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September 29th, 2016
G.R.A.C.E. Project Team Creates ‘Time Machine’ with GIS

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People interested in history and geography are going to love what a group of innovative educators, students, historians and the National Park Service have in store for them. Next year, visitors to Keweenaw National Historical Park will be able to use the Keweenaw Time Traveler, an online atlas, to find out where any local resident from the last 100 years lived, worked and attended school or religious activities.

The National Science Foundation – Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (NSF – ITEST) funded G.R.A.C.E. Project — (GIS Resources and Applications for Career Education project) is designed to provide high school students and teachers in economically disadvantaged communities an opportunity to learn to use and apply GIS skills and technology in real world situations. The GRACE Project is under the direction of Dr. Yichun Xie, PhD, Professor/Director, Eastern Michigan University – Institute of Geospatial Research and Education, Principal Investigator for the NSF – ITEST GRACE Project. GRACE is working with Keweenaw National Historical Park and the Michigan Technological University’s – Keweenaw Time Traveler project under the direction of Dr. Don Lafreniere at MTU.

The GRACE Project High School GIS Interns prepare for a 6 week, 20 hours/week, paid intern experience by successfully completing 8 different ESRI Virtual Campus Courses for a total of 41 hours of online course work ( They learn Esri’s ArcGIS Desktop along with several courses related to the ArcGIS Online tools including a series of activities related to Esri StoryMap creation.  The GRACE Project model enables students, teachers and school communities to engage in purposeful applications of technology based education using GIS and Community Based Problem Solving while working in their own neighborhoods and communities. Many of the skills the GRACE Project High School GIS Interns are learning and using are at the very leading edge of Community Based GIS Initiatives.

GRACE also is designed to support community-building, foster relationships and create additional educational and career opportunities. The GRACE Project/KNHP/Keweenaw Time Traveler project has done just that, with the help of GRACE Project teacher Mike Roland, Technology Director, CLK Schools, Calumet, Michigan, 11 students from CLK High School, MTU students and professionals from Michigan Tech University, employees of Keweenaw National Historical Park and the National Park Service, GRACE Project support and four local historical museums collaborated and engaged in a variety of community problem solving activities.

This summer, 11 GRACE Project High School GIS Interns from two local high schools joined professionals at Michigan Tech University and the Keweenaw National Historical Park to use GIS to explore our region’s past and improve life in our community.

GRACE Interns with Michigan Tech faculty and students explore industrial ruins along Torch Lake.

The Keweenaw Time Traveler is a longitudinal historical GIS, or interactive data-rich online atlas for the Copper Country being developed at Michigan Tech University.Supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, the Time Traveler team is working with regional partners including Keweenaw NHP, Michigan Tech Archives and Historical Collections, four local historical museums, to combine historic maps and biographical data to recreate the entire, built environment of this region for 100 years.

When it opens for public use in summer 2017, the Time Traveler’s historical geoportal will allow researchers and the public alike to automatically match residents’ names with their exact dwellings, workplaces, classrooms and congregations. Users will be able to place their historical stories and photographs, and trace people and places through time.

Eight GRACE Project High School GIS Interns helped lay the groundwork for this exciting new tool by working in ArcGIS Desktop alongside undergraduate and graduate students from Michigan Tech, digitizing building foot prints and creating attribute tables for an area known as Michigan’s Copper Country. It was the very center of industrial and economic development in the United States and world from the 1860-1917 because of the vast deposits of copper and the mining industry that developed.

At the end of their six-week session, the interns created Esri StoryMaps about their experiences that demonstrate not only technical proficiency, but also enthusiasm for history and public outreach. Working in pairs, the students used maps and photographs to present the work they did for the Time Traveler, along with some of the field projects that were organized for them, which included field data collection activities exploring former copper processing plants with Mobile ArcGIS-enabled devices, working with the Keweenaw National Historical Park on a Complete Streets active transportation assessment as a part of the Safe Routes to School program, mapping a trip on Michigan Tech’s aquatic research vessel to learn marine mapping techniques, and taking a modern day walk through Calumet and then exploring where the path went in the past through the GIS layers they helped create.

“It was great to see the students learn about GIS and gain real mapping skills, but for me the highlight was watching them work through problems, and help each other when they’d come up to a hurdle. You could really see their sense of achievement. Another highlight for me was to see how many of the students could start to see history in a new light, using this new technology,” Jo Holt, a historian with Keweenaw National Historical Park, commented.

The National Park Service also worked with three GRACE Project High School GIS Interns at Keweenaw National Historical Park to develop a series of Esri StoryMaps designed to help visitors find their way around the park and its 22 Heritage Site partners. August 25, 2016 is the 100th Anniversary of The National Park Service. To celebrate the milestone, the service defined a Centennial goal: to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates. This goal is intended to help the NPS build a strong foundation for the future. Investing in and working with youth — by providing employment, internships, meaningful volunteer opportunities, and engaging programs and events on relevant topics — will foster future park employees, conservation advocates and decision-makers.

Yvonne Oja worked with the Keweenaw National Historical Park to translate their Keweenaw Guide Newspaper into an interactive online StoryMap version that visitors will now be able to carry with them.

The KNHP GRACE Project High School GIS Interns, using their GIS training skills, created Esri StoryMaps that enabled the students to combine their strong interest in history and geography with GIS, while helping the KNHP convert paper tourist information into worldwide access, interactive, online tourist information systems.

Their StoryMaps included:

  • Welcome to the Beautiful Keweenaw Kid’s Adventure Map, a digitized version of an activity map developed three years earlier by two of the interns, aimed at families traveling through the 4-county Copper Country;
  • The Keweenaw NHP Heritage Sites Map, which helps visitors find their way to the park’s formal partner sites which stretch along a 150-mile long rural corridor;
  • And two StoryMaps for an online project called Missing in the Copper Country, which locates, ghosts-in, and provides a brief history for significant historical structures that no longer exist in several Copper Country communities. These StoryMaps not only illustrate changed landscapes, but spark conversations about history and preservation, which are key components of the park’s visitor education and outreach program.
  • All of the intern’s StoryMaps are available for public viewing online.

Jason Ackerman and Tim Stone’s StoryMap, called “When Calumet was Trending,” introduces people to how the Keweenaw Time Traveler uses Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, like those seen here, to explore change over time.

More than 60 people attended the GRACE Project High School GIS Intern’s presentations, where they showed off their new abilities to communicate using spatial data and the Esri StoryMap platform. This kind of intergenerational outreach, from high schoolers to their parents and grandparents’ generation, is laying the groundwork for recruiting Citizen Historian volunteers from the community to help build and add local memory to the Time Traveler over time.

“Having worked with a couple of the students several years ago, it was inspiring to see how their interest and knowledge of local history has grown. I found their insights and perspectives valuable and something to carry forward as we develop more community and youth outreach programs. I was also encouraged by how seriously they took their work and how dedicated they were in completing their projects,” Kathleen Harter, acting superintendent and chief of interpretation and education at Keweenaw National Historical Park, commented.

The GRACE Project High School GIS Interns came into the summer expressing interest in STEM fields like computers and math. At the end, two of them are thinking of pursuing GIS in college, they all learned more about their own community history, and at least three asked if they could come back next year. We hope that the experience of being part of a real-world university research project gave them a taste of what college work can be like, while also contributing to a tool that will help build knowledge and offer new kinds of analysis of their own community’s history. Recently two of the GRACE Project High School GIS Interns participated in the annual conference of the Michigan Community Association of Mapping Professionals (MiCAMP). They both did presentations about their work and the Esri StoryMaps they created. These students received college scholarship offers as well as full time job opportunities from GIS professionals from the MiCAMP organization.

Students were engaged in independent work and collaborative problem-solving throughout the six-week internship. These dedicated high school students built maps that utilized technology and spatial mapping skills, asked questions, researched historic sites and developed products that are now available to park visitors and everyone worldwide. Learning GIS and developing Esri StoryMaps for the NPS introduced them to new ways of investigating, documenting and analyzing history, as well.

The NSF – ITEST funded GRACE Project helped reinforce existing partnerships between Keweenaw National Historical Park, Michigan Technological University, and Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw Schools, and connect with new people and organizations that share the goal of youth engagement and learning. Park advocacy and awareness is also an indirect outcome, as students and community members who may not have otherwise felt connected to the park, came to learn about the park, our mission, and possible learning and employment opportunities.Share the students Esri StoryMaps with your colleagues and encourage your local schools to take part in the Esri ArcGIS Online for Organizations free GIS software for all K-12 schools in the United States ( When launched next summer, the Keweenaw Time Traveleris expected to be a popular attraction for a community that boasts a significant heritage tourism industry.

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