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Clarkson University Students Mapping Infrastructure of Campus

A group of Clarkson University students is mapping the way for years to come through a project that uses high-tech skills to plot all infrastructure on campus. When they're done, they intend to branch out and offer this same practical resource to communities across the region.

Ryan Mathews '17 takes advantage of open trench work on the downtown campus to record the position of new utility lines.You might think essential water and sewer lines, drainage pipes, hazards, old roadways, and heating or cooling systems are all laid out in official blueprints, but that's not always the case. To remedy that, the Facilities & Services Department at Clarkson teamed up with eight students and Civil & Environmental Instructor Bill Olsen to give his GIS (Geographic Information Systems) students a real-world application of what they're learning in the classroom.

With Director of Construction Engineering Management Erik Backus '97 and University Engineer Michael Tremper '93 on board, this all-Clarkson team has been peeling back layers of time to determine where things are on campus.

“It started in Facilities,” Tremper explains. “We wanted a GIS map of campus and needed people who are knowledgeable, so I went to Erik and Bill to see if they had recently trained students. We started with one student more than a year ago. Then the group grew to three and now to eight students. It's really convenient to be able to turn to professionally trained students for this work.”

He adds, “The first thing we actually mapped was the baseball field. Recently completed construction by the back of the field led to new drainage problems. The issue dates back to 1926 when a football field and a drainage system were installed. We had students come out for their class lecture and showed them how to find and record pipe locations.”

Backus is delighted that the mapping project lets students use a real-world tool that will help them succeed in their careers. Down the road, they'll be able to contribute to their alma mater by mentoring and hiring students.

“This kind of academic and administrative connectedness is typical of Clarkson University. We're very close,” Backus notes. “Facilities can rely on students to get things accomplished and they all benefit. Most of the buildings are mapped now, and then they'll work on mechanical aspects such as ventilation, plumbing, and chillers. They're going to try to tie their information to the work order system, to provide up-to-date information for repairs or new projects.”

This project has a long life because once the campus is mapped, other communities in the North Country can be explored. This will “create a circle of win, win, win” Backus says, and may help small, financially strapped communities win grants in the future because they'll have such well-researched plans.

Backus, whose construction engineering management program is within the Department of Civil Engineering, says that engineering grads can go to work for design firms or for contracting and construction management firms that oversee the building of designs. He oversees a program that focuses on construction skills, so he especially appreciates the benefit that this GIS project offers.

“It's about connecting the dots. Students in construction still know how a design came together, and they know the technical design aspect of it,” he says.

Likewise, Olsen is enthusiastic about this collaboration. “The students really are getting a pretty good boost to their careers and education. They are making a real product. Some of them have already received job offers because of their GIS experience,” he says.

The mapping is an intricate process involving field work and computer skills. Olsen's students, who are working directly with Michelle McGill, the Facilities & Services GIS technician, do a GPS survey first, and then search blueprints to see what matches. They digitize the information to create a data base of utilities, pipelines, fiber optics, etc. They then take all the floor plans and make 360-degree photos to form a base map. Mechanical equipment on the floor, heating and ventilation above the ceiling, and fire alarms all must be accounted for and mapped.

“It's a legacy project,” Olsen affirms. “It can be fairly easily edited so all future projects will correspond to our data.”

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: A group of Clarkson University students is using high-tech skills to plot all infrastructure on campus. Above, student Ryan Mathews '17 takes advantage of open trench work on the downtown campus to record the position of new utility lines.

[A photograph for media use is available at .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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