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College of Science & Mathematics

Mapping the Campus (and Beyond) in Layers

Faculty and students in Rowan University's small but industrious geography department are using Geographic Information Systems – a state-of-the-art process that combines mapping technology with data – to identify crime patterns, urban development, land use, and much more.

Embracing GIS technology – a relatively new concept that merges information with cartographic images – Rowan's New Age mapmakers are building tools to better understand campus and off-campus trends instantly and online.

How significant is GIS?

Put it this way: if Christopher Columbus had access to GIS, he wouldn't have just discovered the New World, he'd have known where to fish along the way, where the most dangerous squalls tended to blow up and which tribes would be most hospitable once he got here.

"The real power comes in the analysis," said John Reiser, an adjunct professor in the department of Geography/Anthropology within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Reiser, a 2004 Rowan graduate who majored in geography, holds a masters degree in urban planning and is a Planning and GIS Specialist with the state Office of Smart Growth in Trenton.

"Eighty percent of all data has some geospatial component," he said. "You can take anything that has a geospatial component, bring it into GIS, have it displayed on a map to add an extra dimension to the data."

Working with Rowan Prof. John Hasse and other geography faculty, as well as with faculty from Rutgers University, Reiser helped develop a series of interactive maps including the New Jersey Land Development Viewer that tracks urban development and the loss of green space over the past two decades.

Other projects include an online map for the New Jersey Atlas titled "Geography of Luck" that tracks 20 years of state Lottery winners by municipality and one that tracks residential development in the state after 2002.

Utilizing campus public safety data, he is helping develop an interactive online map to foster greater awareness and maximize police patrols.

"The goal is layered information," Reiser said. "We're taking things we've been studying in the geography department for years and making it much more accessible."

About 60 students are presently enrolled in the Geography program at Rowan but it is a highly marketable degree and one that more students ought to consider, Reiser said.

"It's one of the few fields that really hasn't been hit by the recession," he said.

Reiser said the federal government as well as state and county governments throughout the U.S. are actively seeking GIS technicians to map vast amounts of information and infrastructure.

"They hold the keys to utilities infrastructure and real estate management," he said. "How much water is available? What are the traffic studies? It all ties back to GIS."


And engineers like it too

Matt Parisi, a graduate student in Rowan's College of Engineering, studied GIS through the Geography department to help process wind analyses for a clean energy project.

Parisi said incorporating GIS into his studies enabled him and other students to systematically analyze wind data collected at a station in Sea Girt, Monmouth County, where turbines to produce electricity may be built along the coast.

"For wind-siting, GIS is a huge visual tool," said Parisi, who graduates in December with a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering. "We can take measurements for a year and, using GIS, compare them with other sources (to choose the best site for the turbines)."