GIS Students Take Mapmaking to the Next Level; GIS Day Events Planned for Nov. 15

Posted: November 14, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Mapmaking isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of ink on rough paper. Geography students using geographic information systems (GIS) at Mason know that maps are no longer two-dimensional.

These days, maps don’t just show how to get from one street to another. Based on sophisticated software, maps are more like onions – with layers and layers of information. These layers can be peeled off or put back on depending on the information needed.

Whether it is looking at population trends in Africa or charting traffic through a major department store, GIS can pull together the information quickly and in easy-to-understand graphics and charts.

Recently, students studying this technology had the opportunity to do a hands-on project with Fairfax County. Partnering with Sharon Bulova of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, a group of undergraduate and graduate students headed by associate professor of geography Sergei Andronikov mapped the growth and changes in the county’s Braddock District from colonial times to the present.

Sergei Andronikov with student
Professor Sergei Andronikov discusses a Fairfax County mapping project with one of his former students, alumnus Harold “Chip” Krivell.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

To create the maps, the students scanned old maps and aerial photographs and converted them to digital format. Digital versions of these maps use GIS as a virtual time machine to show land development.

The results were full-color maps printed in the book, “Braddock’s True Gold – 20th Century Life in the Heart of Fairfax County,” which was presented during the recent Fall for the Book festival at Mason.

“I was proud to be part of this project that helps the community preserve history and culture,” says Harold “Chip” Krivell, a Mason alumnus who, as a student, worked with Andronikov on the project.

Krivell devoted many hours to the project, sometimes working until 8:30 at night in between classes and other responsibilities. He received a BA in Geography last May and is now a geospatial analyst for MDA Federal, a Canadian-based company similar to Lockheed Martin.

“Chip was the heart and soul of the project,” says Andronikov, adding, “All of the students who worked on it were excited because of the ‘real-life’ application.”

GIS at Mason has really taken off in the last three years, and graduates of the program have landed careers in the government, nonprofit and private sectors, working on anything from the planning of commercial districts in the Hurricane Katrina-stricken area of Louisiana to earthquake modeling in Memphis, Tenn.

To celebrate this success as well as educate the public about the many applications of GIS, Mason will host GIS Day at the Fairfax Campus on Wednesday, Nov. 15, in the Johnson Center Cinema. One of the presentations that day will be about the Braddock District project.

“When people hear the word ‘geography,’ they think of maps,” says Andronikov. “But GIS is so much more than that. You can spatially analyze and model real-life situations.”

Other events at GIS Day include presentations about career opportunities, the program at Mason and exhibits and demonstrations of software, satellite imaging and the technology behind GIS. The full program of events can be found online.

For more information about GIS Day, contact Jennifer Maloney, Geography Department, at 703-993-1218 or jmaloney@gmu.edu.

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