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Dr. Haydar Kurban

Dr. Haydar Kurban

According to Dr. Haydar Kurban, an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, more and more organizations are seeking employees who know how to use geographic information systems (GIS). Such spatial analysis tools enable users to analyze data in order to address a wide range of questions in a wide range of fields: economics, political science, criminal justice, defense, sociology, banking, retail business, insurance, engineering, public health, library science, museum management, media, and education as well as agriculture, forestry, real estate, marine science, earth science, transportation, telecommunications, and utilities (see the animation “GIS in Everyday Life”). Indeed, today, U.S. Census datasets are not readily accessible without a knowledge of GIS. Therefore, since his arrival at Howard in 2001, Dr. Kurban has labored to prepare Howard students for this “brave new world” of spatial technology.

Like the electronic navigators in cars, GIS applications generate maps from databases. By producing dynamic data maps, these applications support the management, analysis, modeling, and display of spatially referenced data (see the two-minute video “What Is GIS?”). GIS can help users find a feature or patterns, map quantities and densities, monitor what is inside an area, or document changes in a location. GIS can also reveal what is next to what, measure distances, lay one map over another, and generate interactive maps. In addition, GIS can link demographic, economic, political, and social variables with geographical variables. Users can view data via the database, map, or models. Consequently, GIS can answer questions such as “Does our bank have enough branches in high-income areas?”, “How many calls did each emergency medical service unit respond to within the assigned zone?”, “How far are drug-related arrests from schools in this city?”, “Where and when might hurricanes strike in the future?”, “Did sales rise after the ad campaign in this region?”, and “Where does the county need more affordable housing?”

Dr. Haydar KurbanBecause GIS is such a valuable tool, Dr. Kurban began teaching the GIS program ArcGIS to HU economics students in 2004. However, before introducing ArcGIS, he observed that most of the GIS courses offered by the vendor, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and other universities merely taught students “how the GIS application works without a clear understanding of its use in the research.” So, with support from Howard’s Fund for Academic Excellence and an NSF-funded project at San Francisco State, Dr. Kurban developed and tested his own teaching modules, which provide hands-on exercises based on real research papers. In collaboration with ESRI, he created PowerPoint lecture notes, which he posted with his instructions and teaching modules in Blackboard. Best of all, he obtained free training copies for the students from ESRI. By combining ArcGIS with data sets, students performed spatial analysis and data visualization to explore topics such as City and Regional Planning, Community and Economic Planning and Development, Housing Studies, Needs Assessment for Community Health Service Points, Transit and Transportation Issues, Land Use, and Identification of Immigrant Clusters. Because the teaching modules were interactive and accessible “anytime and anywhere,” the students could practice as often as they wanted. Moreover, because the modules were self-contained, they allowed students to advance at their own pace.

When Dr. Kurban incorporated ArcGIS in his Urban Economics classes in 2005, he found that 21 of the 23 students successfully produced data maps and created new variables from census data for their term papers. In fact, one of the graduate students earned the Best Paper Award in the Graduate School’s 2006 Graduate Student Symposium. But being exposed to ArcGIS was a reward in itself. As one colleague remarked, Dr. Kurban’s GIS modules “made the material come alive for the students with real data. More importantly, his students are armed with a new powerful presentation tool.” No wonder enrollment in Kurban’s Urban Economics classes has significantly increased. To explore GIS on your own, click here to download the free GIS shareware package, ArcExplorer.


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