Integrating GIS processes and methodology into high school programs across the country is a growing trend, driven by increasing industry demand and forward-thinking geo-minded educators (such as those featured in Directions Magazine’s column, GeoInspirations). One need look no further than the most recent industry news pages for evidence that GIS in education is gaining priority; just last week Caliper, maker of Maptitude, released an endorsement of a proposal by the American Association of Geographers to the College Board for a new Advanced Placement course entitled AP Geographic Information Science & Technology (GIS&T). (Yes, Caliper offers free software to students, as does Esri, and several other GIS providers, and there are several Open Source solutions as well.)
With the geospatial analytics market expected to grow to $72.21 Billion by 2020, it just makes good economic sense to prepare students for advanced study at the university level by giving them a solid foundation in GIS in secondary school, and several premier schools across the country are already leading the way: schools like Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, where students have the opportunity to participate in Geospatial Semester, or the Rochester City School District’s School without Walls, which collaborates with the nonprofit organization GIS Scholars, Inc. to give students an opportunity to “perform professional, publishable GIS-based analysis that could lead directly into GIS careers.”
Today, we’d like to turn the spotlight on the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, in Durham, N.C., where Junior Navami Jain says she has been exploring “the endless applications GIS presents in STEM and beyond.” In her most recent work, Jain used ArcGIS’s Ordinary Least Squares regression tool “to understand, from a spatial standpoint, rhizospheric factors contributing to rice blast, a devastating cereal disease.” Working with Michael Desjardins, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who assisted Jain in model development and navigating ArcGIS, she was able to explore the relationship between the intensity of root pathogenesis, soil nitrogen availability, and the degree of water accumulation in rice paddies in Karnataka, a state in southwestern India, using real-world data. Through analysis of the model, Jain concluded that the degree of water flow and accumulation have a greater impact on a location’s susceptibility to root pathogenesis than does decreasing soil nitrogen. Although Jain cautions that more research is necessary, her study is still a starting point in an effort to alleviate a serious, real-world problem – the endgoal of many of the most influential geo-minded educators. (Feel free to read Jain’s full research paper at your leisure.)
Jain has now turned her attention to asthma research; she says she is currently examining “the potential of crowd-sourced data from Tweets in understanding spatial distributions of asthma cases.” She has geolocated Tweets containing keywords like ‘asthma’ and ‘inhaler’ and is spatially comparing them against asthma inducers such as PM 2.5.
Jain, of course, is not alone in recognizing the vast power of geospatial technology to impact a variety of real-world issues and corresponding economic sectors. The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration reports an annual growth rate of about 35 percent for the geospatial technology industry, and continues to fund apprenticeship programs across the country to prepare employees with the skills required to meet the demand – programs available to those of us whose secondary schools weren’t quite as cutting-edge as the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.