Welcome Back!

It is the second week of work for the Fall semester here at the GIS Lab, and we are already in full swing! We have several exciting new projects this semester, and a full roster who you will meet later. Continue reading Welcome Back!


Summer at GIS

As students leave for summer, GIS is not as busy as it is during the school year with half of its student workers around. This summer, Melody joined our team and experienced the positive environment in sunny Chestertown. Melody said: “I was looking for a summer job because I decided to stay in the United Sates for the duration of summer and I was too excited to get a reply from Stew Bruce for a tour and an interview. I have never heard of GIS before, I only knew it because my other boss Kate McCleary recommended it to me and a couple of my friends worked there. I did not have a clue what GIS was except that it was related to maps”.
After a tour, Stew offered Melody a position on the social media and marketing team because of her previous experience in that field. Currently Melody is managing marketing and advertising for GIS and its clients, the MapStory Foundation and the Upper Shore Harvest Directory. She mentioned: “Now that summer is about to end, I realized that I learned a huge deal from my experience here at GIS, I learned how to work directly with businesses, how to manage working on many projects and getting them professionally done, and I also learned many tricks and skills that I applied to social media for GIS and our other customers”. Melody went on a DC work conference and met with MapStory, she also met with the Upper Shore Regional Council in Chestertown. She said: “This taught me how to be a better person at what I do and improved my long term objectives, especially with social media as this is one of my many experiences in this field. I am truly thankful to have had this opportunity to spend my summer here”.

Helping the UN with Ground Water Improvement in Darfur

Ground Water Improvement in Darfur, Sudan
As the Sudanese region, Darfur, continues to recover from genocidal tragedies, its people must cope with the land’s limited ground water resources. Mohamed Ali, a Darfuri worker for United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) had been tasked with assessing the ground water situation of an area of interest within the region.  This assessment was to be done using Geographic Information System (GIS) methods, but with little experience and technological access, Mohamed turned to the Washington College GIS program for help.
After taking Stewart Bruce’s free online classes via http://geoworkshops.org/ , Mohamed contacted Mr. Bruce for direct assistance on the project.  As this project would open up the GIS program to a new international level, it was accepted with excitement.  Students including Melody Qanadilo, Kelley Holocker, and upcoming freshman Daniel Ortiz all contributed to the early stages in the project’s development. Their progress can be seen on the beta interactive webpage http://maps.washcoll.edu/js/Sudan.html, made by Thomas Fish.  The team, led by Brad Janocha, will ultimately use remote sensing and contemporary imagery to develop GIS solutions to ground water scarcity in the region.
The Darfur project has created a link between the Washington College GIS lab and the international community; by reaching out to people in need, the significance of this program will continue to grow.

History in the Making

When Jackelyn Gitlin first came to Washington College she did not know anything about GIS. However, she had a few friends who worked at the lab, and their positive experiences prompted her to respond to an e-mail calling for interns with experience working with Photoshop. Since then, this history major and co-President of the Washington College Historical Society has had the opportunity to work with local organizations pursuing her passion for history.

Jackelyn has worked with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum of St. Michaels, where she used Photoshop to clean up a cracked and stained map from the 1880’s. She says that the image editing software allowed her to “bring the map back to life.” She has also used Photoshop to colorize old photographs of Chestertown from 1927, and photographs of the Washington College campus from the 1960’s. Right now she is colorizing an old sketch of Baltimore.

She has worked on other programs as well, such as Unity software, which she used while working on the Eastern Correctional Institution project. For this project she painted new texture tiles in Photoshop, and then used Unity to create a new base image, which gave the Eastern Correctional Institution project team a more clear and easy to use base map for their 3D models.

Jackelyn says that her experience at the Lab has helped develop her personal life as well as her education. She has made friends while working at the lab, and has gotten along especially well with another member of the team, with whom she collaborated on the Fly Aloft project. She says that her experience at the Lab has been “incredibly fun,” and she feels that the skills she has learned here will eventually help her pursue a career in teaching and public history, having given her a wide range of experiences with different types of work in the field of history such as the digital restoration of maps.

– By: Dana Case

A Summer Mapping Chino Farms

Jeff Sullivan is a sophomore at Washington College majoring in Environmental Studies. Jeff became interested in GIS after taking the introductory course and saw its potential relevance with wildlife management. He hopes that working as a GIS intern will expand his abilities and knowledge of GIS software.

      Throughout the spring semester, Jeffery Sullivan has been working on a project both for his job at the GIS lab and as part of his academic school work for one of his classes. GIS Lab Director Stew Bruce teaches a course on campus that Jeff is currently enrolled in. This course, Intermediate GIS with Lab, involves a semester long project in which the students pursue the topic of their choice. Jeffery, after working as an intern at Chino Farms this past summer, decided to compile all of the research previously done at the farm, current research, and potential research focuses into one portfolio. Chino Farms is located just a few minutes from the Washington College campus and has been working with the Center for Environment and Society in order to have interns spend time on the farm conducting research during the academic school year and over the summer.
     This extensive project, with the working title “Grass and Grain: A study of Chino Farms”, involves giving the history of the farm, collecting all of the past research from the farm, consolidating current research, and addressing potential research opportunities for the future. Because of the large amount of work that is involved in this project, Stew assigned fellow GIS employee Amanda Kloetzli to work with Jeffery in the GIS lab in order to have it completed by the end of the semester. Amanda is working to digitize the field and stream buffers that will go into the final report. Jeffery is making all of the maps that go along with the research of the farm, and collecting all of the other components for the project. In addition to working on this project as part of his course work, Jeffery also works on it during his assigned work shifts at the lab.

In the beginning of the semester Jeffery was promoted to a Project Manager position at the GIS lab. His role would be to oversee all of the projects worked on in the office that involved Chino Farms. This promotion, in addition to having worked at the farm over the summer, is what led him to choose his class project.

At the end of the semester the final draft of the research project will be printed, bound, and presented to the landowner. When asked about the overall goal of the project Jeff stated, “This will give a nice report for the landowner, potential donors, and potential researchers to see what has been done, what can be done, and the areas of interest to them on the farm.”

To learn more about Chino Farms:

-By: Rachel Puglia

Taking the Time

     GIS is always on pace with cutting edge technology, but that doesn’t mean that utilizing this technology is always simple and accomplished at lightning speeds. As a GIS intern for four years, Kimberly Zepeda has learned that many projects take patience, time, skill, and a critical eye.

“One of the most important skills I learned through the years is how to digitize things. Using this skill, I was able to complete a lengthy project during the Fall of 2012 that was very time consuming. By using a map of a suburban district in Baltimore and the ArcGIS software, I was able to digitize a map of the entire area,” said Kim.

Kim used ArcGIS software to create each individual layer and parcel of the Baltimore Suburban area. These projects are hard work because even the smallest of details have to be sketched out by hand, such as buildings, windows, doors and lots. “I was able to recreate a useful map to provide a digital record of these buildings to include historical information and provide further possible use for visitors to the area. Along with digitizing, I entered in information in an attribute table for each polygon concerning the building number, street it was located on, and any extra comments.”

Although only a portion of the original map was digitized, Kim notes that it took a while to enter in all the information correctly and carefully digitize each polygon, occasionally fixing vertices of the buildings. “I found the cut polygons button to be an excellent tool in providing accuracy in making sure buildings were even and did not overlap. Since the boundaries were large horizontal polygons, the cut polygon tool assisted in creating the most accurate lots parcels. This tool specifically adjusts the shape of the original polygon and helps split one feature into two new ones with a clean cut by simply sketching a line across the polygon.” This project took up a majority of the fall semester since all the buildings were included and all the data was double-checked for accuracy with the original map of the area.

Marketing is the Key: Local & Abroad

Lea Delfs, an international student studying Business Administration, says that when she first came to Washington College she found it difficult to find a job that was a good fit. Lea is currently spending my year abroad at Washington College as an international exchange student from Germany, University of Tübingen.

When she received an email from Stew Bruce seeking interns for the GIS lab, she immediately took the opportunity, signing on to work for the GIS Lab marketing team promoting the Online Training Program. Lea says this internship has proved to be the perfect fit for her. She is able to practice both her English and marketing skills. She also says she has been able to meet interesting people while working at the lab, even attending a GIS conference in Pennsylvania.

“My main focus was on marketing the Online Training Program and the Summer Camp offered by GIS. Washington College provides self-paced virtual instruction to develop or expand the knowledge of ArcGIS Desktop, ENVI EX, and Trimble GPS. The business model is simply to allow anybody at any convenient time to take online workshops. Users can use it for free by logging-in as guests or register for a certain fee in order to receive professional feedback and evaluations.”

“I also created a Flyer with all the important information about our Professional Development Program. In November 2012, Professor Bruce offered Caitlyn Riehl and I the opportunity to go to the Technology & Engineering Education Association of Pennsylvania (TEEAP) Conference. We had the chance to promote our Training Program as a curriculum for High-Schools and our Summer Camp. Overall, the conference helped us to establish new contacts and increase our business presence in Pennsylvania.”

Lea then used her international ties to spread GIS beyond the boundaries of the Eastern Shore. Her main goal was to contact as many international, bilingual and private schools in Germany in order to spread the news about our Summer Camp in Chestertown. Students from Germany are given the opportunity to improve their language skills, to make new friends from all over the world and to gain a deeper insight into the American college life. She contacted about 200 different schools, but since the time period is inconvenient for most of the schools, we are currently thinking about changing the dates of the summer camp.

This semester she is branching out further, working on updating the Upper Shore Harvest Directory. The Upper Shore Harvest Directory is a brochure, both in paper and online, which helps to connect consumers with local agriculture, agritourism, charters, and restaurants. Lea’s job is to send out surveys and make videos of local businesses, which are going toward the creation of the website. While working on this project, Lea has had the chance to visit local farms and charters. She says that she has enjoyed getting to know the Upper Shore and the Chesapeake Bay.

Lea feels that her work at the GIS Lab will be useful in her future career. She has been able to experience the American professional life, improve her English skills, and has met plenty of interesting people in the process.

– By: Dana Case

"What’s your story?": GIS Interns Partner with MapStory

Viewing Alexandria, VA from the eyes of George Washington is no longer an impossible thought because of MapStory, an infrastructure enabling “MapStorytelling” in order to communicate important issues to the world. Sean Emerson, a first-year student at Washington College is currently gathering historic maps and aerial photographs from George Washington’s time to the present, and utilizing various GIS technology skills in order to create a time lapse map of the city of Alexandria.

This project is a step-by-step process that involves collecting data from various sources including, The Library of Congress, U.S. Geological Survey, and commercial websites. The process to create the georeferenced images begins with downloading the image(s) from the source website and giving the image a spatial reference for viewing in ArcMap. Next the image is opened in ArcMap and georeferenced with ArcGIS tools over a parcel layer. The image is then cropped and edited to a reasonable file size and then saved in a defined geographic projection. Once all this is complete the image will have gone from a simple scanned picture to an accurate, spatially referenced map that can be viewed and explored. “So far I have georeferenced over a dozen maps and historic aerial images with dozens more to go,” said Sean Emerson.

While the process seems to be clear cut, each map and image presents its own challenge. Some historic maps are easy to georeference because of the grid-like nature of Old Town Alexandria’s streets. Meanwhile others are more difficult, such as maps that show a larger area or aerial images with no labels at all. The aerials present a unique challenge when georeferencing because there is no street label. Therefore, these can only be georefernced by geographic features alone.

“I have found that the easiest way to do this is to look for unique geographic features such as cemeteries, diagonal intersections, bridges, and even certain large buildings that stand out on an aerial image,” says Emerson. “I have also found that shorelines and railroad tracks are not useful in georeferencing because rivers and creeks around the city have changed drastically over the years due to erosion and sedimentation and many rail yards in, and around, Alexandria have been torn up and replaced with high rise condominiums and other developments.”

The enormous changes in Alexandria are very evident in these maps. For example, parts of the city are identified as “Alexandria, D.C.” on many older maps because the city was once part of the District of Columbia. The aerial images from the 1940s-1960s, when compared to current images, show how much development has occurred in the city. Many images show the Capital Beltway under construction along Cameron Run, and much of the interstate is built on reclaimed land that used to be part of the creek. Comparing images of the beltway reveals how the road has been supersized to meet traffic demands as a result of the development in the area, going from a six lane highway with basic interchanges in 1964, to a 14 lane highway with spaghetti looking interchanges at every exit in 2012.

Photo Courtesy of: MapStory.org

“It is fascinating to see the city change and grow over time,” said Emerson. “Working on this project has taught me a lot about the history of Alexandria, from its beginnings as an industrial port city, to a fairly wealthy city and suburb adjacent to Washington, D.C. I hope that this project shows people that each community has a rich history, which often goes untold and unnoticed. This project has taught me that a unique way to tell these stories is through old maps and aerial photos, which can best show the widespread change that occurs when a city grows. The story of Alexandria’s history is just one of thousands that can, and should be told for the benefit of future generations.”

Campus Plaque Treasure Hunt

     A historical campus such as Washington College displays plaques from generous donors at nearly every corner. You don’t realize how many plaques the academic buildings have until you go on a scavenger hunt for them – that is precisely the project GIS Interns Michael Wieder and Emily Scherer undertook. Throughout this semester Michael and Emily have been documenting each and every donor plaque on the Washington College campus through fieldwork, data entry, and Georeferencing.

Michael and Emily took a picture of each plaque and even documented the closest classroom to the plaque and its location measurements from ceiling and floor. Plaques on oil paintings and trees throughout campus were also documented and Georeferenced. The rule of thumb was if it has a name on it, map it.

“I didn’t expect some buildings to have many plaques at all, yet there ended up being a large number. It’s so cool seeing how involved alumni and even non-graduates are in the Washington College community,” said Emily Scherer. “I’ve really been enjoying this project, I’m learning so much about the history of the school while documenting the plaques, and I love how directly this project will be able to help the school, particularly the Alumni Association.”

After the fieldwork was documented, the team created a database and entered data using Microsoft Access. Within this database, plaques can now be searched for by building location or by donor name.  A hyperlink to the mapped buildings where the plaque is located and its actual image is available.  An identification number and floor information for each plaque is also included in the database information. Through this database, the plaque information will be institutional knowledge. This is helpful for when plaques are stolen or damaged, or when a donor visits campus and wants to know the exact location of their plaque.

“I like so many things about this project,” said Director of Donor Relations and Stewardship Judy Barroll. “I like that our own WC students are professionally invested in this project. We could have had an outside vendor complete this project at a higher cost, in perhaps a shorter time frame, but I love that this project will mean something, not only to us who will work with the end product every day, but to the students who are working the project. The completion of this project will greatly enhance our Donor Relations and Stewardship efforts. Donors want to believe and know that we genuinely care about their gift as much as they do. Identifying and cataloging all of our recognition plaques on campus gives us the ability to locate, at the request of a visiting donor or out of an internal need, any of our recognition items. You can’t imagine how much it means to a donor who has returned to campus after 10, 20 or even 30 years to be able to find a bench, plaque or tree that recognizes a relative, loved one or themselves. The GIS plaque project is an essential development in good Donor Relations and Stewardship.”