Central College will host about 100 geographic information system (GIS) users for the Iowa Geographic Information Council (IGIC) conference April 7-9. Anya Butt, conference chair and associate professor of biology, said the event will explore technologies that are quickly becoming essential throughout the world.
The 12th biennial conference, Running towards GeoAwesomeness, features keynote speaker Joseph Kerski, education manager for Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri). The conference allows GIS professionals and students to learn more about geospatial technologies, present their experiences, collaborate and connect with each other. Guests will spend one evening mapping data for humanitarian causes through MapGive, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Humanitarian Information Unit. For the first time, the conference will also include a 5K run/walk in downtown Pella.
The power of GIS, Butt said, is illustrating and helping people understand data. Professionals rely on GIS to complete a variety of jobs: to chart the ocean floor, to save fuel by maximizing right turns and to track where the wild things are in Yellowstone Park. Many conference participants work for state, county or local governments, educational institutions and private firms.
GIS is also essential to Central’s environmental studies major, where students learn to use GIS technology and apply it to real-world projects. Rachel Frana ’15 recently used GIS to help identify underserved areas for Des Moines Area Religious Council food pantries. Frana and Jordan Strumpfer ’15, both environmental studies majors, also won a $2,000 grant for GPS equipment to map Central’s campus.
Butt would also like to expand GIS education beyond Central. “My dream is to get GIS more into middle schools and high schools,” Butt said. “If we saw things on maps, we’d have a much better understanding of the world.”
Central graduates, including Adam Clark ’14 and Scott Sandberg ’07, will also attend the IGIC conference. Clark was recently named GIS coordinator of Hamilton County, and Sandberg, who was part of Central’s first GIS course, most recently worked as a research specialist for Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation’s National Farm Medicine Center.