Geography Day brings fun, learning to students

GVL / Courtesy - Kin Ma
Shawmut Hills students participating in National GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Day (2013)

GVL / Courtesy – Kin Ma Shawmut Hills students participating in National GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Day (2013)

Rachel Huck

Getting young students excited about learning can be a tough thing to do, but Grand Valley State University’s geography students are hoping their GIS Day will do just that.

GVSU’s geography and planning department and Association of Student Geographers will host a class of seventh grade students from Shawmut Hills, a Grand Rapids Public School for GIS Day.

“The goals of this event are, first of all, to share our love of geography with the community,” said Ross Van Peursem, GVSU Geography Club vice president. “The event is also meant to teach kids that geography is much, much more than just knowing the names of state capitals. Geography is a huge, diverse field that has many different focuses of study.”

The event is part of the Engaged Department Initiative, which focuses on academic departments giving back to their community. GIS Day aims to increase geographic literacy and appreciation for geography through mapping exercises and geocaching using Global Positioning Systems receivers across campus.

“The Engaged Department Initiative is a project that the geography department has begun this year to try to export some of the geography department’s unique capabilities and skills to our surrounding community,” Van Peursem said.

This collaborative initiative between GVSU and Shawmut Hills Elementary is funded by the Engaged Department Community Grant and aims to increase geographic literacy and appreciation in young students.

“I hope that the seventh graders take away a new appreciation for geography and spatial science,” Van Peursem said.

For many of the attending seventh graders, this event provides their first look at a college campus.

“It is also important to show young students what a college campus can be like. Every year, the students are always amazed at what the campus looks like, and every year the students say they can’t wait to go to Grand Valley when they grow up,” Van Peursem said. “(This) can influence them to study hard and stay in school in order to return to GV as students.”

One of the main goals of GIS Day is to show young students what geography is all about.

“It’s important that we expose kids to aspects of geography that are not memorizing capitals and memorizing the name of landforms,” Van Peursem said. “By showing kids that geography can actually be fun, we are influencing their perception of geography, and maybe even creating future geography majors.”

The skills that students will be exposed to during GIS Day apply to more than just geography.

“Not only do geographers use these skills every day, but other careers do as well, such as geology, natural resource management, anthropology and many others,” said Brittany Jacobs, president of ASGeog.

“Seventh graders are the target audience based on the time in their life when these students begin exploring careers and when they begin thinking about their future,” said Jacobs.

GIS Day takes place twice a year. There will be another GIS Day held in the winter semester focusing on the same activities and goals.

GIS Day will take place Oct. 30 in Mackinac Hall from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit