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Drew professor granted toxic waste proposal

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Lisa Jordan teaching her Geographic Information Systems course (Photo by Marina Milia)

Lisa Jordan teaching her Geographic Information Systems course (Photo by Marina Milia)

Lisa Jordan, Director of the Spatial Data Center, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies & Sustainability and Political Science and GIS Support Specialist, wrote a proposal that was selected by Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge and will be implemented throughout the 2013-2014 school year. In the spring of 2013 the TRI Program, which is sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, ran a contest for academic communities to submit ideas that would use TRI data in ways that would benefit the communities, manufacturers and government it applied to. Drew’s proposal by Jordan was one of the eight out of 17 selected proposals.

The proposal submitted by Jordan focused on pollution prevention and sustainability, technology and data mashups and environmental education. She proposed six projects that would be completed by students in the Advanced Geographic Information Systems course. GIS is the hardware and software in spatial data (data collected about the earth). Evelyn Meisenbacher (’14) who took the Advanced GIS class last year explained, “GIS is used to make digital models of actual, physical environments. It’s modern map-making that does more than just describe an area – it calculates and analyzes as well. GIS is helpful for anything from forestry, archaeology, public health, even in determining demographics for criminal justice or for activist purposes.”

The proposed projects include updating research on environmental justice in New Jersey, conducting a geographic case study of areas within New Jersey using EPA and state data sources and public health data, examining TRI sites in relation to hurricane Sandy, combining TRI data with RSEI data to examine potential differences in health risks, using TRI data with other pollution data and developing an app that would show TRI sites and environmental risks locally and statewide. Students will spend the fall semester of the course doing tutorials on TRI’s, learning how to generate maps and look at data and link it with health data. Then in the spring semester students will be able to apply what they have learned to the projects Jordan has proposed.

While completing these projects students will utilize the TRI data provided by the EPA and GIS software. Meisenbacher elaborated, “Maps can be made with all kinds of data generated by the public and available online, but data from the EPA is especially valuable because it comes from a credible and trusted source. When you’re just looking at numbers and figures by themselves, they may not make any powerful statements – but GIS is so important here because it provides context. You can all of a sudden visualize real impacts! And that’s what makes GIS such a useful instrument, especially for environmentalist efforts.”

The students’ projects will be mostly complete by April and will be presented at the annual New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection GIS Poster Contest in Trenton. Students will also deliver a final presentation to EPA representatives via Skype at the end of the semester.

What makes this experience unique is the collaboration with EPA on the work that students will do. Jordan explained, “Our mission is to facilitate education about GIS with an opportunity to work with a government agency and part of the collaboration means pretty high up EPA staff will come to campus or Skype with students.”

Students will get hands-on experience they may not have normally and this is a chance for Drew students and faculty to work more closely with the New Jersey EPA, which could be a useful relationship for years to come. Jordan said, “For students, getting to have a close relationship with EPA is a great opportunity to see work related to GIS.”