Guiding Organizations' Decisions Through Spatial Data and Analysis

Communities and organizations are faced with critical decisions every day, often without key data. Dr. Kathleen Baker, professor of geography, Director of the W. E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change and founding member of WMU’s Health Data Research Analysis and Mapping (HDReAM) Center, has been helping local industries, county and township governments and community foundations make informed conservation and public health decisions for over sixteen years by providing them essential spatial data and analysis. In a current project with the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, Baker is providing an in-depth analysis of areas critical to conservation to achieve long-term resiliency in regional ecosystems. Baker has also provided local agencies with important spatial data on maternal and child health outcomes and infectious diseases. These data, which are available via open access, help health care agencies to develop specific interventions leading to improved public health outcomes.

“My goal is to provide quality and timely data and analysis to those making decisions about current conservation management and public health issues at a local to regional scale,” says Baker. “I involve students in every aspect of grant and contracting process. With supervision, students manage relevant data, perform analysis, run models, create online interactive mapping websites, are coauthors on publications and present at local and national conferences.“

Baker’s work in the classroom and in the community is constantly evolving and developing. For each research question that is posed and each class that is taught, Baker seeks new data and innovative ways to adapt her teaching for each new group of students and their specific interests. “I want to continue to explore ways to get students involved in community research, both inside and outside of the classroom. Experiential learning makes them more employable in the short term and better citizens in the long term.”

View this story and more in the 2019 issue of WMU's Arts and Sciences Magazine.