Getting the Gist of GIS

October 23, 2017

Prof. Claudia Walters relishes in her love for geography and mapping -- and it is this dedication that has given her the title of Geographic Information Systems Advocate.

Raised maps of Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe cover the walls of Dr. Claudia Walters office. This German-born professor relishes in her love for geography, mapping, and it is this excitement for and dedication to geography that has given her the title as CASL’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Advocate.

According to the GIS company Esri, a GIS helps people visualize, question, analyze and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.

“I want to increase the awareness of what you can do with a GIS because it lends itself to so many different applications in so many different fields,” Walters said. “Even in daily life, GIS can be useful for planning family gatherings, or advertising events."

Walters meets with professors one-on-one who have used GIS before but need a refresher due to the software changes. She also uses opportunities to lecture about GIS in various classes to educate students.

“We want our students to be aware of this tool and get some training in it. It’s one of the growing areas in employment and I think our students would be better off if they had some understanding of it,” she said.

In addition, Walters creates and facilitates GIS workshops on campus. One workshop titled “Introduction to Story Maps” includes presentations on creating story maps from field trips, comparisons between different maps, and even how to enhance journal writing by embedding maps, photos, and videos. Participants also learn how to create their own StoryMap.

Another workshop, named after the app “Survey123” teaches participants how to create form-based surveys for data collection in the field using smart phones or digital tablets.

These workshops, held in October, create anticipation for GIS Day (to be held November 15th), an annual event on campus for the past three years. With 14 different presentations and a concurrent exhibit, Walters has arranged for professionals to showcase how they use GIS is their field. For example, Friends Of the Rouge will discuss 3-D mapping within the watershed and the Michigan Department of Transportation will show how GIS is used in roadway maintenance.  GIS applications will be highlighted in areas ranging from zoology through public safety to urban revitalization.

Aside from planning and promoting full-day GIS events, Walters has done freelance cartography and currently plays in a recorder ensemble and sings in a choir. However, these other hobbies pale in comparison to her true interest.

“Geography is very fascinating because you can only understand how things work if you look at how they relate across space. Geography is so broad. Here on campus I have been assisting with projects on the ethnic makeup of a neighborhoods in Dearborn, election results, and oral histories of holocaust survivors in Poland,” Walters said. “If people are even marginally considering doing something like that I would be more than happy to talk to them to see how their project can be enhanced with mapping or spatial analysis.”


-- by Leah Johnson-Olajide

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