Yale News

Yale’s Marx Science and Social Science Library announced a new workshop last week to teach Yale affiliates the basics of geographic information systems, or GIS. 

The virtual program will run from Monday, Dec. 13, to Friday, Dec. 17, and will provide participants with a crash course in GIS. GIS refers to a suite of technologies for mapping and analyzing any data with a spatial component. Under the instruction of Jill Kelly, lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, students will learn how to create maps, conduct analyses of spatial data, use GIS software and more. 

“The idea behind the accelerator is to cram in most of a semester’s worth of exposure to GIS in a week,” Kelly said. “We’re going to have people actually try things, practice things, use GIS on their own data, so when they come out of the accelerator they should have a level of autonomous mastery.” 

Professor Xuhui Lee, who teaches a class that involves mapping tools, said that GIS has many potential applications, from food delivery to traffic management to environmental studies.

This wide range of applications makes GIS relevant for Yale students in a variety of disciplines, according to Kelly. 

“It really is a job skill,” Kelly said. “A lot of people go through Ivy League universities and they learn big picture stuff, they learn the visionary stuff, they learn to think and analyze. This is — you’re going to think and analyze, it’s difficult and it has big world applications, but it’s also just a practical, measurable thing you can do.” 

The workshop team designed the accelerator for participants who are interested in GIS but may not be able to take a semester-long course. 

GIS Librarian Miriam Olivares said that many professors and researchers do not have the time to audit a course but still need to conduct GIS analyses. Additionally, Kelly noted that a semester is “a huge commitment” for many students. 

“I think people are looking for this quick way into the field,” Danielle Losos ’22, whose research involves GIS, told the News. “Having this intensive short course in the fall will be really valuable to prepare students for applying GIS to whatever they’re working on come spring term.” 

The workshop will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, and will include lectures, labs and time for work on personal projects. Kelly said that the accelerator should give participants the training they need to use GIS by themselves, but that she has had to “cut some corners” in order to fit all the necessary information into a weeklong program. 

For that reason, Kelly and Olivares encourage students to enroll in the workshop and then take a full GIS course in later semesters. 

“You can think of it as kindling interest in this field, such that a participant can spend a week at the accelerator, get a sense of what’s possible and how to get started, and if, after having done so, they feel that there’s a reason to go deeper, they can do so by way of a full-semester course,” said adjunct professor Charles Dana Tomlin, who teaches multiple GIS courses at Yale.

According to Olivares, 13 people had applied for the accelerator as of Monday night. Kelly said the program can take up to 40 participants. The program is available to all Yale affiliates, including professors, graduate students and undergraduates. However, participants should have a project and dataset that they wish to investigate before the program starts, because much of the workshop will consist of independent work time with support from the GIS instruction team, according to the program description.

In addition to the accelerator and full-semester courses, Yale provides a number of resources for students and professors to learn about GIS. Marx Library hosts regular workshops about specific GIS-related topics and maintains a GIS research guide. Olivares, Kelly and two graduate students — Yichen Yang GRD ’26 and Yiqun Ma GRD ’25 — also offer consultations to researchers who need help incorporating GIS into their work. 

The application for the accelerator workshop is due by Oct. 29. 

Sadie Bograd covers Nonprofits and Social Services. Last year, she covered City Hall. Originally from Kentucky, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in Urban Studies.