UMPI opens state-of-the-art new lab

Posted Nov. 18, 2009, at 8:11 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — To attract students to an academic program, you need a high-quality environment in which to teach them, Chunzeng Wang, assistant professor of geoscience and geographic information systems at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, said Wednesday.

With the opening of the new Geospatial Information Technology Center, UMPI officials believe they have created such an environment.

More than 50 people gathered Wednesday in Folsom Hall for the opening of the new GIS laboratory, which will be used for classroom instruction and community training and services in GPS and GIS. Just before the dedication that coincided with World GIS Day, an inaugural GPS workshop was held for community members.

UMPI President Don Zillman said the new facility is one of the best-equipped laboratories of its kind in the state.

“The students realize that this lab is going to give them the tools they need to learn even more about the field,” he said. “When they go out into the work force, they will be ready because they will have been trained with cutting-edge technology that is available right here in this lab.”

GIS, short for geographic information systems, capture, store, analyze and display geographic information. GIS can be used for community and urban management, marketing, criminal data mapping, land use planning and more. GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, is a satellite-based navigation system that can be used to calculate a precise location anywhere in the world.

UMPI received a $96,800 Maine Technology Asset Fund grant last summer from the Maine Technology Institute to fund the purchase of equipment to establish the state-of-the-art GIS and GPS lab. The grant was one of 16 awarded on a competitive basis from 49 applications by companies, universities and nonprofit research in-stitutions across Maine.

Under the direction of Wang, the Geospatial Information Technology Center will collaborate with cities, towns, native tribes and nonprofit organizations in central and southern Aroostook County to develop GIS databases. It will help enable towns to market their assets, maximize planning and development of natural resources, attract and retain businesses, and manage infrastructure for municipal growth. The center also will provide training and technical service to these community partners.

“We will be able to accomplish a great deal of additional work now that we have the lab up and running,” Wang said Wednesday. “This lab is stocked with the best computers, scanners, equipment and other technology that will benefit both students and surrounding communities. The lab exists primarily to educate students, but also to collaborate with communities on projects.”

Wang said he believes the new lab also will help attract more students to campus, a prediction Zillman agreed with.

Betsy Biemann, president of the Maine Technology Institute, attended the ceremony and said she was “very excited” to see the lab and the excitement it has generated.

“The use of GIS and GPS tools are exploding across the country,” she said. “This lab has all of the most important tools students entering the field will need. It is interesting to see the excitement among community members who are already thinking of projects that they can partner with the university to accomplish. This lab will reach out to more than just students. I know that more GPS workshops have been scheduled, so UMPI seems to already be off and running on its community work.”

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