Research in Real Time: Geospatial Technology

Geospatial technology has become an essential part of everyday life. It’s used to track everything from personal fitness to transportation to changes on the surface of the earth.

“It’s one of the hottest technologies out there,” said Professor Sunil Bhaskaran, director of the Geospatial Center of the CUNY CREST Institute at Bronx Community College and a professor at The Graduate Center, CUNY. The center, funded by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation, trains students for careers in the field. “The industry wants to employ skilled technicians they’re not able to find,” Bhuskaran said. His courses teach “skills that are aligned with industry’s demand.”

The Geospatial Center is also dedicated to increasing the participation of “underserved” communities in STEM fields by creating “pipelines” from BCC classrooms to jobs. The student body at Bronx Community College is 59 percent Hispanic and 30 percent black. Because so many students arrive at college without a strong foundation in science, the center is also reaching out to kids as early as middle school to try to get them on STEM tracks.

Bhuskaran wrote the textbooks that his students use, Introduction to Remote Sensing, and Introduction to Geographic Information System. Both books incorporate data and examples from the Bronx and New York City. Bhuskaran says this “place-based approach” helps students connect to the material by offering examples they can relate to. Writing the books not only allows Bhuskaran to customize material with familiar examples and meet the industry’s needs, but it also allows him to control the price. These textbooks sell for $34 or $60, compared to a typical price for a textbook in this field of $150.

But what exactly is geospatial technology and what is it used for? Bhaskaran says it’s a way of collecting data by tagging physical coordinates, then using that information to make decisions. Data from a FitBit about physical activity can help us make decisions to improve health. Data from a trucking company about the location of fleet and cargo can be used to manage a business. Data from satellite images of vegetation covering the earth charting changes over time can help model global warming. Data about human activity, housing construction, park visitation, and asthma rates can improve government planning. “Informed decisions are very important,” Bhuskaran said. “It empowers your mind and it empowers planning.”

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“The Bronx Community College Geospatial Center of the CUNY CREST Institute”

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Research in Real Time is a video series exploring ongoing projects at campuses across CUNY.

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