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VCU Rice Rivers Center data manager and research coordinator
Formerly geographic information systems coordinator, Henrico County
M.S. in Environmental Studies, 2006
Jennifer Ciminelli always tells her students that in the process of learning, it is okay to have moments of confusion; working through that is how we gain knowledge.
“When I came to VCU, I was placed in a research position in a computer lab working with geographic information technology, I didn’t know what it, or I, was capable of,” Ciminelli said. “But that was OK, and along the way, in addition to giving me a very strong practical skill set, what VCU gave me was the self-confidence to try, and through that effort, to learn. It gave me the resiliency I’d need to become a leader in my field.”
Prior to her return to VCU as the VCU Rice Rivers Center's data manager and research coordinator, Ciminelli managed the use of geographic information systems for Henrico County, Virginia. The range of purposes for which that technology can be used is truly astounding. At its most basic level, GIS technology is a database mapping system, but it’s more of a living, breathing, dynamic map that can allow the user to layer supporting data to answer questions that range from the simple to the complex.
For example, in her thesis work as a student at VCU, Ciminelli developed a bald eagle nesting habitat suitability model for the coastal plain of Virginia. Using GIS technology, she was able to analyze information such as bald eagle nesting preferences, land use, forest density and human disturbance, to model what lands would remain viable for eagle nest sites and what areas would become unsuitable.
That’s what Ciminelli means when she calls the technology dynamic. GIS technology can be used to track migrating fish populations, create virtual forests to help monitor restoration efforts, project watershed health and inform future management needs. Or, on the county services level, it can be used to project future land use planning and development needs, monitor mosquito populations or ensure that the right emergency services are dispatched during a fire call to match the parameters of a building or area in distress.
“The use of geospatial technology has become ubiquitous in the environmental sciences and in almost all major disciplines,” said Ciminelli, “It is a true complement to on-the-ground field work, taking field information and creating valuable knowledge tools and products that can be used to help inform our citizens, science and our leaders. The power of the technology is amazing but it’s only as amazing as our students and researchers using it.”