For the past three years, the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School geography program has participated in a statewide competition through ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), submitting five ninth-grade students’ projects each year. The projects consist of researching a topic within the state of Minnesota and then creating mappable data that explains the information through a story by use of geospatial analysis, cartography and creative writing. Competition judges review all of the projects and select five winners. Sauk Rapids-Rice High School students were awarded four of these prizes, and one student will represent Minnesota at the national competition. Geography teacher Brianne Wegter remarks, “Sauk Rapids-Rice geography teachers, both at the middle school and the high school, have worked hard to provide opportunities for our students to use ArcGIS online technology, not just because it helps us accomplish multiple state standards, but also because it builds essential skills within our students that are transferable to all content areas and their lives beyond high school. They learn skills like critical thinking, problem solving and spatial analysis. This is only the third year we have participated in this contest, and we’re just thrilled at the success and recognition that our students have achieved.”
Benaiah Hinz was awarded first place, and will move on to compete nationally. Those national competition results will be announced on June 1. Ben’s project involved creating a map showing the spread of emerald ash borers across the state and analyzing their impact on ecological change. “I learned many new GIS skills that I was able to apply to enhance the quality of my project and maps,” Ben states. His geography teacher, Andrew Weber, addss, “I am ecstatic at what Ben has achieved and that he is honored for such a successful project. The results of the competition are truly a testament to the type of work which Ben has exhibited within my classroom throughout the school year. Ben has always been a highly self-motivated student, constantly pushing himself to be the best that he can be … this project is a superb example of what tremendous student work effort and creativity can lead to, and I believe it represents our Sauk Rapids community and entire state very well. I commend Ben’s efforts at creating an impactful story and am proud to have worked with him.”
The other awardees include Lillian Julius, who created a Story Map about federally qualified health centers in Minnesota; Anna Rushmeyer, who created a Story Map about the changing moose population; and group partners Chloe Molitor and Kaytlin Bittman, who created a Story Map on crime in Minnesota. Geography teacher Melissa Gebhardt-Bloch said of the projects, “Even though this project is difficult and frustrates literally every student and teacher, that is what makes it so great. It teaches students the essential life skills of how to persevere and ask for help. At some point, all students faced a challenging situation, like not finding a layer they had hoped for, or trying to run analysis online and having it fail. The ones who had winning or even great projects, however, were successful not because everything they wanted came easily to them, but because they kept open minds, problem solved or found other avenues to go down that worked.”
In addition, geography students and teachers at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School will be recognized for their participation in this contest. Minnesota State Map Contest Coordinator Jim Hanson applauds Sauk Rapids-Rice High School: “Congratulations to the teachers and students for all of their efforts to involve 225 students in the Minnesota ArcGIS Online Student Competition. Since 2016, no other school across the country has reached this level of student participation.” Geography teachers Brianne Wegter, Melissa Gebhardt-Bloch, Andrew Weber and Bill Fletcher were interviewed about their participation in the national contest by Jim Hanson and Charlie Fitzpatrick, a ESRI K-12 education manager, on Friday, May 29.
ESRI is the global market leader for GIS technology, with 75% of Fortune 500 companies using their software. ESRI strives to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems using spatial analysis and GIS technology to answer questions. They are committed to science, sustainability, community, education, research and positive change. ESRI provides free organizational accounts to K-12 schools so students are able to develop GIS skills using ArcGIS Online and sponsors the statewide and national mapping competition.
ESRI’s mission statement: With skill, passion, and analysis, high school and middle school students are exploring their world and creating maps with ArcGIS Online. ESRI challenges U.S. students to create and share projects about something in their home states, striving to be among the best in the school, state, and nation.