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GIS mapping class unleashes students creativity in tech world

Want to know if your land is in a flood zone? Want to find areas where zoning prevents three-story structures? Or maybe your query is more global, such as tracking the Ebola outbreak. Whatever your interest, mapping the topic can give you a clearer picture.

At West Career and Technical Academy, 11945 W. Charleston Blvd., all 11th-graders now take a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) class, taught by Jeff Gromny. It was an elective before this year, but it had such a wide range of applications, it was made a requirement.

“In the environmental field, it’s such a big discipline now,” Gromny said. “It’s considered one of the top three growing industries. … Some students fall in love with it — the ones who like to create and manipulate databases, they just excel at it.”

Gromny said that, back in his undergrad school days, maps were just paper.

“You looked at the legend, and said, ‘OK, here’s this, here’s that,’ but you couldn’t manipulate it. What you got is what you got. Then they came up with Google Maps — OK, great. I can find the restaurant I want. But you still can’t manipulate it. You have to use the data that you’re given. Now, with this, you create what you want on your own.”

Gromny’s background is as a geologist who worked at the Yucca Mountain Project for 20 years before joining the Clark County School District. He said everything he learned on the job there he can apply in his classroom.

He outfitted the computer lab with equipment strong enough to conduct the information searches and make the maps, specific to GIS needs. He also limited the number of students to fewer than 30.

“You don’t want too many for this class because it’s so involved,” he said. “If you have too many, everybody would be holding up their hand going, ‘Help, help.’”

Ellyz Ball, 16, is in the class. She said she likes how in depth the class is. She first took GIS her freshman year, so she has a leg up on the other 27 students in the class. She said she’d like to use mapping for environmental applications.

“For me, it’s more working with computers and going in depth with things,” she said. “Everyone uses (computers) for the school-related things, and I want to go deeper.”

Emma Hirsch, 16, is also in the class. She said she had no idea what the class was about when she signed up but was quickly caught up in its possibilities.

“I was surprised and excited about it because making maps on my own involves my creativity,” she said. “I thought it would be just book work, but it’s very hands-on.”

Las Vegas ranks 91st for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs according to wallethub.com.

“I was hoping to go out of state (for a career) anyway,” Hirsch said.

Hailey Jones, 16, was not dismayed by the study, saying, “My dad works for the Metropolitan Police Department, and he told me they are hiring people who know this GIS content to map, like, for crime in the city.”

She thought the class would be mostly book work, but instead found herself pulling world data to make population density maps and heat maps for environmental and disease concerns.

Another project Gromny had his students work on is mapping the path of a tsunami and a typhoon. The data collected could be helpful in disaster preparedness and emergency relief, he said.

The school district gave the magnet school’s program $17,000 to cover the GIS licensing fee. But the input didn’t stop there.

“It’s been integral,” Gromny said. “They come over and give us work, and they help us with answers to questions that (we) have. They’re always there to help.”

In fact, one or two former students who took GIS before it was required and graduated, interned at the school district and were offered positions. Now the class is using the mapping program to determine better school bus routes.

For the current students, they’re still grasping the possibilities that GIS mapping opens to them.

“I never realized how much information you can (include in) one map,” Jones said. “There’s so much information available at the touch of a mouse.”

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email her at jhogan@viewnews.com or call her at 702-387-2949.

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