GIS Day 2008 was held on November 19. The day has gained special significance as it is a key way to bring out the salient characteristics and usage of GIS (geographic information systems) and other data-driven geography technology, such as those powering the geoweb, to the mainstream public, particularly the younger generation.
The “day” has been around since 1987, and has emerged as a worldwide day of events where companies, colleges and universities and schools around the world will be heralding GIS applications. It is to mapping what Earth Day is to the environment and is appearing at a time in our own country when educational programs in technology are of concern.
GIS Day Details
The day is principally sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the Association of American Geographers, and University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the United States Geological Survey, The Library of Congress, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and ESRI. A video at the official site has a university professor explaining how GIS technology crosses classrooms in marketing, political science, environmental science, municipal planning, journalism and many other departments.
Many events took place and included exhibits held locally by such organizations as The Bahamas National Geographic Information Systems Centre, 4-H Clubs of Cumberland County Maine, The National Park Service in Anchorage, Alaska, The EAST Lab at Eureka Springs High School in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Notre Dame University, Indiana University, the University of New Hampshire and many more.
The awareness that the day brings is very important. It excites a curious youth demographic, many who may be unfamiliar with the power of layered data in mapping. I recall an incident last year in which I was speaking with the parents of high school senior, who said that their son had an interest in GIS technology. I had a familiarity with the technology and told them so. They were thrilled that I did, because they said they knew nothing about it! They were excited to know that their son was interested in a chapter of technology that is emerging as one of the most important in the years to come.
Elections highlight the growing role of data-driven maps
Every year that passes, we see GIS and layered data everywhere — on our cell phones, online news sites, and who could have missed the prolific use of GIS and sophisticated data in our most recent general election. In fact, MSNBC drew attention to the whole history of electoral maps and how in 1968 NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley coverage of the election actually had someone on a stepladder in the background “changing the map” as the results were called in.
In 2004, CBS news unveiled what was just then viewed as sophisticated GIS technology, a system that was able to drill down to counties and show red and blue divisions. This past election saw most every major network and political news site with an electoral map, driven by data, as a standard of practice in political reporting.
Driving student interest in geography
GIS Day also seeks to improve the number of students who will pursue a career in the field. Technology majors in the U.S. have long been low when compared to other parts of the world. This was heard in our most recent elections when candidates spoke of this issue. Right now, there are many who are looking ahead for economic stimulation coming from “green collar jobs” and “sustainable careers,” which will be greatly strengthened by skills and education in GIS and the applications that accompany it.
GIS Day has a good decade of growth behind it. This year’s event helped bring together many loose ends in our country and in our world that related to the application of GIS and geoweb technology. Hardly a moment goes by that any one of us does not access location-driven information. GIS Day just may be the gateway to a better appreciation of GIS and data-driven geography applications for great progress in the world. Next year’s event should only find a more receptive and broader audience.