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 two primary computer labs. The largest lab, the Geographic Analysis and Mapping Lab (GAML), contains high-end computers and is used for many of the GIS courses. Computers in this lab are typically replaced on a three-year cycle. The Advanced GIS Lab is a smaller facility used for research only and students have access to this lab at all times. It houses a number of workstations, plus a variety of peripheral devices. Students have access to a wide range of software. The primary GIS software includes ESRI’s ArcGIS suite, Intergraph’s GeoMedia, and IDRISI. Numerous drawing, statistical, and programming packages are also available. More specialized computer equipment, housed in other departmental labs, is also available for specific projects.

The MGIS program also has a dedicated computer support specialist who maintains the equipment in the departmental labs.


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. 

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 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 this book chapter, U-Spatial: Support for Research and Teaching at the Spatial University.

Len Kne (MGIS graduate and faculty member) serves as Associate 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 Development Center

The Esri Development Center (EDC) program provides recognition and special status to university departments and centers that have exemplary programs focused on educating students to design and develop GIS applications using Esri's ArcGIS for Desktop, Server, and Mobile technologies. Students in the EDC program are allowed special access to Esri software for their projects.

Our EDC was started in 2009 and is housed in the University of Minnesota Cartography Lab. It is affiliated with the MGIS program, although students in other degree programs can be fully involved with our EDC. The primary requirement is that you are a student, at any level, who is doing GIS development work, broadly defined, using Esri technologies. To join our EDC group, or for more information about our EDC program, contact Mark Lindberg at

Outstanding Student Competition

Each year one student is selected, by committee, as the outstanding student of the year for our EDC and is awarded a cash prize ($500) from Esri. Students wishing to enter the competition must already be affiliated with our EDC and must submit a short (1–2 page) description of their project focusing on the utility and originality of their work. This must be submitted to Mark Lindberg at by February 15 for work completed, as a student, in the prior year. (Students who graduate at the end of spring or fall semester of the prior year are eligible to apply.) Applicants should be prepared to provide working copies of their projects to the evaluation committee upon request.

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

Previous Winners

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. These facilities include the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory, an exceptionally strong computer lab housed in forest resources, the Soil Landscape and Analysis Lab, and the Regional Earth Science Applications Center (RESAC). 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.

MGIS Student Lounge

The MGIS student lounge is located in 405 Blegen Hall. It is a secured space accessible via key card entry and provides a place for students to interact, relax, and study, and houses several student resources.