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Research in Focus: Geospatial Science

Geospatial science is a multibillion-dollar industry, and researchers at Saint Louis University are leading the charge to turn St. Louis into a national hub for geospatial research.

Hear three SLU researchers discuss the importance of geospatial research and its impact on the world. Their work is just a small sample of the innovative and compassionate research being done at SLU.

Geospatial science is an interdisciplinary field that examines how location impacts a variety of complex issues, from health inequity to national security. St. Louis is poised to become the national center of this multibillion-dollar industry. “The St. Louis community is engaged in a great opportunity to transform the city into a national hub for geospatial research,” said Vasit Sagan, Ph.D., associate professor of GIScience.

Innovative, Interdisciplinary Research

Sagan’s research centers on the nexus of food, water and energy. He uses geospatial science to monitor climate change, food security and crop productivity. Using remote sensing, Sagan is able to determine how large crop yields will be in a given year.

“You see the power of geospatial tools,” Sagan said of his research.

Sagan is one of several researchers at Saint Louis University seizing on this exciting opportunity. Investments in geospatial science can yield innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges of the day. This is because location is at the root of many of these challenges.

“SLU researchers… are looking at why location matters. It matters to your health outcomes, to your employment opportunities, to your education,” said Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., M.Ed., associate professor of behavioral science and health education.

The Service of Humanity 

Shacham studies health inequity and how neighborhoods influence behavior.

“There are worse [health] outcomes if you live in a poorer neighborhood – even if you have access to care,” Shacham said. “Where you live shouldn’t dictate how long you live and how good of a life you live.”

Because of the University’s mission – the pursuit of truth for the service of humanity – SLU is uniquely positioned to make a serious impact through geospatial research.

“Because of SLU’s mission, because of where SLU is located, we can really make an impact,” said Ness Sandoval, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology.

Sandoval uses geospatial science to study economic inequality in St. Louis.

“[SLU] can really make an impact in the neighborhoods that have opportunities for redevelopment, opportunities to attract resources," he said. "We want to empower people to be at the table, using [SLU] as a resource, helping them dream about a vision that they see for their neighborhoods.”

The Saint Louis University Geospatial Institute

Sagan, Shacham, and Sandoval are the leaders of the Saint Louis University Geospatial Institute, a collaborative effort to coordinate and grow the already rich geospatial research and training underway at SLU. Also known as GeoSLU, the Geospatial Institute is a consortium of faculty and students from various disciplines to promote and develop new research ideas, and house high-tech computational facilities to advance research and enhance graduate and undergraduate education.

The mission of the SLU Geospatial Institute is to understand our ever-changing world for informed decision making, on the ground and from above, connected together through space and time. 

The goal of the Geospatial Institute is to build distinctive strengths in geospatial research, training, service and innovation at SLU, contribute to establishing St. Louis as a national geospatial hub, apply geospatial insights to regional and global challenges, and develop new partnerships with innovators, industry, federal agencies, as well as local and regional governments and universities.

The Geospatial Institute began as “GeoSLU: The Geospatial Research, Training, and Innovation Enterprise,” which received a $50,000 planning grant as part of Saint Louis University’s Big Ideas competition. This competition identifies and invests in projects that have the potential to grow into University-wide strategic research priorities. The GeoSLU leadership team used that opportunity wisely, and since then, the project has evolved into the Geospatial Institute.

About the Faculty

Learn more about the three faculty members featured in this article and video:

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Vasit Sagan, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Faculty Director, SLU Geospatial Institute

Sagan is the director of SLU’s Ph.D. Integrated Applied Sciences and M.S. Geographic Information Science programs. His research is concerned with water resources and crop productivity, and he uses remote sensing to better understand climate and land use changes.

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Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., M.Ed.

Associate Professor, Behavioral Science and Health Education
Associate Director, Geospatial Institute
Shacham is the director of SLU’s Ph.D. in Public Health Studies Program. Her research interests include HIV treatment and prevention, and neighborhood conditions and related adverse sexual health events. She conducts research in both clinical and community settings.

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Ness Sandoval, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Sociology
Associate Director, Geospatial Institute. 
Sandoval is the Co-Director of the Ph.D. Program in Public and Social Policy and the Director of the M.A. Program in Sociology. His primary research interest is inequity in St. Louis, and he uses mapping as a technique to identify where, specifically, problems are located. As part of his research, Sandoval works with local community organizations to study the unique challenges facing individual streets and neighborhoods. His granular, spatial analysis can often pinpoint where, exactly, problems such as crime and economic insecurity are worse, thus informing effective responses.