Monday, October 16, 2006

Mid-Hudson GIS Users Group - First Meeting

On October 16, we had a first meeting of the Mid-Hudson GIS Users Group. An email went out last June to invite participants from local area colleges and universities (Bard, Marist, Dutchess, Community College, Ulster County Community College, US Military Academy , SUNY New Paltz, and Mount Saint Mary College). I got back responses from three of these schools. One had to cancel last Friday.

Today’s attendees:
Meg Stewart, Vassar College
Brian McAdoo, Vassar College
Mark Halsey, Bard College
Jennifer Peters, Bard College
Sharon Kopyc, Bard College
Mark Lindeman, Bard College
Susan Winchell-Sweeney, Bard College
Christopher Lindner, Bard College
Sarah Love, Marist College
John Brockhaus, US Military Academy (unable to attend)

If you’re interested in the email list, please contact Meg Stewart.

The meeting got underway at 11:30 am in Ely Hall’s student lounge with a brief introduction by Meg Stewart. Everyone introduced themselves and said a little bit about what they do with GIS.

We then took a tour of the GIS facilities in Ely Hall. Meg talked about the GIS lab and the history of GIS use and teaching with GIS at Vassar. The department of Geology and Geography has taught with GIS since 1994 and the GIS lab was built in 1998. Meg also showed the group Mary Ann Cunningham’s research lab and the tablet PC lab.

We then got lunch and ate in the student lounge. Meg talked about what she thought was the appeal of organizing a GIS User’s Group in the region and how there are unique needs on college campuses for GIS support. Meg mentioned the original email that went out with ideas for topics of discussion for such a group: data sharing, computer lab management, supporting GIS projects in teaching and research on campus, software licensing issues, collaborative projects, and data management. Meg got the idea from attending a NITLE GIS workshop in March that discussed Managing and Supporting GIS on small campuses. NITLE is the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education.

Mark Halsey thought this Mid-Hudson GIS Users group might establish at the local level what NITLE has at the national level.

Sharon Kopyc thought maybe this group could get a NITLE workshop organized to come to either Bard or Vassar and then open it up to the Users Group members. Neither school has had one yet. Mark H. thought that was a good idea but the group should get more established before pursuing the workshop.

Sarah Love said she was the only one on her campus (Marist) to support GIS. She wondered about who to talk to on her campus to increase the exposure, should she do demos, or GIS Day activity? She wondered about the downloading of data sets and could that be best organized through the library?

Meg said she’d send the link to the NITLE e-journal Transformations because it has many articles on how small colleges support a GIS program.

Sarah mentioned the Institute for Geospatial Technologies at Cayuga Community College. Perhaps partnering with them in some way?

Meg mentioned the Skidmore GIS workshop that met in June 2006. Sharon and Mark H went to this. Nick Napoli is the contact person at Skidmore College.

Mark Lindeman talked a bit about using the ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) data. He uses the data all the time. Meg thought that ICPSR data might be a useful way to get social science faculty members, who are using these data already, to use GIS software to analyze the ICPSR data.

Sharon talked about Google Earth and reaching faculty members with Google Earth and other virtual globes.

Mark H wondered if we should work on bringing Google Earth to our campuses in a concerted way. Working on that technology as a starter rather than focusing on GIS workshop solely.

Sharon thought we should contact Diana Sinton, GIS Coordinator at NITLE. To ask how her Web-Mapping: Exploring Browser-Based Applications as Teaching and Learning Tools workshop went. Sharon also mentioned Jennie Lund at Connecticut College as a good resource.

Brian McAdoo mentioned looking into faculty enhancement grants, whether at ESRI or elsewhere. Brian said that ArcGIS is a tremendously difficult software to work with and that if a faculty member is going to try to learn it, he or she will need the time to devote to just learning the software. That it’s the kind of thing you learn in graduate school because you have the time, but once you’re out and teaching, you really don’t have the time to spend with the software if you’re teaching and doing your research at the same time.

Meg mentioned that what she sees at Vassar is that the students are flocking to GIS classes and that the enrollments have doubled. Vassar has had workshops for faculty, GIS Day activities, GIS speakers and there is always enthusiasm by faculty members but rarely a real follow-through with learning and using the GIS technology on the part of faculty members. There are exceptions to this rule. Meg thinks the growth of GIS at Vassar has come primarily from the students and sees the students leading the faculty to GIS.

We then reconvened in the GIS lab for a few brief discussions of projects.

Susan Winchell-Sweeney discussed the paper that she’ll give at the New York State GIS Conference later this month. She and a colleague mapped paleoindian archaeological sites from projectile point findings in the Hudson River Valley area near Bard College. The mapped the locations of archaeological sites versus chert-bearing bedrock and soil types.

Jennifer Peters has been working for the Environmental Protection Agency the past five months and has been using GIS to map probable locations of wetlands. Looking at hydric soils, bedrock fractures, and slope she is plotting the locations of possible wetlands. She is now ground-truthing her GIS analysis.

Meg talked about the Vassar GIS blog she started as a way to put exercises for faculty member’s classes up on the web. These exercises can be used at a later date by anyone. It is also a way to answer frequently asked questions and get that information to GIS users on campus. There are also links to data locations, virtual globes, other GIS blogs, information on tablet PCs, the GIS lab schedule, and links to vintage map sites.

Meg also showed how the tablet PC works with the ArcGIS software. The software is tablet PC-enabled and mapping can be done on the screen with a digitizing pen. You can also connect a GPS receiver to a USB port and stream locational data right into ArcGIS. Here’s a link to a blog entry from the Academic Commons she wrote recently about geospatial awareness thorugh using tablet PCs and GIS.

With a brief mention of thinking of ways to bring more local colleagues into the group and keeping in touch by email, we ended the meeting at 1:45 pm.

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