New Map for Business Department

New Business Majors Study Abroad Map
New Business Majors Study Abroad Map

The GIS center recently finished a project replacing the Business Department world map, which is used to display the places business majors have studied abroad.  The old map was of low-quality and the country names were blurred so that many of the smaller countries were unreadable.  This old map was also displayed using the Mercator projection.  This matters because choosing a map projection is vital to how the map will look.  Placing a world map onto a piece of paper is essentially like trying to place a sphere onto a flat rectangular surface.  This near hopeless task is possible because of map projections, but because they allow us to do so, they also distort certain aspects such as distance, shape, area, and direction.

Old Business Majors Study Abroad Map
Old Business Majors Study Abroad Map

For those unfamiliar with the Mercator projection, here’s what you need to know.  Originally intended for sailors, the Mercator projection preserves straight lines for navigation such as crossing the oceans. However, it distorts the size of countries, making those closer to the poles appear larger and those closer to the equator appear smaller.  This distorted image promotes Western imperialist values of a Western world ruling over countries in the southern hemisphere.  The two videos below explain how map projection works and why the Mercator projection should no longer be used to display a world map.

At the GIS center we created a new world map for the Business Department, with a Winkel Tripel projection that attempts to reduce the distortion of area, direction, and distance while still providing an aesthetically pleasing world map that can be projected onto a flat surface.  The Winkel Tripel projection is also used by the National Geographic Society for their world maps. Finally, we customized each of the labels’ size to fit each country’s name on the map and added stylistic components including colors and topography.  You will be able to see the new and improved world map this fall outside of the Business Department’s Administrative Office where it will replace the current map.

Sizing the New Business Study Abroad Map
Sizing the New Business Study Abroad Map

Spatial Humanities Summer Institute for Faculty

The deadline is approaching for this summer faculty opportunity. Please contact Alex Chaucer in the GIS Center if you are interested in applying. See below for details, and follow the link to apply.
Project title: Space, Place, and the Humanities

Dates: July 24-August 11, 2017
Location: The Humanities Center, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Description: “Space, Place, and the Humanities” is a three-week summer institute hosted by the Humanities Center at Northeastern University in the newly-emerging, interdisciplinary field of Geohumanities. At the intersection of geography, history, literature, creative arts, and social justice, Geohumanities focuses on the role of space and place in a range of humanities disciplines.

The aim of this Institute is to help scholars in humanities disciplines integrate spatial thinking into their research and teaching in new ways. Prominent scholars from cultural geography, literary studies and the digital humanities will lead the Institute, foregrounding the study of space and place as an interdisciplinary endeavor.

Building on foundational texts from across the humanities, participants will use the city of Boston as a laboratory for exploration. The Institute has arranged field visits in Boston- area archives, the Boston Public Library map collection, and guided walks by scholars and practicing artists who engage humanistic scholarship.

Participants will enjoy ample time to interact with the faculty and with each other and will leave the institute with both a syllabus and a developed research plan for a paper or grant proposal. We welcome applications from scholars with some experience using space and place as key themes in their teaching and research, as well as scholars who are looking to begin such an engagement.

Application deadline: March 1, 2017

Notification date: March 31, 2017

Stipend details: $2,700


Save the Date: 2017 Saratoga Planning and Zoning Conference

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-2-03-08-pmThe GIS Center is working with the Career Services Center to send eight students to the upcoming 2017 Planning and Zoning Conference at the Saratoga City Center on January 25th. This conference is a unique opportunity. There will be 500+ planning board and zoning board members attending the conference, as well as over 25 local exhibitors. Many of the the exhibitors are companies that use GIS extensively in their work. Some examples of companies exhibiting from past conference programs include:

Additionally, the sessions are very applicable for learning about what folks doing community and urban planning need to know. Many of the sessions from last year dealt with topics such as:

  • How GIS is used in community planning
  • Rural Land Planning
  • Transportation Planning
  • Ethical considerations in planning
  • Comprehensive planning
  • Stormwater management

This conference will be a great opportunity for students to learn more about planning and zoning, and connect with professionals from firms and non-profits who use GIS and mapping on a regular basis in their work. Update: Here is the the “Save the Date” flyer, and here is the registration form which highlights the different sessions.

If you are interested in attending, please let Tom Hart and Alex Chaucer know.

Mapping Workshops in the GIS Center

Mapping Workshops Featured Image

We are excited to share these upcoming workshop opportunities in the GIS Center. Please register if you are interested. If you cannot attend a workshop at the time mentioned, please email to set up an individual consult or make plans for a class presentation. To view all of the Academic Technologies course offerings this semester, log in here. Additional online training can be found here by logging into with your Skidmore login and password.

Election Mapping Basics

The election will be used as a lens to introduce spatial analysis in the social sciences through mapping. Using publicly available datasets participants will look at data relating to the current election and learn some simple ways to access data online. Workshop will be offered on October 12, from 12-1pm in the GIS Center, Lib. Room 227. Register here

Map Storytelling with Tom Hart (Offered as an MDOCS/CLTL Workshop)

Getting Data on a Map: Google Mapping Tools: You may already use Google maps and Google Earth Pro for driving directions. In this workshop, learn how to tap into these free online resources to map all sorts of information. Get an introduction to Google Maps and Google Earth Pro mapping engines, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the GIS center, good map design, web publishing, and collaborating to bring mapping into class. Participants will acquire tools to find data and quickly produce maps from the information gleaned with the workshop case study, mapping lead levels in Flint, Michigan. Participants will have the opportunity to map their own data. Reach out to Tom Hart ( for advice on formatting if this is of interest. Preparation: A Google account is required. Familiarity with Microsoft Excel is helpful. Workshop will be offered October 14th, from 10am-12pm in the GIS Center, Lib. 227. Please email to register.

GIS in the Digital Humanities

The Digital Humanities have emerged in recent years as a new paradigm including research methods, pedagogy, and scholarship. Mapping and GIS have been central in new types of analysis. This short course will review some examples of GIS in the digital humanities and propose some tools that may be useful to consider when looking into this type of research. Workshop will be offered on October 24th from 12-1pm in the GIS Center, Lib. Room 227. Register here

GIS Basics

GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, has been around for many years and it is becoming more and more integrated into our daily lives. In this workshop we will learn about what GIS is and review simple applications that give new abilities to non-professionals to work with real data and make new kinds of maps. Workshop will be offered on November 1oth from 10-11am in the GIS Center, Lib. Room 227. Register here

Augmented Reality Basics

How will education be impacted by the ability to add digital information to the world, based on what you are near? In this workshop we will view examples and think about this question as we aim to grasp the opportunities and challenges in new emerging technologies, like Augmented Reality, in the Liberal Arts. Workshop will be offered on December 2nd, from 12-1pm in the GIS Center, Lib. 227. Register here



A busy summer in the GIS Center…

It was a busy 2016 summer in the GIS Center. Connor Christoffersen was the lab assistant, and was instrumental in the projects accomplished. The main projects were working on our Community Geography initiative in partnership with the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, supporting 3 faculty summer research teams and their 6 students, and making progress on individual campus research projects. Here’s a quick summary of our summer 2016 accomplishments.

Image of students working in the GIS Center
Chris Mann working with summer research assistants in the GIS Center

With Wilton Wildlife, the GIS Center:

  • Met with Wilton Wildlife interns and discussed their needs
  • Set up Wilton Wildlife with GIS software to help build GIS capacity in the organization
  • Acquired and created database of GIS data layers for Wilton Wildlife from public sources and the Nature Conservancy
  • Developed new maps of all Wilton Wildlife trail areas

In supporting other community research, Connor worked with LIDAR data to support the Sustainable Saratoga Urban Forestry Project:

  • Investigated LIDAR methods for developing a new Tree Canopy model for tree counting and identification
  • Researched LIDAR methods for potential campus tree counts and tree differentiation
Using GPS to map invasive species in Skidmore's North Woods
Using GPS to map invasive species in the North Woods

The summer was busy with summer research projects. Chris Mann had most of the computer in the GIS Center running statistical analysis for a good portion of the summer, working with his two research students, Henry Jaffe and Chloe Singer. They presented their summer research titled: “I Voted” Stickers at the end of the summer, an prepped data and used geospatial demographic data to prepare for a fall course on polling places.

Kurt Smemo, and his two research assistants used GIS to determine sites in the Adirondacks with unique tree canopy composition to establish longitudinal study sides relating to microbial communities and their relationship to climate change. Dan Casella and Jen Cristiano used GIS raster modeling to determine optimal study sites, which fueled their field research agenda in establishing these baseline plots.

Joshua Ness worked with his two research students, Rafaela Iturralde and Lukas Harvey (St. Lawrence) as part of the NY6 Upstate – Global Collective Summer Research Fellowship program. The research project was titled “Riparian Invasion in the Context of Landscape Change”. The project analyzed the spread of the invasive, Japanese Knotweed, and included species identification and mapping, as well as mapping simulated downstream spread of the species as impacted by stream meander and current.

Skidmore Student Rebecca Halter was doing small mammal habitat research at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station in Rensselaerville, NY this summer. She reached out to the GIS Center about creating a map that would use LIDAR to show stone walls on the entire property. Connor was able to create this data and provide her with a map to identify these habitat areas.

In supporting course lab development, there was a couple projects that were undertaken and completed relating to courses:

  • A continuation of Connor’s spring course work redesigning a lab for ES105 relating to Watersheds
  • Using OpenNspect and MapWindow to look for new course related watershed modeling methods
  • Reviewed the GE101 GIS Lab for improvements

On campus, in partnership Campus Safety new map products were developed:

  • A large campus safety map of adjacent Skidmore properties to assist in Clery Act reporting
  • A large North Woods map showing trails and features
  • A well-labeled campus map to be used in emergency response drills and activities

In partnering with Skidmore’s Sustainability office, we toured the North Woods and located protected and rare plant species in the North Woods. Following this investigation, invasive species efforts were concentrated to remove the harmful, non-native species from the vicinity of the rare/protected species, helping to insure the survival of the protected species.

Overall, we had an extremely busy summer with regard to research in the GIS Center, as it served as a hub for community and faculty research projects, and provided a great location for students to learn from one another while working on their projects. Thank you to all the faculty and students who worked in the GIS Center this summer.

The Skidmore Geoscience Augmented Reality Sandbox

By Alex Chaucer and Connor Christoffersen

So, you may have heard the term “augmented reality” (AR) lately.  It is gaining in name recognition due to the new Pokémon GO game that many are playing, even here at Skidmore. Did you know that augmented reality can be used as an instructional technology in the college classroom?

A view of the augmented reality sandbox at Skidmore College.The most recent addition to the lobby of the Dana Science Center is an interactive attraction combining geomorphology and augmented reality. The ‘Augmented Reality Sandbox’ is a project created by Alex Ng-Yow (’16) under the advisement of Dr. Amy Frappier that shows topographic change in real time. Using a Microsoft Kinect and a projector, this installation projects topographic lines onto the sand below it as the sand is reformed, as well as shows hydrologic movement across the surface of the sand’s landscape. The sandbox, based off of designs from researchers at UC Davis is open for use at any time (just press the power button on the projector twice).

A view of the entire Augmented Reality Sandbox including the projector/kinectNg-Yow intends for this project to aid in academics, particularly in labs in the geoscience department. He believes that “(the) potential of augmented reality will push (technological) advances forward” and that teaching devices like this can be good learning aids for kinesthetic learners like himself. Instead of showing topographic maps in a 2D format on a piece of paper, students are able to manipulate and change the landscape and see how different geographic formations can affect contours as well as A description of the Augmented Reality Sandbox that is posted next to the installationwater flow throughout a landscape. As a combination of his passions for technology and the geosciences, Alex thought of this project as a good way to give back to the school, as well as provide a good example of Skidmore’s interdisciplinary nature.


This isn’t the first time we have seen augmented reality in action here at Skidmore College. In fact, Academic Technologies will be holding a discussion on Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality/Mixed Reality this fall. Watch your email for updates!

Note: The video at the top of this post is a timelapse of two people manipulating the sand in the Augmented Reality Sandbox, highlighting the regenerating topographic line projection with the digital water “flowing” over the landscape. Video and image credits: Alex Chaucer, CC by 2.0

Gotta map ’em all

A map of the pokemon gyms and pokestops at Skidmore College

Pokémon GO is a new augmented reality, location-based game. As it has been dominating the news since it’s release, we thought it might be a good idea to help campus visitors who might be searching the campus for digital goodies. The GIS Center analyzed the campus and found the key Pokémon resources that folks might be interested in. While Pokémon GO is very new, the location-based gaming platform it is built upon, Ingress, has been around for a while. Many of the Pokémon GO gyms and pokestops were previously used in Ingress game play. Interestingly, the folks behind Pokémon GO are the same folks that made Google Earth and Google Maps. And, they used GIS to map Pokémon to their appropriate habitat. Map credit to Connor Christofferson, who developed the map in collaboration with the Skidmore Communications team. If you have any feedback on the map, please post a comment on Instagram.

Top Ten Geo Stories of 2015

flickr photo shared by Calsidyrose under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

My mind has been brewing for some time (since early December) on how to summarize and capture the year in “geo.” I deliberately cast a wide net with “geo” mainly to capture my personal interests in geospatial technology and also geography.  As I’ve been marinating and doing research on this post, I’ve had some great conversations with some folks in the great state of New York (Bill Johnson, Frank Winters, Eric Herman, Jeff Herter, and others on the NYS GAC. Additionally, a great #geowebchat on #topgeostoryof2015 with Alan McConchie helped to broaden my perspectives as well. I’m a GIS Instructional Technologist at a small Liberal Arts College in upstate NY, so my geospatial focus tend be more academic, but also focused on emerging technologies. My goal is to put together an interesting list and I’m hopeful that it helps someone who may have missed one of these stories over the past year. Additionally, another goal for would be some interaction with other like minded folks about these stories to further our collective thinking and understanding (either on Twitter or elsewhere).

Enough small talk folks, let’s jump right in.

10. First Ever GIS Analyst In A Hollywood Movie

That’s right. A character in a movie actually is a “GIS guy.” He also tries to explain what he does a couple times in the movie. If you are involved with GIS or mapping, you know how difficult it can be to describe what you do to others. The name of the movie is “What We Do In The Shadows.” (I watched it on HBO Go). Spoiler alert: you can also see all the parts where Stewart describes his job in the youtube clip above. I personally think he does a good job describing GIS, and is treated a little unfairly by the crowd of vampires. Definitely check out the entire movie.

flickr photo shared by Mike Licht, under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

9. Register Your Drone

The big news in drones for 2015 came late. It came in the form of a “drone registration” program, which, as of this writing, 45,000 people had registered. Folks to pay stiff fines if not registered by Feb. 19, 2016. Interestingly, the AMA (Academic of Model Aeronautics) is recommending to their members, primarily hobbyists, to hold off on registering. In other drone news, 2,672 folks were approved for commercial uses of drones as of mid-December. This approval takes the form of a section 333. Overall… 2015 was a huge year for drones and the emergent regulatory environment.

flickr photo shared by dno1967b under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

8. National Geographic Sells Out

In 2015, Fox became a 73% stakeholder in National Geographic Partners. While this was a long time coming for NatGeo due to decreased readership, the layoffs hurt, and the brands’ integrity has been brought into question. There was quite a bit of chatter online when this all happened, and I am curious what the future holds.

flickr photo shared by Javier Arce ☄ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

7. Mapping Startups Rule 2015: CartoDB, Mapbox, & Mapzen

Mapping based startups made some real strides in 2015. A lot of folks were hired this year and these companies are picking up some serious talent. Other location based companies made great strides in 2015 as well: Waze and Uber all showed the world that there is still room for innovation in Location Based Technologies. Make sure to check out the offerings from CartoDB, Mapbox and Mapzen.

flickr photo shared by Ben Husmann under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

6. Google Kills Some Mapping Solutions

Google Earth Enterprise and Google Maps Engine are shutting down. Esri, CartoDB, and others were quick to partner and announce transition programs for former Google customers. My understanding is that some of these enterprise solutions require a lot of Google employee handholding, and perhaps focusing on API’s makes more sense for Google’s hands-off business model.

flickr photo shared by U.S. Department of the Interior under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

5. Obama Signs Funding for a Well Rounded Education, Includes Geography

I’ve long known that geography was an unfunded mandate under No Child Left Behind (interpretation…it’s important, but not important enough to fund it). I dug up this post from 2003 to show it. Long story short, after 12 years, president Obama signs the “Every Student Succeeds Act” which gives some opportunities for funding geography education. The Association for American Geographers (AAG) is optimistic about the inclusion of geography and potential funding opportunities, as outlined here. You can see some of AAG’s work to support Geography Education here.

flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

4. Digital Map Storytelling

It seemed like everywhere I was seeing story maps in 2015. Esri provides some nice tools for story maps, story journals, and ArcGIS Online is making this type of data exploration and storytelling even easier. But, they are not the only platforms around. Map Story continued to make strides in 2015, and a student of mine did a comparison on some of the other platforms for digital map storytelling as well, featuring Storymap JS, Odyssey.JS, Omeka Neatline, and the Esri Story maps. I’m impressed with the new interfaces and ease for building map based story websites that I saw over the last year.

flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

3. New Indexing System(s) for the World’s Locations

In 2015 we saw What3Words emerge as a new way of describing locations in the world. Move over Lat/Long, because 3 random words are here to reference every 3 meter by 3 meter square on earth. In 2015 we started to see w3w integration, and you can browse industry applications examples. While a three word indexing system is an innovation in itself, we also saw the truly universal language of emoji applied to a global reference system as What3Emoji also emerged in 2015.

flickr photo shared by velkr0 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

2. The Promise of Open Source

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but QGIS hit some sort of tipping point in the last year, and it is becoming a standalone viable a solution as GIS desktop software, and even a useful teaching tool. Here’s a great comparison of ArcGIS and QGIS that was done in November this year. Open source geospatial technology is not new, but in 2015 I saw some great strides in application. Not just in desktop, but in the deployment of maps on the web. A workable geospatial stack can produce beautiful, and functional, web-based mapping solutions. FOSS4G continues to grow and it’s not going away. Look for more growth and more beautiful maps on open platforms in 2016. Mapbox released Mapbox Studio, based on Open Source GIS and featuring some smooth vector based maps. OpenStreetMap volunteers and professionals and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) came out in a big way to help map after the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. Was 2015 THE year for Open Source Geospatial? Perhaps.

flickr photo shared by archer10 (Dennis) (63M Views) under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

1. The Auto Industry Embraces Geospatial

I’ve been hearing about Google’s Self Driving Cars for years, but it was a little bit of a surprise to see a German auto group consisting of Audi, BMW, and Daimler purchase a geospatial company in 2015. The company is called HERE, and they have roots in Navteq via acquisition by Nokia, and they were purchased for $3.1 billion. The German automakers aren’t the only ones, as Toyota plans their own realtime digital video maps. So who is Google working with? It looks like it’s Ford. And it looks like we may see an Apple self driving car announcement in 2016. Don’t forget that Tesla is creating their own maps as is Uber. As self driving cars and super accurate, realtime, photo and sensor based maps are created of the world’s roads, I wonder what the long term impact on geospatial technology will be?


Did more happen this year in the geospatial space than in other years? I think so. An auto company buys a GIS company, and drones now have to be registered like cars. Cartographic expert Natgeo stumbles as new companies focus on beautifying digital maps. Google kills mapping applications as Obama includes geography in a well rounded education. You can find me in January learning more open source GIS at stability.peanuts.think. 🙂

Special thanks to Joseph Kerski, Adena Schutzberg, and Doug Belshaw for some thoughts about how and where to publish my first blog post of 2016.

You can find this original blog post at

Now Hiring for Spring 2015

Now Hiring Text

Get yourself a job for next semester and continue growing your GIS, Mapping, and Data Visualization skills while helping others! (Also, we will be working on some great applied community geography mapping projects this spring, so join the team to be part of that work!)

The GIS Center is currently accepting applications for 2 lab assistant positions for Spring 2015. Interested? Apply now! We aim to hold some interviews in person this week and get folks hired before winter break.

Job Requirements:

Hands on experience with multiple software and hardware applications, specifically ArcGIS and QGIS. Communication skills for working on a team and assisting others are essential. We are looking for an independent, self motivated, student who is able to learn and adopt new technologies. The student must be reliable, able to manage their time, and be interested in expanding their software knowledge, specifically around geospatial technology.


Job Description:

The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the GIS Center while also working on independent projects. Projects may involve spatial analysis, web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community geography project work.

Study Break – GeoGame Night in the GIS Center

Flyer showing image of game and text

For more information, see the Facebook event page.

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