Over the course of two years, Aquinas College Geography & Environmental Studies students worked with archived printed tree maps to painstakingly identify as many tree species as possible on the 107-acre wooded campus nestled in Grand Rapids. In all, more than 130 trees were identified and indexed as part of the learning project.

The student-oriented project led by Associate Professor/Geospatial Technologies Lab Director Mary Clinthorne, Ph.D. was initiated as part of a classroom project in her geographic information systems (GIS) class and later continued in her geospatial analysis class, where students are taught to make maps using a cloud-based software program, ArcGIS Online (AGO). Aquinas GIS students have access to developing stories and maps in AGO through the college's ArcGIS subscription. Both ArcGIS and ArcGIS Online are used by Clinthorne in her geospatial techniques series courses.

The end result is a new user-friendly, Aquinas College Tree Map App which will help tell the story about the college’s trees - past, present and future for use by students, staff, faculty and the community-at-large in what is considered one of the largest “tree species learning classrooms” in the region.

“The interactive tree map demonstrates the diversity of trees on Aquinas College’s campus,” explained Clinthorne. “These maps were created so the college can share with the community our trees, while also serving as an inventory of all newly planted trees and older trees as they are harvested or die.”

The Aquinas College Tree Map App is set up with a numbering system identifying markers next to trees and displaying both a picture of the leaf, the bark and botanical information (tree name, scientific name, status, marker number, taxonomy, leaf description, flowering time, bloom time and interesting facts).

According to Bill Foley, chair faculty committee on sustainability, the innovative nature of Aquinas College’s diverse tree woods, combined with the hands-on interactive nature of the app will extend its applications beyond use by members of the college. “How much fun will it be to view students from the area exploring the tree stand, searching for native Michigan trees and expressing excitement at realizing they have actually found the species they are looking for,” said Foley.