Cutting-edge course brings technology in focus

New this fall at Maryville University is a specialized course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), taught by Todd Brenningmeyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of art history at Maryville. According to Brenningmeyer, the introductory course deals with the theory and application of GIS with a primary focus on historical and archeological sites, incorporating a lab component employing the latest professional and open source (user-generated) computer software.

“Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related applications allow researchers and commercial users to map, analyze and make decisions based on observed phenomena with a spatial or locational component,” said Brenningmeyer. “For example, they are used to track and understand population changes in plants or animals based on environmental changes, topographies, human influence etc., site businesses based on demographic and transportation factors, as well as identify archaeological sites based on artifact distributions and unique spectral signatures.”

According to Brenningmeyer, there has been much student interest in the course because it provides analysis possibilities that contribute to a variety of academic disciplines. GIS can be employed in fields as wide ranging as political science or environmental science. Common everyday applications can be seen in technologies such as Google Earth or Mapquest, he commented.

May Ashour, a senior majoring in English and political science from Bahrain, says she is taking the class because she has been fascinated by the subject since studying it in high school. “The class is going well so far,” said Ashour. “It’s very different from any other class I’ve taken. It is very technology-based and it would have helped if I had some kind of computer-programming background.” Still, Ashour finds the class interesting and intriguing.

Brenningmeyer notes the software he uses to teach the class is the same used by the majority of individuals and companies who employ GIS. Students passing the course will receive a certificate indicating they are trained in the software, significantly bolstering future employment opportunities, he remarked, adding the class also has attracted attention from the corporate sector, since the lab component can be taken separately for a fee.

The lab, located in the lower level of the Annex, currently has 21 computers; 16 are regularly used by students. There are also three stations that are being configured to serve as workstations for GPS coordinate correction. “We also have several GPS units and other equipment that will be used from time to time in the lab,” said Brenningmeyer. “The hope is to one day be able to provide geographic data and information beyond the Maryville campus.”

Maryville currently offers the GIS course during the fall semester. Brenningmeyer said the course eventually could be offered in the spring semester as well if there is sufficient student demand.

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.

-by Emily Mullen, student writer, Marketing and Public Relations