When most people think of maps, they imagine dusty rolls of papers used only by geographers and explorers. It is that image that Matthew Toro wants to change.
Toro is the Maps & Imagery User Services (MIUS) coordinator at the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center, located on the second floor of the Green Library. The Center facilitates teaching and research activities in geographic information systems, remote sensing, geospatial web visualization and geospatial data management. He describes the job as a “sort of librarian for geospatial data,” helping FIU students, faculty and staff learn how they can use maps.
“Maps are great tools for communication,” Toro says. “They hold such power as a visual medium, but can harness information incredibly effectively.”
And the GIS Center, he’s quick to add, isn’t just for geography majors. Rather, it’s extremely transdisciplinary, and can help students in just about any field, from anthropology and history (recreating ancient battlefields) to public health (tracking disease outbreaks).
Two students come in to inquire about downloading GIS software onto their computers, and Toro talks them through the process. It’s one of the things he likes most about his field of work, the increasing use of computer imaging and technology in analyzing data and creating maps.
Maps aren’t just Toro’s day job. In his free time, he runs Miami Geographic, a website that analyses the city through data-mapping. He began the site in April 2014 and uses free, open-source funding documents, like government sources, to compile his data. He makes it a point to explore issues he believes are important to citizens, such as urban sprawl, sea level rise, and public transportation – and while he wishes the site could be more prolific, it’s garnered enough attention to have recently been featured in New Tropic.
Toro earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography and International Relations at FIU, and went on to get a Master of Arts degree in Geography at the University of Miami. “I would have stayed at FIU if I could, but the program wasn’t available at the time,” he said. “I really love FIU.”
When asked what about FIU he loves the most, Toro doesn’t hesitate. It’s how FIU serves as a center of exchange for ideas, interacting with students and seeing the breadth of their projects expands his own knowledge.
“It’s cliché, but true – every day here, I learn something new.”
The GIS Center offers free, introductory-level workshops for the entire FIU community, so anyone can come in and learn how to manipulate data. For more information, contact Toro at Matthew.Toro@fiu.edu.