Geography students excel in Google contest

    May 09, 2012

    Google teamFour students have put the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on the map - literally.

    Until recently, Internet users who zoomed in to campus using the Google maps website saw nothing but a colored polygon.

    "There were no buildings, pathways, parking lots or athletic fields," said Chris Berryman, a senior from Gurnee, Ill. "The online map didn't reflect how dynamic this place is."

    Recognizing the demand for accurate, detailed campus maps, Google launched an international contest this spring. Students from 48 universities in the United States and Canada accepted the challenge.

    Berryman and seniors Jimmy Gardner, Amanda Kretschmer and Audrey Salerno entered on behalf of UW-Whitewater. Working at the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center in Upham Hall, the students spent four weeks filling in the blanks. They were required to use Google's Map Maker technology and follow stringent editing guidelines.

    "We made thousands of edits," said Kretschmer, from Burlington. "We drew outlines of every building and sidewalk, even the nature areas."

    Their work earned them third prize in the Google competition.

    "It was intimidating to go up against schools much larger than us," said Gardner, from Hartland. "We demonstrated that we can compete against anyone, and now our work is available for millions of people to see."

    "The students owned this project," said Alvin Rentsch, GIS project manager. "Sure, they used campus resources and got some cartographic advice from faculty, but students created the content. When they go for job interviews, they can show how they planned, implemented and deployed this project."

    The partnership with Google doesn't end here.

    "Our project incorporates a novel twist," said Eric Compas, GIS Center director and assistant professor of geography. "UW-Whitewater is one of the most accessible universities in the nation and the GIS Center is working to depict this information online."

    "Google is very interested in accessibility features - showing where the staircases and ramps are - and taking their entire system to the next level," said Rentsch. "Our work at the GIS Center could help make that happen."

    Salerno, who uses a wheelchair, was integral in detailing paths and potential barriers she faces when moving about UW-Whitewater.

    "Whether you walk, bike, skateboard or use a wheelchair, we want to create routes for every mode of transportation," she said.

    Unlike the other students on the team, Salerno, from Northbrook, Ill., is not a geography major. She's studying electronic media and math, but didn't want to pass up this opportunity.

    "To be part of a project that can help so many students is very gratifying," she said.

    First place in the Google competition went to University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada; second place went to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Oregon State University, Wesleyan University and California State University - Fullerton also won third place recognition.

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    Top photo, from left to right, Audrey Salerno, Alvin Rentsch, Amanda Kretschmer, Jimmy Gardner, Chris Berryman and Eric Compas.

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