Professor scores an eye in the sky

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Cartoon by Gabriel Hernandez

Photo Illustration by Gabriel Hernandez

In the 1700s Giovanni Piranesi was asked by the French Academy of Rome to etch the city’s ancient streets and monuments. He created a detailed 3D aerial perspective that captured minute details of every nook and cranny set in stone.

Piranesi did it the hard way. He would love Southwestern College Professor of Geography Ken Yanow and the Geospatial Information Systems he has brought to the campus.

Yanow came aboard full-time 12 years ago and inherited a situation out of the turn of the century—the 20th century not the 21st. He set out to bring in a GIS system like the one he had used as a graduate student at SDSU. He started to write grant applications to the United States Department of Education. His first attempts were unsuccessful. Undeterred, he followed some advice from chemistry professor Dr. David Brown and set his sights on the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Yanow’s first NSF grant brought in $300,000 over a course of three years and at the heart of it was curriculum development, he said.

“We made our courses,” he said. “We were able to collaborate with San Diego State and we had articulation with some of the courses that we were offering.”

Yanow infused the program with more hardware, including a Global Positioning System (GPS).

“It took me probably two or three years to really get everything running,” he said. “After that, we started to add more courses. We became successful and it turned into a nice program.”

Advanced Technology Education Program (ATE) is specifically designed for community colleges to find funding to assist curriculum development and professional development for professors so they can master new technology.

“That first grant was really for GIS, which is geospatial information systems,” Yanow said. “When that grant was about to end, I wrote another NSF grant and that was to infuse more geospatial technology, which is remote sensing and digital analysis.”

Yanow’s students are currently conducting geological analysis. They are taking remote imagery of a landscape, looking at the absorption and reflection of the ground, and then matching the signatures to predict what type of minerals may be there.

Archeology can also benefit from GIS, said Yanow, because it allows researchers to look at the ground and analyze spectral signatures to see whether or not there is something beneath the brush without damaging the habitation site.

Yanow’s latest NSF project is a collaboration with the nationwide Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence.

“A beauty of SWC being part of this is we are always at the forefront,” he said. “We know what software the field is using. We know what geospatial techniques the workplace workers are using. We know that, we can obviously translate that to our students so our students are more prepared to get a job in this field right out of the institution.”

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