GeoClub to map SLC gardens in joint effort

Geography Club President Michael Mortenson explains the mapping project to student Laurel Lay on Friday afternoon in the OSH building. Michael Sygnatowicz / The Daily Utah Chronicle
Geography Club President Michael Mortenson explains the mapping project to student Laurel Lay on Friday afternoon in the OSH building.
Michael Sygnatowicz / The Daily Utah Chronicle

The Geography Club and Wasatch Gardens made an unexpected team in an effort to analyze Salt Lake City urban gardens through Google Maps at the Wasatch Garden Mapping Party in the OSH building on Friday.
The mapping party is an opportunity for students to gain experience with Geographic Information Software (GIS) technology and is a local benefit to the community and nonprofit organizations like Wasatch Gardens, said Kaila McDonald, graduate assistant to geography professor Dr. Kevin Henry and past president of the GeoClub.
Michael Mortenson, current GeoClub president and MUSE intern, along with a small number of students, worked in a multi-use editing session of Google Maps satellite images in the computer lab to identify gardens and backyards in Downtown Salt Lake City. By zooming in from the street level of Google Maps, they looked for images that appeared to be, or had the potential to be, a garden.
Some of the images need to be confirmed through “ground truthing,” or gathering information from the actual location rather than the satellite images. The data was then uploaded to the GIS and sent to Wasatch Gardens, which will use to it to assist in its grant application for urban garden projects.
McDonald said the GPS units used in these types of projects are more expensive than the recreation-grade GPS on iPhones.
McDonald initiated mapping parties in her junior and senior year at the U when she was inspired CloudMade, a company that allows anyone to upload routes to their favorite restaurants or biking trails.
McDonald majored in environmental studies before returning to the U as a grad student to study geography.
“I needed to legitimize my interest in geography,” she said.
Geography majors are well-sought after and companies will pay $30-60 per hour for someone’s GIS expertise, GPS data and research, she said. Some of the “wide and various” job opportunities require mapping skills in areas such as natural resources, forestry, environment and land management and government.
McDonald’s résumé is diverse in the geography field.
“I’ve worked for a company writing environmental impact statements, real estate, the Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center and my own GIS shop,” she said.
McDonald came to the U because it produces students who don’t require as much training from their employers, since students already have work experience. McDonald is currently studying how location contributes and influences our health under Dr. Kevin Henry.
“Geography majors analyze things in spatial rather than temporal setting,” McDonald said. “It’s just as applicable and hands-on as engineer majors.”
She said most students enter the geography department as juniors or hear about it from friends. Students get to know everyone within the major, since it’s a small department, she said.
Adam Clark, a senior in geography, said he was originally a linguistics major before he changed to geography.
“I love [the mapping party], it’s a lot of fun. It’s not like those fake scenarios in class,” he said. “It’s the first time I could help real people, a real-life application.”