Mapping the Gaps: Using GIS to Target Environmental Education Efforts
by Sarah Gillig -- November 15th, 2013

Hi all,

Well, the semester is nearly over—it’s now officially less than four weeks until I hand in my final Final Paper. How on earth did that happen? I feel like I say that every week but still, time flies. Graduation is just around the corner….

That being said, I think it’s high time that I shared my master’s project concept with you (particularly since I’m in the thick of it now!). I’m actually really excited about it; it pulls together a lot of my interests, such as communications, environmental education, creative problem solving, policy, and my latest favorite, GIS.

The basic idea is that there are a lot of environmental education organizations out there doing great work, but that doesn’t mean that every community is being reached. For my project, I am working on creating a GIS tool that can identify communities that are not currently receiving environmental education programs and plot them against demographic and environmental information. My goal is to produce something that environmental education organizations can use to help them target program expansions and identify audiences, which will ideally make their programs more effective and might even help them in other ways as well, such as supporting grant narratives.

To make this happen, I’m plotting where environmental education organizations are currently working, and have put together a database that includes US Census data and environmental data from state GIS offices. Users will be able to look at maps of their impact and of the impact of others in the field, and will be able to search for communities with specific demographic attributes (such as environmental justice communities) and cross-reference that information with existing environmental education in the area. Users will also be able to see pertinent information about the community, such as which languages are spoken there, age distribution, and (hopefully) public transportation access. My current challenge is figuring out how to translate what I’m doing from ArcGIS (which you have to pay to use) to Google Maps (which is free).

Clearly this could be an enormous job, so I’m limiting myself to only six states (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT) for my MP, and I’m thrilled to have the New England Ocean Science Education Collaborative (NEOSEC) as a client for the project. I had the pleasure of getting involved with NEOSEC during my time as an AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellow at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center, and I’m really pleased to be doing a project that can contribute to their organization.

So, that’s what I’m up to! I think it’s an interesting project (which is good, since I’m the one working on it), and hopefully a useful one too. I love finding new ways to use GIS for things!

CT map

This is a basic street map of Connecticut.

Save Our Seas map

This is a map of a hypothetical environmental education organization's current impacts (i.e., what communities are attending their programs).

Two organizations

Here are two hypothetical organizations on the same map.


Areas where the two organizations overlap are shown in orange.

Environmental Justice Criteria Map

This is a map of locations fitting some environmental justice criteria that I put into the model.


This is a map showing where the two hypothetical organizations are working and the communities that fit the Environmental Justice criteria (plotted on top of the organizations). Notice how there are places in Waterbury and New Haven that fit the criteria but aren't currently being served, and are right next to places where the organizations are already working.

Tides for Friday, November 15, 2013, Beaufort, NC

High: 5:50 AM, 3.85 ft

Low: 12:05 PM, 0.25 ft

High: 6:03 PM, 3.28 ft

Tides from NOAA Tides and Currents



1 Comment

  1. Sharon Watkins
    Dec 4, 2013

    Hello Sarah,

    I am interested in this “mapping the gaps” project which you are working on :specifically, some of the lessons learned and other data challenges which you’ve met successfully. Your ideas are extremely timely and innovative. I would love to discuss more when you are available.

    Thank you
    Sharon Watkins

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