GIS as an Experiential Learning Credit for WC Students

In order to graduate with a major in political science, you have to complete the experiential learning requirement, which is to be a meaningful experience related to politics for students to apply the theories and concepts that they have learned in a real-world setting. This requirement can be filled through 80 hours of an internship or volunteer work, study abroad, or through the model UN program.


Chelsea Stevens, a political science major who works on the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO) grant at the WC GIS Program, discovered recently that her experiential learning credit can be filled just from having an internship at the GIS Program.


“I think working at the GIS Program for the MHSO grant is a fun an innovative way of completing this requirement rather than completing it through typical means (i.e. political science based internships, campaign volunteer work, etc),” Stevens said.


Previously, an internship at GIS was not thought of be an option for completing the experiential learning requirement, until Stevens inquired about whether her current position at the GIS Program could be a different way to fulfill the requirement. Stevens contacted Dr. Deckman, the Chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College regarding the situation, and after her consideration, it was concluded that the work Stevens does for the MHSO grant at the GIS Program could fulfill the requirement because it involves public policy.


“GIS is unique in completing this requirement and connects well with the major. Through analyzing data and working on the MHSO grant I have learned a great deal. GIS has enhanced my analyzing skills which helps me with my major, as political science often entails analysis. Learning and understanding the concepts of law enforcement behind the data connects a lot of my work with my major. Often times, many who graduate with political science degrees look to work, with or in, law enforcement,” Stevens explained.


On the MHSO grant, Stevens analyzes crash and ETIX data, creating a series of maps, infographics, and statistics. Currently, she is working on the Aggressive Driving Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) ADAPT Campaign Initiative, which entails analyzing where aggressive driving crashes occur in certain jurisdictions, so the law enforcement agencies have a good idea of where to go when they go out to patrol. This analysis that is being completed at the GIS Program is just one aspect of a larger campaign to help not only spread awareness of the dangers of aggressive driving, but also to prevent crashes from occurring due to aggressive behaviors while driving.


The MHSO grant at the GIS Program also focuses a lot on impaired driving, which just recently impacted public policy quite a bit with Noah’s Law that was passed after an officer on patrol was killed from an impaired driver.


While working on the MHSO grant, Stevens is exposed to a lot of data that impacts decision making in the state of Maryland, which ties into her studies in political science.


“A crucial skill I have learned from GIS that will help when I graduate, as well as completing my senior thesis, is data analysis. I have learned how to analyze and describe data to those who receive it. Understanding the statistics that go in to compiling the data is one of the biggest parts of my job. It helps me understand from beginning to finish product the information that is being presented. This helps with a lot of my political science classes as they involve research, data, and analyzing maps and charts. In GIS you are configuring those statistics and maps which give you a better understanding of the data,” Stevens said.


Interns at the GIS Program are gaining the experience of working with real-world data. This experience presents a unique opportunity to provide experiential learning for political science majors by allowing them to apply the theories and concepts they have learned in class to actual real-world data, while gaining a valuable skill in geospatial technology.


“Working at the GIS Program is fun and makes completing 80 hours look like only a few, as it is enjoyable and filled with great people!” Stevens said. It has only taken Stevens two semesters working at the GIS Program to complete the 80 hours, working 6-10 hours each week.


It is very beneficial to know that an important graduation requirement can now be filled with an internship at the GIS Program, making the search to fulfill the experiential learning requirement a lot easier for some students who do not wish to go abroad or find an internship outside of the college.


Picture from Pixabay