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University of Redlands Integrates High-Tech Mapping Throughout Curriculum

For the first time, geographic information system technology is extending into traditionally non-technological majors at the California university, where information of all sorts is merged and analyzed with computerized maps.

(Tribune News Service) -- The reach of geographic information system technology extends across Redlands, the home of Esri, a supplier of GIS software and services.

But for the first time now, it’s extending into traditionally non-technological majors at the University of Redlands, where information of all sorts is merged and analyzed with computerized maps.

The university wants to “fuse spatial thinking throughout the curriculum,” said Steven Moore, the director of the university’s Center for Spatial Studies, which was founded last year.

“Digital data is becoming such a ubiquitous part of our lives,” Moore said. “We think it’s a key part of literacy.”

The university’s faculty seems to be jumping at the opportunities provided by the center:

“A couple of years ago, it was only in environmental science, but last year, it really stated to get baked into other departments,” Lisa Benvenuti, spatial resource manager with the center.

By providing experts to help create or customize the tools they need, the University has seen more faculty taking advantage of the technology, across a wide variety of disciplines. Redlands faculty has incorporated the technology into coursework in the humanities, business, education and, of course, the sciences.

“Yesterday, we had a new biology professor come in,” Benvenuti said. “He wants to build an app -- he’s an entomologist.”

Already, spatial studies is the most popular minor at the university, according to Moore.

“If there was a major in GIS, that’s what I would have done,” said environmental science senior Jason Berney, 22, of Portland.

In an era when nearly everyone has access to live updating traffic maps on cellphones, the more advanced GIS skills being learned by Redlands students are in high demand, according to Lucas Wilgers, 22, a senior in environmental science from Palm Desert.

“When I (interned) at the Nature Conservancy, they said they liked getting Redlands kids, because they had that GIS knowledge,” he said.

Beyond just collecting data in the field that’s automatically imported into maps -- which Redlands students have done when tracking threatened wildlife, following the travels of Holocaust survivors and looking at the distribution of California’s native tribes -- students also learn to present the data in ways that allows deep analysis and reveals sometimes-hidden relationships.

“I think that’s really essential,” Emily Irish, 22, a senior in environmental studies and graphic design from Seattle. “Being able to pull up a story map really helps.”

The center’s resources are being made available to all aspects of the campus, including the alumni association, disaster management and personnel management.

“The goal is to be able to be a support group, like the library,” Moore said. “An essential part of the school.”

©2015 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) Dristibuted by Tribune Content Agency