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Geographic Information Systems

What is GIS?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a way of digitally mapping data in a visual way that allows geographic data to be stored, displayed and analyzed. Geographic Information Systems can be used in a variety of ways, including crime prevention, public health, and historical research.

GIS takes data from spreadsheets and tables and converts them to more visually comprehensible ways, and allows you to work with large quantities of data from a variety of sources. These different sources can be displayed simultaneously as layers of information stacked on top of each other, to allow a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.

GIS at Washington College

The GIS Lab at Washington College was founded in 2003 as an offshoot of the Anthropology department at Washington College. Under the guidance of Stewart Bruce, Assistant Director at the Center for Environment and Society, the program grew to include 14 full-time staff members, a handful of research associates and independent contractors, and over sixty student employees. In just a few short years, the Washington College GIS Lab has achieved recognition by the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, and has grown to include a large student workforce, working in conjunction with organizations such as the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, to local businesses such as Chino Farms. The GIS Lab has grown in such a way to have created two spin-off companies, Pandion 5D and Weyr Media, utilizing the unique skills of the student work force. GIS provides opportunities for the college, students, and community to interact in ways beneficial to all involved.



How is GIS used?

Geographic Information Systems are used across disciplines and all throughout the world. Government and non-profit agencies use GIS to help map public health and safety concerns; environmental managers employ GIS to inventory and manage resources for the future; decisions on how to efficiently log forests without creating excessive damage to the environment are possible using a GIS. These are just a few examples of the many ways that GIS can be utilized to help different types of organizations to work more effectively and with better end results.

GIS is a powerful tool for examining demographic characteristics. A study was undertaken looking at the relationship between persons with disabilities and illiteracy in Canada. This project helped to inform the Canadian Parliament about where literacy services were needed. GIS enables organizations to take a variety of real world information and input it into a map, to help create real world solutions to the problems at hand.

This is just scratching the surface of all of the uses and benefits of GIS—if you are interested in how GIS is used in your field, just ask! More examples of how GIS can be applied to business, communication, education, engineering, environmental management, health and human services, natural resources, and transportation can be found here.

Opportunities in GIS

Here are several links to give you an idea of how GIS can be used after college. 

As a growing field, there are a plethora of ways that GIS can be used after college and in professional capacities. From government, to the humanitarian sector; from business, to education and engineering, GIS can be utilized for just about any field. Check out the following job opportunities to see how you can apply GIS to your career field.