Integrative Spatial Modeling Project Initiatives

There are three main objectives for the 3-year Integrative Spatial Modeling Project:

  1. Faculty development in integrative spatial modeling. Foremost among project objectives is training of faculty to incorporate integrative spatial modeling into their teaching, particularly in a way that fosters a greater linkage among the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Toward that end, the project will conduct a workshop in years one and two (three to four days) to provide training in spatial analysis for fifteen faculty each year. The project will also sponsor a symposium at the end of the initiative that will include external partners and will focus on project outcomes, including assessment. We have received funding from Luce for the workshops and for the symposium. Project Director Tsegaye Nega and ENTS Director Mark Kanazawa—in cooperation with ENTS leadership, SERC, and ITS are responsible for planning and implementing all workshops and for providing one-on-one support to faculty who seek to incorporate spatial analysis into their courses.

  2. Faculty-student research on real-world problems using integrative spatial analysis as a framework. ENTS faculty recognize the importance of involving students in team-based investigation of real-world problems. The project emphasizes team-based engagement, collaborative planning, and cooperative products by directly linking student research to pressing environmental problems that arise from urbanization in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region.

    The metro region is an ideal subject of study because of its geographical proximity to Carleton, wide range of environments, availability of large socio-ecological databases, and rapid growth issues. ENTS faculty, moreover, are already involved in the region's environmental issues as scholars, residents, educators, and environmental activists. ENTS has received Luce funding for faculty-student summer research, coordinated by Tsegaye Nega and other faculty, that will focus on three issues:
    • understanding the socio-economic determinants of increasing urbanization in the region (especially the impact of roads and vehicles) and resulting patterns of land use;
    • assessing the impact of these patterns on ecosystems and human behavior, and
    • developing spatial metrics useful for identifying/prioritizing conservation areas and mitigation efforts.

    Student teams, in cooperation with external partners, will assemble land-cover change data in the region spanning decades and explore the rate, extent, and characteristics of land conversion. They will then attempt to determine the key socio-economic determinants underlying these changes by combining statistical analysis of socio-economic and transportation data maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies. Research will engage students in developing tools useful to transportation policy planners and natural resource managers.

  3. Incorporation of spatial analysis into the ENTS curriculum. The initiative will provide faculty with curriculum development support to help them incorporate spatial analysis into ENTS core courses, ENTS upper-level courses, and cross-listed elective courses. These courses include:
    • Core Courses. Faculty, drawn from across partner disciplines, will incorporate spatial modeling modules into the ENTS gateway-level (first year, one-quarter) courses, thereby introducing students to spatial modeling in a limited but significant way. The junior colloquium, a two-quarter course, will involve formal introduction to spatial modeling (first quarter) and project-based work (second quarter). The senior capstone, directed by Tsegaye Nega, will feature a team-based project that requires spatial modeling of a complex problem involving (at least during the three years of the proposed project) urbanization and transportation.
    • New ENTS Upper-Level Integrative Courses. ENTS Faculty will develop a methods course and two new integrative ENTS upper-level courses. The methods course, taken prior to the junior colloquium, will introduce students to a range of evaluative skills, including research design, research methods, use of evidence, critical thinking, hypothesis testing, and use of practical tools, including statistical software and GIS. New upper-level integrative courses will be topic-based, requiring student teams to define research questions, identify information and tools they need, collectively analyze and evaluate data, and plan strategies to address problems. Courses proposed by ENTS faculty thus far include:
      (i) Field-intensive and group-based socio-ecological mapping
      (ii) Comparative Landscape Analysis Roads, and
      (iii) Sustainability
      Planning and Managing Protected Areas in Urbanized Landscapes

    The objectives of these upper-level courses include (a) enhancing student understanding of the relationship between the biophysical environment and the geo-demographic pattern of human development; (b) enhancing student understanding of different approaches to analyzing landscape change, with attention to integrating the various temporal and spatial scales used by different disciplines; and (c) developing student problem-solving, collaborative learning, and transferable skills (e.g., sampling strategies, mapping, use of GIS applications), ensuring that students are prepared to accomplish capstone-level team projects.
    (iii) Incorporation of integrative spatial modeling units into existing ENTS elective courses. The strength of ENTS results from involvement of faculty from across the curriculum. Faculty offer electives counting towards an ENTS concentration, including courses in international development (Sociology/Anthropology 312); American environmental history (History 195); African environmental history (History 283); and environmental geology (Geology 120). Not all cross-listed courses that count towards an ENTS concentration will or should include spatial modeling. The purpose of the Integrative Spatial Modeling Initiative is not to frame all environmental issues in terms of spatial modeling. However, ENTS faculty, especially those who have enrolled and will be enrolling in modeling workshops, anticipate that integrative spatial modeling will become increasingly valuable in each discipline, meeting departmental needs and complementing the integrative spatial modeling goals of ENTS.