University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Neighborhood benefits from cartography class project

Michael Niedzielski, assistant professor of geography at UND, discusses a map showing area services during a meeting of the Near North Neighborhood Association last week.

Michael Niedzielski, assistant professor of geography at UND, discusses a map showing area services during a meeting of the Near North Neighborhood Association last week.

Academics are sometimes faulted for their “ivory tower” approach of filling their students with knowledge of little practical value in the real world.

Michael Niedzielski,  assistant professor of geography, wanted students in his cartography and visualization class to take on a project that could be useful beyond the walls of the classroom.

“Why don’t I have them work to create maps that can be used by the community?” he asked. “Students will benefit because they can apply the skills they learn in the classroom to the real world at the same time they’re doing community outreach and public education.”

Last fall, Niedzielski and his students started working on a mapping project involving the Near North Neighborhood in Grand Forks, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The area is bounded by Gateway Drive on the north, University Avenue on the south, Washington Street on the west and the Red River on the east. The maps will also be presented to the Grand Forks City Council during its 5:30 p.m., meeting today at City Hall.

“This neighborhood was chosen as the first Mayor's Urban Neighborhood Initiative because of its unique and diverse characteristics,” according to Katie Brockpahler, community betterment specialist in Grand Forks’ Office of Urban Development, who worked with Niedzielski’s class. “It’s not only one of the first and most historic neighborhoods in Grand Forks, but it is also where a large amount of work-force housing exists.”

Before starting, the students met with Grand Forks City Councilman Eliot Glassheim, who lives in the neighborhood and represents its residents in the North Dakota Legislature. They also consulted with the Near North Neighborhood Association and worked under the guidance of UND’s Center for Community Engagement, directed by Lana Rakow, which funded publication of the maps.

“We have a long-range relationship with this neighborhood, and we also work to benefit the community and the state with UND partnerships,” Rakow said of the Center’s mission. “We like to see that students are learning about being a member of the community while doing something of benefit. They’re learning professionally how their own discipline can be used to the benefit of the public.”

Glassheim conducted a tour for the students, and told them about the neighborhood’s history and its unique aspects. Association members told them about their plans, their challenges and their needs. The students went to work, doing research, gathering data in the field and using the city’s geographic information system (GIS).

The end result was a series of six maps providing a wide variety of information about the Near North Neighborhood in a visually appealing format. The maps show:

  • Community improvements made with Knight Foundation funding from 2009-2011. (Designed by undergraduates Derek Elioff, Pengilly, Minn., Laura Harmon, Grand Forks, N.D., and graduate Bruce Muller, Menomonie, Wis.)
  • Home improvements made with grants from the city’s Front Porch Project. (Designed by graduate Prosper Gbolo, Grand Forks.)
  • Area services of the Near North Neighborhood. (Designed by undergraduates Amber Boll, Richville, Minn., Tom Hutchens, Grand Forks, and Tanner Lundby, Grand Forks.)
  • The locations of businesses in and around the neighborhood. (Designed by undergraduates Korey Southerland, Minneapolis, Minn., Marcus Wax, Puposky, Minn., Roger Quinn, Becker, Minn., and Ashley Osborne, Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)
  • The condition of rental and owner-occupied residential property. (Designed by undergraduates Jeremy Bancroft, East Grand Forks, N.D., Nicholas Plese, Lakeville, Minn., and Dustin Seher, Jamestown, N.D.)
  • The condition of sidewalks in the neighborhood. (Designed by undergraduates Ernest McCoy, Grand Forks, Casey Rosen, Edina, Minn., and Taylor Teske, Hudson, Wis.)

“I was impressed with the quality of the maps,” Niedzielski said. “What’s happening outside the class is amazing. Each group stepped up and made improvements, which speaks volumes about what good can come from working with the community.”

Last Thursday at a meeting of the Near North Neighborhood Association, Niedzielski and three of his students presented the results of their efforts to community members.

“It’s exciting to do service work within the community and to produce something people can use,” said student Marcus Wax during his presentation.

Cory England, Center for Community Engagement representative working with the Near North Neighborhood Association said, “I think it’s always fantastic when we can build partnerships between the University and the community. It just goes to show you how much can be accomplished when you partner up.”

“The public presentations will hopefully show that the Near North Neighborhood is an attractive place to live, work and play,” Brockpahler said. “In addition, the information gathered by the cartography class can be used towards grant proposals and various funding potentials for this neighborhood and other neighborhoods in the future.”

England sees the maps as a way to promote what the neighborhood has to offer and draw new residents.

“The maps the students produced will be really helpful in showcasing the neighborhood to people who might be interested in moving here,” England said. “They’re also very useful in applying for grants. Some of the data collected is very valuable and very informative.

“We hope the City Council will see that we have a vibrant neighborhood that’s got a lot of life in it and worthy of paying attention to,” he added.

UND’s work with the Near North Neighborhood will extend well beyond the mapping project, Rakow said.

“This isn’t a one-shot deal,” she explained. “This is really about long-term relationships and having a positive relationship over time. We’ll continue doing research along the way about what is needed and on what citizens would like to see happen.”

Niedzielski believes that his students and the community both benefited from the project.

“It demonstrates why UND emphasizes service learning and developing collaborations between the University and the community,” he said. “When we rely on community generated ideas, we can engage people beyond the ivory tower.”



-- Patrick Miller, writer/editor, University Relations, 777-2412,

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