New labs make more possible for health geoinformatics at LLU
By Heather Reifsnyder
William Kim and other students take in a lecture in the new GIS lab.
The geographic information systems (GIS) laboratory has come a long way from its start as a sole computer in a Nichol Hall storage room. After evolving and moving through the years, the School of Public Health’s health geoinformatics program now has a permanent, state-of-the-art home in the Centennial Complex.
When the technology of GIS is combined with the field of public health, more ways to solve the world’s health challenges become possible. This prepares LLU students for future careers devoted to raising the standard of health and living around the world.
It also means that LLU’s GIS lab can take on real-world projects that make a difference right now. During the past few years, for example, faculty and students have mapped the medical product donation systems in Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia in order to allow international donors to more effectively direct lifesaving supplies like medications and surgical equipment to where they are really needed.
The new suite features two laboratories, each outfitted with 20 new 24-inch iMacs. In between them, with glass walls looking into each classroom, is a smaller room providing office space as well as two additional computers for students who are employed by the GIS lab. Such students can now do their work and gain valuable experience at any time, regardless of the class schedule in the two lab rooms. “I now have my own workstation,” says student worker Theo Ndatimana.
In the lab’s most recent home in Randall Visitors Center, there was a single room featuring 20 workstations with five-year-old computers, some of which did not have enough RAM to run necessary programs. Mr. Ndatimana says the new computers have stunningly clear images and run a lot faster.
The new facilities allow the GIS staff to offer more workshops. For example, they give workshops on HAZUS-MH, a disaster preparedness program developed by FEMA. Through these workshops, local public servants working in emergency planning and response gain additional skills in preparing for and mitigating disasters. But the workshops formerly had to be conducted in West Hall or Nichol Hall because the old lab’s computers couldn’t run the software. Now they take place in the lab’s own home while classes can simultaneously run in the room next door.
The staff can also offer workshops to students, faculty, and the public who do not need to take a whole GIS course but want to learn a specific aspect such as GPS or certain Google Earth applications.
Over the years, the number of students studying GIS has grown. In 2005-06, 103 students studied in the GIS lab. By 2007-08, that number expanded to 132.
LLU School of Public Health is the only institution in the United States offering a bachelor of science in public health in health geographics and biomedical data management. The lab also offers a graduate certificate in health geoinformatics, as well as graduate programs for students earning an MBA in health care administration and students earning a master of public health (MPH) in the areas of spatial epidemiology, environmental health, or global health and development.
The new lab helps fulfill LLU’s global mission, says Seth Wiafe, MPH, academic director of health geoinformatics programs.
“I think because of the nearly endless possibilities of heath geoinformatics, we will be able to provide a better spatial information support system for those whose lives are touched by Loma Linda University,” he says. “GIS can also help provide future health professionals with a valuable tool to understand the impact of our environment on human health, thereby improving better analytical decision-making toward ‘making man whole.’”