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Building GIS Communities Across Campus

GIS programs, primarily used in geography departments at universities, have rarely been used by administration offices and other areas of the university such as schools of business. However, times are changing. Central Michigan University (CMU) and other schools are learning how to bridge the gaps between departments and build viable GIS communities that involve a variety of students, administrators, and faculty members.

At CMU, the GIS community-building process began with Dr. John Althausen, an energetic geography professor who looked at other areas of the university for real-world applications that his students could focus on when learning GIS in the classroom. Some of the projects he had his students work on included an analysis of student safety and campus lighting, a location analysis of campus fire hydrants, and an overview of the counties that attract CMU students.

Across campus, Rob Hassen, the marketing research manager at CMU's College of Extended Learning, decided to use ArcView to better understand current and potential student distributions around off-campus locations and examine alumni development issues. Although Hassen was working independently, it was only a matter of time before he and Althausen came together. Surprisingly, it took a call to Esri Education Specialist Michael Phoenix to make the connection between the two.

After contacting Esri about purchasing ArcView, Phoenix told Hassen about a highly respected GIS professor who also worked at CMU. Hassen immediately contacted Althausen and invited him to what became the first of many lunch meetings. Hassen and Althausen immediately appreciated the value of working together. Althausen wanted his students to gain real-world experience in the classroom. The College of Extended Learning—with more than 60 locations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico—seemed a perfect fit. Hassen, who had never worked with GIS, wanted to quickly become productive with the technology and teach his assistants how to use GIS. Together, they concocted a plan. Hassen would establish an internship for a GIS student each semester, and Althausen would train Hassen and his graduate assistants in the basics of ArcView.

The departments began working closely together. Althausen received help from Hassen in convincing higher-level administrators to purchase a campuswide license for Esri products. Althausen created a special GIS class for marketing research for Hassen and a select group of master of business administration (MBA) graduate assistants. Dr. Holt Wilson, a professor in the marketing department of the College of Business Administration, learned of the course and audited it.

Althausen, whose involvement in GIS was motivated by his dedication to his students, was the inspirational leader of the emerging GIS community at CMU. Wilson also became involved in applying GIS as a result of his dedication to his MBA students. He helped Hassen by letting graduate students use GIS in MBA projects that contribute to Hassen's research. Although he was just looking for a better way to get his work done, Hassen's motivations dovetailed with those of Althausen and Wilson. "...this diversity of motivation is, in fact, exactly what our new GIS community is all about. And, fortunately, the sum of what we do together is greater than the parts that we contribute," said Hassen.

So what does the GIS community at CMU look like now? With a campuswide Esri license, geography students have greater access to state-of-the-art GIS tools and the geography department is poised for expansion. A new GIS graduate degree program is in the works. Students in the undergraduate GIS program can now intern at the College of Extended Learning's Marketing Research Office and obtain real-world experience. Hassen's efficient and innovative marketing research office gives CMU an edge in the highly competitive higher education environment.

Other departments at CMU are considering GIS. Wilson shared his excitement about GIS with other professors in the College of Business Administration and has convinced them to give it a try. ArcView Business Analyst, with its wizards, integrated analysis tools, and data, has helped overcome reluctance on the part of faculty to learning a new computer program.

Hassen and Wilson have integrated ArcView Business Analyst on campus in a way that helps both departments. Hassen has also acquired a 25-seat ArcView Business Analyst Lab Kit he will pass along to the College of Business Administration. CMU business students will be able to go to the computer lab and learn how to integrate GIS into their studies without having to become geography students. Thanks to the 25 seats of the Esri Virtual Campus Web-based Business Analyst course that comes bundled with the Lab Kit, business professors can go to the lab and learn how to integrate GIS into their classes. Interested professors are being encouraged to enroll.

Hassen has seen a clear return on his investment in GIS. College students complete projects he would not have time to complete, and he is free to work on other marketing research and planning activities, such as designing a broader Marketing Decision and Support System, that will use GIS.

"The real benefit is all of our GIS work, at all corners of campus, creates a win-win relationship for everyone involved," said Hassen. "Not only am I better able to conduct the research we need but I am also lucky in that I get quality help from GIS faculty and students and from MBA faculty and students. As for my office, we are saving a good deal of time and money and we are getting more done. Plus, we are having a lot of fun in the process."

Other research offices at CMU are looking for ways of utilizing GIS for enhancing a variety of special projects. Even history professors are beginning to look at ways of using GIS for historical analysis. According to Hassen, people from "all corners, nooks, and crannies of the university are beginning to show a sincere interest. We really do have something special going on here."

For more information, contact

Rob Hassen
Marketing Research Manager
Central Michigan University
College of Extended Learning
Mount Pleasant, Michigan 48859
Tel.: 989-774-3937

[Note: Althausen has taken a position at Salem State College, Massachusetts, and is no longer a faculty member at CMU.]

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