UW-Whitewater students create interactive map for state economic agency

October 02, 2013

wedc mapStudents at UW-Whitewater have combined their skills in geography, information technology and website design to create an important online map of state economic development projects.

The interactive map was produced for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation by Pangea Studios, the university's nonprofit center that provides mapping services for clients.

"This is one of the biggest things that we've done,'' said Eric Compas, director of Pangea Studios and an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Geology at UW-Whitewater. "We all stretched our skills."

UW-Whitewater worked in collaboration with the State Cartographer's Office and the Cartography Lab at UW-Madison on the design for the map.  Then three UW-Whitewater students and one recent graduate worked all summer to make it a reality.

"It was really cool to go to meetings in Madison, getting data from the client and figuring out how to solve the problem,'' said Brandon Bockrath, a senior geography major from Bristol who worked on the map.  His role was to take data from spreadsheets and make it visual.

"People love to see maps,'' he said. "It's much easier to interpret."

That's exactly the goal of the map, which is intended to offer a clear public view of WEDC's investments across the state.  Users can find information on award amounts, types of industry, projected jobs and summaries for counties and regions.  They can also generate summary reports.

"This is a much more effective way of telling a story than a table or an Excel file,'' Compas said. "Pangea's goal is to provide sophisticated mapping tools to our region and the state and to provide our students real-world professional experience while they're still here.''

Working on the map required students to collaborate as part of an interdisciplinary team and meet tight client deadlines on a complex project.

Other team members were Cole Isenberger, a senior from Orfordville majoring in information technology; Craig Nelson, a computer science major from Schaumburg, Ill.; and Kyle Mullens, a December 2012 entrepreneurship graduate from Grafton.

"Rather than simply splitting the workload, as most classroom group projects do, our team relied on each of us having unique skill sets,'' Nelson said.

Bockrath will graduate in December and believes his experience at Pangea will be a good steppingstone to a job. Mullens said the WEDC map project taught him new skills that he can apply to his business creating websites.

"I learned more about how to effectively communicate as a team and organize tasks to maintain the workflow,'' he said.

Four to six students typically work each semester at Pangea, where other projects include public works mapping in Walworth County and figuring out the most efficient routes for trash trucks in Milwaukee.

Pangea's work not only helps students develop skills for their careers but also fosters economic growth, as exemplified by the WEDC map.

"This is a clear example of the university contributing to economic development within the state,'' Compas said.

To see the map, visit inwisconsin.com/inside-wedc/impact/.

For more information about Pangea Studios, visit gis.uww.edu


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri