Two words: zombie apocalypse. Two more words: Calvin College.
No, you can’t major in zombies here, and no, you probably won’t be talking about them in class unless the television show, The Walking Dead, is a topic of discussion in a media criticism course.
And you probably won’t witness a zombie apocalypse on campus unless your dorm chooses that theme for Chaos Day.
So what do zombies have to do with Calvin?
You probably won’t believe us when we tell you, but here it is: A zombie apocalypse was the topic of one student’s digital mapping project in a course called “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems.” The student used public data on proximity to food and water in Grand Rapids to map out where you should hide in the event of a zombie apocalypse (see first pic in gallery).
NOT YOUR GRANDMA'S MAP
Zombie safeness zones? Seriously? But what if “zombie apocalypse” is a metaphor for something real, say a catastrophic blizzard or influenza epidemic? Then a map that showed you the best sources for food and water in Grand Rapids could be a very helpful thing.
And that’s the power of GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, best known to you as the system that runs your family’s GPS device and Google maps. But it’s also so much more.
GIS is a way to visualize complex information on a digital map. This isn’t your grandma’s old, crumpled-up map of Florida in her Buick’s glove compartment.
Instead, it’s an interactive map on National Geographic’s website showing you the best adventure locations in the United States, or a New York Times map you can use to see your county’s unemployment rate. It could also be a digital atlas in a place where there are very few maps—developing countries like Niger, Nepal and Madagascar.