What do accident analysis, volcanic hazard identification, and pest control in agricultural production all have in common? They utilize Graphic Information Systems (GIS), widely applicable database management systems used to describe the social and physical environment with high detail.
Next fall, the Boston College economics department is offering a brand new course related to this field called “Geographic Information Systems for Planning and Decision-Making.” The point of the course is to utilize GIS data to teach students how to examine change across a specific place and over time, as well as to discern what could happen at that location in the future.
This kind of analysis ultimately hopes to begin to teach students the process of finding useful information, how to display this information in a computer, and to see what patterns arise from it. In addition, they will learn how to visualize this information to see how the patterns look spatially.
The course will be taught by William Cohen, a professional urban planner who has been working in his profession for four years. He originally wanted to become a teacher in college and was captivated by urban school issues. He expected he would teach about urban school reform and organizational change one day, though his plans eventually changed.
“I always knew I liked cities back in the day, and I figured that I would like to work in a field that deals with thinking about issues that cities face on a regular basis,” Cohen said.
Previously, the economics department did not offer any urban planning or design courses. Urban planning is an applied field, which many universities do not offer any programs in. While this course does not necessarily signal the start of a complete urban planning program at BC, it could be the potential first step toward creating one.
Cohen received the opportunity to teach this course by Neil McCullagh, the Executive Director of the Corcoran Center for Real Estate and Urban Action. The center is an interdisciplinary group that combines social issues and issues about real estate with mission driven work. McCullagh realized that a course based on GIS would be a valuable asset for BC.
The use of information to find patterns and the ability to learn how to make maps and see what they show is a skill set that is beneficial in a variety of fields. While the course will appeal to students who have an interest in urban planning, the applications of the course stretch far beyond urban planning.
For this reason, the course is cross-listed with the economics department, the School of Social Work, and the Carroll School of Management. There are many ways in which business people, social workers, and undergraduates of any liberal arts field may want to see how GIS relates to their own work.
For example, the School of Social Work already does work to this effect related to epidemiology. Additionally, business school students interested in real estate could benefit from the course as well, in that they can gain skills to help them better understand the community surrounding a property and recognize the value of comparable properties.
Cohen does not expect students to have any sort of graphic or analytic capabilities going in. Given that the course is open to graduate and undergraduate students, students could potentially have a wide range of skill sets going in.
“I think the reason for taking the course would be simply because you have an interest in taking it in the first place,” Cohen said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor