Research Labs & Centers

Because our home is in one of the largest research universities in the country, the master of geographic information science (MGIS) program at the University of Minnesota offers many state-of-the-art facilities for its graduate students.

Computer Labs

Substantial computing facilities are available to MGIS students. Students have access to all departmental lab facilities. The geography department has one primary teaching computer lab, the Geographic Analysis and Mapping Lab (GAML), which contains high-end computers and is used for many of the GIS courses. The GeoCommons is an innovative, collaborative learning space (see below). Students have access to a wide range of geospatial and related software. The MGIS program also has a dedicated computer support specialist who maintains the technology in the departmental labs.

GeoCommons: A Place for Space

To broaden and deepen the use of spatial approaches, the College of Liberal Arts, Minnesota Population Center, and Department of Geography, Environment, and Society have made a substantial investment to create the GeoCommons, a collaborative hub to empower spatial innovation, promote spatial thinking, and advance geospatial technologies through research, education, and public engagement across the University of Minnesota, state of Minnesota, and beyond. 

U-Spatial and The Spatial University

U-Spatial serves and drives a fast-growing need for expertise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and spatial computing across the University. Spatiality is a ‘Rosetta Stone’ for transdisciplinary teams. While U-Spatial collaborates closely with large research centers and programs, it also purposely seeks to serve researchers working in the so-called “long tail” of the scientific enterprise. These are often smaller projects that cannot support full-time spatial research staff, but with a little help from U-Spatial, cumulatively provide a good deal of critical research that advances the many missions of a land-grant university and offer disproportionately great benefits. 

By embracing the title of The Spatial University, the University is committed to the transformative potential of spatial thinking. As the world's first spatial university, the University of Minnesota is advancing spatial sciences and the workforce of tomorrow. A new publication edited by Steve Manson, Len Kne, Brittany Krzyzanowski, and Jane Lindelof, Building the Spatial University: Spatial Thinking, Learning, and Service Throughout the System, includes chapters written by authors from across the University.

U-Spatial is part of Research Computing, a center in the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) at the University of Minnesota that consolidates management of research computing services. U-Spatial is a lean center that collaborates with departments and centers, seeking to meet the fast-growing demand for core services such as the help desk and training, while creating new opportunities and synergies around spatial research, teaching, and service. U-Spatial has been nationally recognized in many venues as a leading model for how universities can successfully integrate spatial data, visualization, analysis, and spatial thinking. Learn more about U-Spatial from Chapter 1 of the STEM and GIS in Higher Education story map, U-Spatial: Support for Research and Teaching at the Spatial University.

Len Kne (MGIS graduate and faculty member) serves as the Director of U-Spatial and many MGIS students work as research assistants at U-Spatial to assist graduate students and faculty across campus as well as coordinate campuses with their GIS-based research.

Esri Innovation Program (EIP)

The Esri Innovation Program (EIP) is affiliated with the MGIS program and partners with higher educational institutions from across the world to advance the spatial sciences and prepare the workforce of tomorrow. The University of Minnesota became a member of the EIP in 2009, and was housed in the Cartography Lab until moving to U-Spatial in 2021. Visit the U-Spatial EIP page for more information.

Outstanding Student Competition

Each year one student is selected, by committee, as the outstanding student of the year for our EIP and is awarded a cash prize ($500) from Esri. Visit the U-Spatial EIP page for details about eligibility and the application process. 

The winner is automatically entered in the International EPI Student of the Year competition selected by Esri from all the EPIs worldwide. That winner receives a cash prize, registration, hotel, and travel funds to the Esri International User Conference.

EIP Award Winners

Luke Zaruba (2023) Winner of the 2023 International EIP Student of the Year
Cole Anderson (2022)
Adam Null (2021)
Travis Ormsby (2020)
Coleman Shepard (2019)
Nicole Helgeson (2018)
Peter Wiringa (2017)
Tobias Fimpel (2016)
Andy Walz (2015)
Yiqun (Ian) Xie (2014)
Cole Kelleher (2013)
Mike Lau (2012)
Tony Monsour (2011)
Jeremy Moore (2010) Winner of the International EDC Student of the Year competition in 2010.

Additional Facilities

Other geospatial facilities are located across the Twin Cities campus. The College of Liberal Arts maintains a computer lab, which is adjacent to the two geography labs. The Borchert Map Library has a well-equipped lab for cartographic and GIS work and is located one building away from the geography department. Depending upon the particular courses they are enrolled in or research projects they are involved in, students also have access to other university facilities such as the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory, an exceptionally strong computer lab housed in forest resources. The Spatial Innovation Lab (SIL) in the Geography, Environment and Society Department is home to several researchers who are developing new data, methods, and theories in spatial science.

Geography/GeoCommons Lounge

MGIS students have access to the Geography Lounge located in 430 Blegen Hall. It is a collaborative space that provides a place for students, faculty, staff including our colleagues at U-Spatial to interact, relax, study, and foster a sense of community.