Professor Chadi Aoun teaches GIS to information systems students
Professor Chadi Aoun teaches GIS to information systems students

New Geographic Information Systems course trains students in high-demand field

Students at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar are learning about the emerging field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), an area with enormous potential within Qatar.

GIS professionals visualize multiple elements of geographical data concurrently. “It’s a way of making sense of big data,” says Chadi Aoun, associate teaching professor of information systems. “For instance, imagine looking where clinics are located within Qatar, and then plotting out where the people are who need access to those clinics. GIS can inform policy on where clinics should be located, closing service gaps and increasing rates of early diagnosis.”

Noor El-Sakka, a junior in information systems, studied GIS in the new course offered in the fall of 2016: “GIS is a tool that helps you to find the problem, and once you can visualize the problem, you can make recommendations of ways to solve it.”

To illustrate the impact of GIS, information systems senior Farjana Salahuddin described an investigation she did into accident rates in one U.S. county. “We looked at accidents and then plotted out factors like speed zones, pedestrian crossings, weather and lighting. We saw that one area had a high number of accidents at night, and when we looked at the data, we realized there were no streetlights. Adding a streetlight is simple solution that could prevent future accidents.”

Last semester, the students visited the Center for GIS to see the professional application of what they were studying. Qatar created the center in 1992 with the goal of implementing a high resolution digital topographic database. The center provides a consistent framework for a wide range of GIS users, including more than 60 government and semi-government agencies in Qatar.

“I was amazed to see that the Center for GIS uses the same software tools we learned to use in class,” said Roda Al Hor, a senior in information systems. “It’s a good tool to have as we enter the workplace. GIS skills are not something employers are expecting, so it makes us valuable as new employees.”

Aoun created the GIS course for exactly this reason: “I believe GIS is something that can be in high demand. As data becomes more public, it will unleash opportunities. A lot is happening in GIS in Qatar—topography, zoning, street numbers—but I want students to also explore thematic aspects that can have a potentially high impact on quality of life, such as health, education, and transport.”

As part of her studies, Al Hor and her team looked into infrastructure needs during the World Cup 2022. “We wanted to capture the city and make suggestions about what Doha will need for the event. For instance, we plotted out where people would be, and how far injured or ill people would have to travel to reach a hospital. Where there are no hospitals nearby, we suggested temporary emergency clinics.”

Students who studied GIS this semester were offered internships at the Center for GIS, and Al Hor, El-Sakka, and Salahuddin are all seriously considering the offer, and incorporating GIS into their future careers. “Even if my career isn’t specifically in GIS, it’s a tool I will use,” said El-Sakka.

Learn about the Information Systems Program at CMU-Q.

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