Associate professor of geography Nazgol Bagheri has always been fascinated by the complexity of cities. Whether she was using public transportation growing up in her native Tehran, Iran, or riding the subways and trams of Tokyo and Zurich during her studies of architecture and urban planning, she loved watching the cities morph from one neighborhood to the next.
These days she uses geographic information systems to map the relationship between urban planning and social anthropology in those cities—from where women can move freely in Tehran to the geographic patterns of multilingualism in the United States. As director of UTSA’s GIS Lab, she also teaches students how to use GIS to answer their own pressing research questions.
What is GIS and how is it applied to research?
GIS is computer software in which we map, measure, monitor, model, and manage spatially referenced data. GIS allows users to overlay data layers to understand relationships, patterns, and trends.
What are some of the most innovative ways you’ve seen students use GIS?
Our students often are coming not only from different majors but also with diverse research interests.
Several students have happily surprised me with their outside-the-box thinking on GIS applications. I had a student who studied the relationship between racial and ethnic enclaves and the location of food deserts in San Antonio. Another studied how the state political affiliation related to the LGBTQ rights and hate crimes against minorities. Another student analyzed the linkages between hydraulic fracturing wastewater injection and the increase of earthquakes in Oklahoma, looking at a huge data set and different types of data while considering sociopolitical aspects and human-environmental consequences of fracking.
One geography student examined the 2006 Lebanon War—an event of personal significance in her family. She wanted to investigate the location of air strikes during the conflict and their effects on surrounding communities; this would prove to be no easy task because obtaining geographic data from foreign countries is often very difficult. Luckily, we were able to help her locate and secure data sets from international and Lebanese agencies. In the end she produced a detailed series of maps showing the harsh effects of these air strikes.