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Marble-Boyle Award affirms ECE undergrad’s geographic research

A joint interest in geographic information systems and computers led MU undergraduate Jeff King down an interesting educational path, and his efforts recently landed him one of three 2016 Association of American Geographers Marble-Boyle Undergraduate Achievement Awards in Geographic Sciences.

Jeff King poses for a headshot.

Jeff King’s interest in geographic information systems (GIS) — systems that allow for comprehensive analysis of spatial or geographic data — began even before the Columbia native started his Mizzou career. Photo courtesy of Jeff King.

King is an undergraduate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and also is working toward a potential Geographic Information Science Certificate. His interest in geographic information systems (GIS) — systems that allow for comprehensive analysis of spatial or geographic data — began even before the Columbia native started his Mizzou career.

“My interest kind of started as I was a sophomore at [Rock Bridge] High School,” King said. “We had the Columbia Career Center right there, and luckily there was this GIS class. I actually got put into it by accident; it was my second choice on my choice list. But I ended up taking it and liked it a lot.

“I also took programming classes around that time. I liked both GIS and programming, and I couldn’t decide which I liked more.”

Once at MU, he opted to seek out research projects that touched on both interests, first in the lab of former MU Computer Science faculty member Dmitry Korkin on a project to simulate the spread of disease in the contained environment of a cruise ship. That project presented him with the opportunity to work with Tim Matisziw, an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Civil and Environmental Engineering and Geography departments.

King took a couple of Matisziw’s GIS-based courses, and the associate professor tipped him off to the existence of the Marble-Boyle Award, which recognizes “excellence in academic performance by undergraduate students from the United States and Canada who are putting forth a strong effort to bridge geographic science and computer science as well as to encourage other students to embark upon similar programs.” The award is named for Duane Marble, who created the Marble Fund, and A.R. Boyle, who was a major contributing force behind the development of computer cartography and geographic information systems.

His application included a letter of recommendation from Matisziw, as well as information about how his class choices help him merge the two interests and an essay about the possible ways he’d like to work to continue to intertwine computer science and geography in his career.

“I talked about how it would be really neat to apply it to the automated car industry, since with computer engineering you have embedded [global positioning systems] in the car, and GIS could also work with that and help push that industry along,” King explained. “I also talked about how it would be interesting for extraterrestrial mapping, using it to map Mars or something like that.”

The award provides recipients with $1,000 and an additional $200 for textbooks published by Esri, a company that specializes in GIS mapping software and information. It also enables winners to compete for an additional research award from the MicroGIS Foundation for Spatial Analysis. Perhaps most importantly, it also provides priority consideration from Esri for its summer internship program. King said he’s hoping to land a spot at the company’s headquarters in Redlands, Calif., for the summer.

Regardless of how it shakes out, King said it’s an honor he’s happy to have received.

“I honestly didn’t really expect to win. I thought maybe I had a chance. But I got the e-mail, and I was pretty excited about it,” he said.

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