GIS Camp for High School Girls

The fields of GIS, cartography, and spatial data analysis are extremely male-dominated. According to the 2016 Current Population Survey from the US Census Bureau, occupation of “Surveyor, Cartographer, or Photogrammetrist” was 90% white, and 84% male.  GIS Analyst is hardly any better, with 75% White and 78% Male. While progress has been made in the last 20 years toward diversifying the field, change is not happening fast enough. Technology culture continues to favor male-dominant perspectives and narratives, and women often do not feel empowered or supported in pursing technical skills.

Students in the lab learning to make web maps

Exposing girls to map making and GIS in classes led by women working in the field can spark curiosity and excitement because making maps is fun and creative while also having serious applications for analysis and data visualization. That is why the Mapping Action Collective helped to create this GIS camp for high school girls, held in Portland in the summer of 2019. The goal of the camp was to encourage girls to think critically about the world around them, and inspire them to follow their passion for mapping and data analysis. The camp was one week long and gave students and introduction to GIS, mapping, and spatial data analysis.

Exploring a map of Portland with instructor Christina Friedle

The curriculum was designed collaboratively by members of the Mapping Action Collective, Portland State University’s Community Geography program, and Portland Community College’s GIS Department. It was funded by a grant from the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State, and so it was hosted at the college, and had a transportation focus.  Guest lecturers visited the class to talk about applications of GIS and mapping technology in transportation and urban planning, and instructors used a “flipped classroom” approach, meaning students got to work with real world transportation data and use maps and spatial analysis to understand current transportation issues.

Instructor Lauren McKinney and her students back from a mapping exercise on campus

Instructors discussed contemporary critiques of mapping and GIS, and lead discussions with the girls about the power of maps to influence policy and popular opinion, and discuss GIS ethics and critical GIS. The curriculum will be made available to the public in module form soon, and the Mapping Action Collective offers similar customized classes and workshops for small groups upon request.

For more information about the class:

A student showing off her beautifully hand-drawn map on the Max train

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