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Jordan Ginther

TV epiphany leads to crime-fighting co-op

November 29, 2007

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By Barry Shell

Jordan Ginther’s eureka moment came while watching Kim Rossmo, SFU criminology grad and geographic-profiling pioneer, on TV.

"It hit me, hey: They’re using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to solve a crime," recalls Ginther, a student in the science faculty’s new Geographic Information Science (GISc) program.

He quickly discovered that SFU criminology professors Paul and Pat Brantingham use the same technology in their Canadian Urban Research Studies (ICURS) crime lab, and that was it: He soon had an eight-month co-op job at the Brantingham lab, which has top security access to RCMP crime data for computational studies on the frequency and severity of urban crime.

Now in its second year, the GI science program combines courses in computing science, mathematics and geography. It’s a heavy course load but Ginther says it’s very rewarding. "I had never written a computer program before," he says. Now he loves the challenge of programming a computer to solve problems and then seeing the results, typically on a map.

Geography professor Nadine Schuurman says GI science is all about spatial correlation. "Traditionally scientists ignored the axis of space. GI science allows us to ask questions we simply could never ask before."

The field offers tremendous opportunities for employment because GISc can be applied to scientific as well as social problems. For instance, Schuurman is involved in an epidemiological study that takes medical data and creates geographic visualizations showing clusters of tuberculosis cases.

"Geography is in everything," says Ginther. "Why do you think they ask you for your postal code at Future Shop? It’s called geodemographics."

There were so many GIS co-op opportunities, Ginther could have gone anywhere in B.C. But he picked ICURS because criminology is something that fascinates him. "I’m finding I can take the GIS techniques I learn in criminology and apply them to anything from epidemiology to tracking animals."

Ginther says he’s getting experience at ICURS that he could never obtain from a course. And with a co-op job, "you can put the experience on your résumé."

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