GIS receives $2 million grant for innovation

GISlab-ToriZieminski-1By Victoria Gill

Elm Staff Writer

For the third time, Washington College has won a $1 million grant with a matched grant from the Hodson Trust. The $2 million was awarded to the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program from the Department of Commerce’s Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative Fund (MEIF) that provides the support for endowed chairs at higher education institutions in Maryland.

The GIS program pushes students to develop their critical thinking and analytic skills from the classroom to be put towards projects such as operating the Maryland Crime mapping and Analysis Program (CMAP). Previously, their funding was provided by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the Maryland High Safety Office, the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Sophomore Rachel Chambers, a GIS Apprentice, said that the majority of students are assigned to this government grants.

“Students working for Maryland Highway Safety Office (MSHO) analyze data about traffic stops, crashes, and aggressive driving to discover patterns and inform Maryland law enforcement in patrolling and prevention,” she said.

According to Chambers, the majority of students at GIS make maps and wrangle data to be displayed on a map to reveal larger patterns.

These projects provide a basis for different organizations around Maryland to enhance specific decision making.

According to the WC website, partners and clients of the GIS program depend on the student interns for a timely and accurate analysis to aid in the informed decision which would impact the health and safety of Maryland citizens.

Chambers said her supervisor tells the employees that the earliest recorded uses of GIS were in the 1800s in London to chart cholera outbreaks to narrow down a cause.

According to the College website, GIS provides experiential learning opportunities and professional work experience in geographic information systems and economic development. These business development and pilot projects are all performed by an academically diverse group of students.

The program was started in 2003 by Center for Environment & Society (CES) Director John Seidel.

In the WC spotlight article, Seidel said, “We are very excited about the strong economic development potential that the expansion of our GIS program will bring to Maryland…as well as the hands-on, collaborative experiences that it will provide for WC  students and faculty.”

WC is the only private college to win this award. Other award recipients this year included University of Maryland at College Park, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and Towson University. In the past MEIF awarded the grant to other programs within entrepreneurial opportunities for students in the sciences.

“Our outstanding GIS program is among our strongest for offering students real-world experience within the liberal arts framework, and this will only enhance that to create more opportunities,” President Kurt Landgraf siad in the website spotlight.

In 2016, the state grant funded an endowed position in CES. The following year, the matched $2 million was able to create an endowed chair for the College’s new Eastern Shore Food Lab, which is open to all of the Chestertown community.

Now that GIS has obtained this funding, it may mean an opportunity for the College to consider an academic program in geospatial technologies through GIS. This also creates the endowed prospect to move beyond funded projects and work within business development.

“It has certainly given me experience in developing applications, solving problems on my own, and understanding how to communicate with coworkers and clients. I’ve made a lot of mistakes at GIS. I’m grateful they allow me to make silly mistakes there and learn instead of bringing that into a full-time job after college,” Chambers said.

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