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Research: Mapping Out a GIS Lab

News Story

Seidenberg professors Dan Farkas and Namchul Shin are in the process of creating a GIS Lab, which will help Pace students and faculty across many academic disciplines better understand and incorporate spatial data into their studies and research.

Geographic information system, otherwise known as GIS, is a computer technology that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents spatial and geographic data. It is commonly known as the technology behind the increasingly essential Google Maps, but it’s also responsible for so much more. The shipping company UPS, for instance, has their trucks on one large GIS system that organizes routes and delivery—a decision that has saved the company 100 million miles of traveling per year, equating to an estimated $300$400 million in savings.

Understanding the significance of GIS technology, Seidenberg professors Dan Farkas, PhD, and Namchul Shin, PhD, are looking to take their expertise mainstream—that is, they’re in the process of launching a lab dedicated to studying this technology and introducing it to Pace students and faculty, so that it can be more effectively used across disciplines and schools.

“GIS is used everywhere,” says Farkas. “It’s used when you take an Uber, or go into a Starbucks.”

Farkas and Shin conceived of the idea after seeing a similar initiative at University of Redlands in Southern California and launched a similar initiative. After further investigation, the duo realized that GIS and location analytics haven't yet been incorporated into Pace’s academic DNA, something they seek to change.

“It’s taught in the environmental science program, but it’s not used across disciplines at Pace. For example, it could be used in business, health sciences, education, and many liberal arts disciplines. Practitioners actually use GIS. I would hope it would become a University resource,” says Farkas.

With that, the duo began to formulate what has evolved into the Seidenberg Location Analytics and GIS Lab for Research and Education. Although the lab will be housed in Seidenberg, the idea is to help incorporate GIS into everything from sociology to marketing.

“The main core of GIS is spatial digital data,” says Shin. “It’s a better way to present data. It's the kind of knowledge you can find across disciplines. GIS is also a part of IT. It provides data visualization so that people can better understand the impact of location and make better decisions.”

Farkas cites a number of practical applications of GIS, including the way GIS is used to deliver you your trusty morning coffee.

“One of the big case studies in GIS is Starbucks,” says Farkas. “Starbucks doesn’t open a store without doing a spatial analysis. You want to know rent costs, traffic patterns, median income, whether there’s an available workforce. All of that can be analyzed to the block level. GIS is ideal for anything that involves location.”

In addition to business ventures, Farkas notes that GIS technology has also become indispensable in matters that can truly be life or death.

“It’s not just for business. Think about a natural disaster. First responders go out in the field and as they’re walking through an area hit by a tornado, they can enter data into a GPS unit detailing what went wrong, and target the deployment of ambulances, firetrucks, and support personnel.”

As the technology continues to evolve, Shin and Farkas stress the importance of having a “hub” for GIS technology and research at Pace. They cite that GIS research often lives in a school’s geography department, but because Pace doesn’t have a geography department, it’s important to establish a center of dedicated study.

“One of the things we want to do is establish a repository of information, or somewhere to go if you want to know more about GIS,” says Farkas.

“Eventually, we’d want to bring in guest speakers, conduct workshops, and so on, so that we engage both the Pace and local communities,” adds Shin.

Shin and Farkas hope to launch the lab within the next few months. Given the rapid incorporation of GIS in everything from articles in The New York Times to interpreting flow of traffic or spread of disease, they feel it is of the utmost importance to establish the center, and eventually grow it into an essential academic resource.

“Once people realize this is something they should be incorporating into their discipline, there’s going to be significant growth,” says Farkas. “In fields such as business, healthcare, public safety, and criminal justice, there are applications that are being done now, but, except for a few exceptions, nobody at Pace is teaching students how to use the technology. The motivation is not only to get recognition, but we’re passionate about it, and want to help bring Pace into the 21st century.”