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Northmont High School AP Geography Students learn about GIS

April can be a strange month for high school seniors. The weather isn’t quite warm enough to make them dream about an upcoming summer of freedom, but with graduation just around the corner, some get a serious case of “senioritis” and don’t want to do much work at all.  That wasn’t the case when a senior AP Geography class from Northmont High School visited the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) in Dayton, Ohio, on April 27, 2016. They were ready to learn about MVRPC and how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) integrates into planning.

Northmont High School is located in Clayton, Ohio, and serves 1770 students from the communities of Clayton, Englewood, Phillipsburg and Union, in northern Montgomery County.  Twenty-four (24) students and their teacher, Mr. David Jones, were welcomed by MVRPC’s Executive Director, Brian O. Martin, AICP, via Skype, as Mr. Martin was out of the office, on business, in Columbus, Ohio.  He explained the overall function of MVRPC, outlined the counties served (Darke, Greene, Montgomery, Miami, Preble and parts of Warren County in Ohio) and the three main focuses of planning – transportation, environmental, and land use. Referencing the students’ bus trip they took to get to the agency, Mr. Martin explained that bridge and road funding, the roads and highways on which they just traveled, are made possible due to MVRPC working with local jurisdictional members.  Using transportation alternatives, such as cycling on any of the 330+ miles of paved bike trails in the Region, or riding a Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s “next generation” hybrid buses, are also made possible due to MVRPC’s coordination with member jurisdictions. Several of the students commented that they have a bike trail near their school and use it frequently.

Mr. Martin also touched on the structure of MVRPC explaining that he has about 75 “bosses,” the Board of Directors.  Mayors, councilmembers, business leaders, and university representatives comprise the Board and work with him to implement the agency’s mission and vision. Together, they make decisions about funding and policies that impact the Region as a whole. In closing, Mr. Martin suggested they check out the agency’s website,, for more information on the agency and specific topics.

MVRPC’s Director of Regional Planning, Mr. Martin Kim, took over the presentation and peppered the students with a series of questions about what they had just learned from Mr. Martin.  After the first student responded correctly and received a giant candy bar as his prize, the others quickly followed suit, answering question after question correctly.  They were definitely listening!

The students were then broken down into five groups and each group was matched with an MVRPC staff member who uses GIS on a daily basis. The staff members spoke about a variety of applications including analyzing crash data and depicting high crash areas on a map, reviewing Census data to create maps outlining vacant property locations, calculating and mapping impervious surface cover at the sub-watershed level, and serving MVRPC member jurisdictions that don’t have GIS skills or expertise to do what needs to be done.

Several students asked “Why did you study GIS?” or “How did GIS help you find a job?” Each staff member answered honestly (e.g., “I’m a self-proclaimed computer nerd and I love how data comes together to help validate a decision.” and “I saw how planning and GIS went hand-in-hand especially when it comes to legal rights of land owner and development of land. Plus both skills made me more valuable to an employer.”).

The students gathered one last time as a full group to report back about what they learned from talking with staff members. Mr. Kim introduced more specific definitions of GIS and how it helps to facilitate better decision-making, expands public participation, and most importantly, how data compiling and analysis can help planners formulate scenarios and make recommendation.

Mr. Kim introduced Mr. Tom Harner, MVRPC’s GIS Coordinator. He mentioned that when he was in college, which would be “pre-GIS,” his geography programs included lots of Mylar, ink and exacto-knives in order to map what was needed. Over his 17 years of being with the agency, Mr. Harner has seen GIS evolve tremendously. He introduced the students to the  Data & Mapping section of the website which houses a considerable amount of data that will come in handy for future school projects.

Overall, the students said they enjoyed themselves and were surprised at the many uses for GIS.  Perhaps in a few years, one of them will be working for MVRPC.

For more information about MVRPC, please contact Executive Director, Brian O. Martin, AICP, at 937.223.6323 or go to

Article By:

Laura A. Loges

Director of Marketing & Public Affairs

Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission

10 N. Ludlow St., Suite 700

Dayton, OH 45402-1855

Martin Kim quizzing student Students interview Regional Planner, Julie Black Students interview GIS Specialist-Regional Planner, Kathryn Youra Polk Northmont High School AP Geography students GIS Coordinator, Tom Harner, explains various GIS applications Brian O. Martin welcomes students via Skype



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