Rita Van Kirk ’13 is a geology major from South Dakota who wanted to stay in Hamilton this summer to learn a bit more about the Upstate New York region and to work on a project that would somehow help the community. She also wanted to improve her research skills, and possibly use some of the GIS skills she is developing at Colgate. GIS—geographic information systems—is a burgeoning field in which mapping and geographically referenced information are combined to allow data to be captured, managed, analyzed and displayed. There is a growing awareness in many sectors of the economic and strategic value of GIS in that it allows users to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways to reveal relationships, patterns and trends in the form of maps, reports and charts. In short, GIS helps organizations answer questions and solve problems by looking at data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared.
As an Upstate Institute Fellow, Rita is working with the Village and Town of Oxford as they begin a vision planning process and develop a comprehensive plan. While the vision process is being conducted by SUNY ESF Center for Community Design Research, Rita is contributing by updating a report on Land Use Characteristics of the village and town. The first Land Use Characteristics report was completed by the Town in 1970, so Rita is gathering revised maps and analyzing updated data to inform the process as the village and town goes forward. Her work will give the committees involved in the visioning process, as well as the residents of the village and town in general, a better understanding of who lives in their community and a better understanding of their physical surroundings.
Rita’s experience has taught her a great deal about the community of Oxford, and about Upstate New York in general. She has been impressed with the way the community is using this process to revitalize their region. She has also been impressed with the way the community embraces their history, as they continue to look forward. “The Town of Oxford has suffered some economic blows in the last few years,” she said, “but instead of waiting for help, the townspeople are facing the future head on. They have an interesting history and will be sticking to their values while planning their futures. The people who live here today are colorful, friendly, and have a passion for life in whatever they do.”
Because much of Rita’s work has taken place on Colgate’s campus, the experience has helped her to become more self-directed. She also improved her collaborative skills by working with the faculty and students at SUNY ESF who are leading the visioning project. She appreciates the opportunity to think about how the work she is doing has an impact on people, and recognizes that the project has already had an impact on her. “I have really been inspired by the people I have met to go to graduate school,” she said. “I plan on using some of the GIS and research skills that I have developed through this project in my future education and career.”