GIS program becomes available to more undergraduates
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 16:10
The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies this fall is offering its first exclusively undergraduate Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course due to persistent academic interest and flexibility in the operating budget, according to Barbara Parmenter, a lecturer of GIS courses in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Tufts’ Archaeology, International Relations and Environmental Studies programs, with approval from Dean of Arts and Sciences Joanne Berger-Sweeney, expanded the GIS program to make it more accessible to undergraduates since graduate students usually fill GIS classes quickly during registration, Parmenter said.
GIS classes provide students with a variety of skills, including how to use and design maps and how to analyze data from geo-spatial technology, according to Parmenter.
“Students really seem to enjoy GIS,” she said. “They tend to become invested in their graphics and spend a lot of time making them perfect. It’s also a class offered here where there’s no writing involved, which provides a change of pace from other courses.”
Lecturer in the Center of Interdisciplinary Studies Carl Zimmerman, who teaches the undergraduate GIS 101 class, believes it is important for those with an interest in the program to get a taste of it as early as they can in their academic career.
“I think it’s useful for students to take this course,” he said.
“It’s a way of looking at the world through spatial relationships, and organizing thought.”
Zimmerman recommends that students interested in databases, computers, how humans and the environment impact the world, or how the world is organized consider taking the course. GIS 101 teaching assistant Carolyn Talmadge noted that although the course has in the past been composed of mostly graduates, the current undergraduate group is particularly adept with the material.
Graduate students in the course are often given larger projects and spend more time learning material on their own, while the undergraduate specific course focuses on smaller projects with more discrete learning goals, she said.
Students in the class range from computer science to environmental studies majors, according to Zimmerman.
Robert Joseph, a sophomore political science major is taking GIS 101 this semester because he looks to one day start a career as an urban planner.
“This class is supremely applicable to any subject. It’s really helpful to examine all sorts of environments using this technology, and we’re learning at a very good pace,” he said.
School of Engineering graduate Adam White (E ’09) was one of the few undergraduate stu who had the opportunity to take the introductory GIS course his senior year.
“As a student who had an interest in urban planning, geography and international development, the class taught me new tools that allowed me to conduct spatial research and mapping work,” White told the Daily in an email.
“I used some of these skills when I traveled to Haiti with [Engineers Without Borders] and [Research and Engagement Supporting Poverty Elimination] the summer before my senior year to map assets and challenges in a rural community in northern Haiti.”
White told the Daily he continues to use the skills he gained from the GIS course after graduation.
“By making these classes available to undergraduates, we can have more people thinking about geography in other fields,” he said. “GIS is a way of looking at data and the world that crosses most social sciences and the natural sciences having those skills available to all sorts of different students will enable them to look at their field differently spatially.”
Editor's Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the Introduction to Geographic Information Systems course as Introduction to Global Information Systems. Additionally, the undergraduate courses are not being offered by the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning as previously stated. Instead, the courses are offered by the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, in conjunction with the Environmental Studies program, the International Relations program and UIT’s Geospatial Technology Services.