What is GIS?
A Geographic Information System or just simply GIS, combines very sophisticated computer technology and trained people to develop digital models of the world around us. These models of the world can help us to understand and plan for the future of communities and regions more effectively. A GIS includes capabilities for digital data creation, the storage and retrieval of digital data, the manipulation and analysis of those data, and the presentation of data using maps, graphs, tables, and other displays.
Digital data creation involves ways of taking the world that we see around us and representing it in a machine-readable form. Global positioning systems (GPS) technology provides a high-tech way of collecting geographic data. A hand-held GPS unit in the field receives signals from satellites to determine the latitude, the longitude, and the elevation to within less than one meter of a person's location on the surface of the Earth. This technology can be used to build GIS databases for mapping features such as roads, property lines, buildings, wetlands, trees, manhole covers, and a variety of other features.
Once data are collected, they can be stored in a computer database. Users can then retrieve information from the database by making queries. A water department, for example, interested in preventative maintenance might ask the GIS to identify locations of PVC water pipes that are six inches in diameter and were last maintained prior to 1995. The capability to query the GIS database and display the results on a map is a rather simple, yet powerful tool.
GIS at WKU
Western Kentucky University's GIS facility provides students with the training to become productive users of GIS technology and it positions WKU to play a constructive role in helping local and regional organizations to plan for a postive future.