we’re at the point where people have embedded modeling subroutines into GIS. You’re actually able to incorporate spatial analysis into models to predict how the land is going to change over time, or predict how water quality is going to get better or worse, or predict where people are going to be moving.”

Recently the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave the College’s GIS infrastructure a boost by awarding the College’s Environmental Science and Policy (ENSP) program a two-part $1.5 million grant [NEW IA], which will be divided to allow for the hiring of postdoctoral fellows and for establishing a Center for Geospatial Analysis.

“The first goal of the Center will be to continue doing the teaching we’re already doing, and expand it,” says Associate Professor of Geology Greg Hancock, who is coordinating the establishment of the Center. “Another goal will be to provide a place for students to go to not only ask questions, but to get help on a case-by-case basis in a common place that is dedicated to GIS.”

“When I was working on a research project, I realized that I would need to use GIS,” Parker says. “But now I realize that GIS will be an integral tool for all research I do.”