Esri ArcGIS software now more easily accessible to faculty, staff, students

David Kubarek
October 14, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For a project in a geographic information systems (GIS) class in Penn State's Department of Geography, Alexis Fisher sought to spotlight the wage gap in the United States. She had familiarity with the topic, but when she began plotting a story map using Esri’s ArcGIS online tools, the data really came to life.

Fisher, a senior majoring in cyber security analytics and operations with a focus in geopolitics, entered historical wage data broken down by counties with variables for gender and ethnicity, to create an interactive map with text, videos, and graphics.

“The tools really helped illustrate the statistics,” Fisher said. “Without the awesome maps I was able to create using Esri software, people wouldn’t have been able to visualize the statistics as effectively.”

GIS has applications everywhere. Businesses use the software to spot store locations and consumer patterns, farmers use it for precision agriculture, nonprofits use it to track land use and migration patterns, government uses it for transportation and infrastructure planning.

At Penn State, the Office of the Physical Plant uses GIS mapping to track everything from classroom space to construction locations to athletic fields. Penn State Libraries has resources for discovering GIS data, learning about GIS, and providing references for research. The Department of Geography has resident and online classes in GIS.

There are countless ways people are using the GIS software, said Ryan Baxter, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Geography, who taught the course.

For more information about GIS, how different units at Penn State use GIS, and how to access the software, check out Penn State’s GIS Day 2019 event on Nov. 12.

For the assignment, Baxter encouraged students to use ArcGIS StoryMaps to illustrate their projects, which included topics such as tiny houses, tornado warnings and migration patterns. 

In addition to using the software as a teaching tool, Baxter has been a part of the GIS Working Group on campus, which has recently focused on enhancing GIS software access for the Penn State community. Students, faculty and staff have long had access to GIS and Esri software, but the group is making things easier by reducing costs and introducing a centralized single sign-on (SSO) system. Comprehensive desktop GIS software, including ArcGIS Pro and ArcMap, and Web-based services included in the ArcGIS Online suite of software can be acquired and installed for free.

Baxter said the software helps students make the most of their data by displaying it in a visual, compelling way. Experience with GIS and data visualization also makes students more marketable to employers.

“Having GIS experience isn’t just useful for geography students, it’s useful for all students,” Baxter said. “It’s so fundamental for business, logistics, environment and government. Think of an industry or business and you can imagine the need for better understanding that data. The job opportunities are limitless.”

Beth King, an associate teaching professor in the Department of Geography, said enabling SSO for Esri software will benefit the University’s thousands of users. The SSO capability is built into Penn State’s dedicated ArcGIS Online site. All Penn State faculty, staff, and students have accounts and can simply log in with their regular Penn State Access ID.

For more information about GIS, how different units at Penn State use GIS, and how to access the software, check out Penn State’s GIS Day 2019 event on Nov. 12. There will be a technology demonstration and speakers will spotlight research and applications for GIS, geospatial technologies, remote sensing, maps, and location-based research at the University and beyond.

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Last Updated October 29, 2019