Olga Medvedkov, professor of geography, finds visual information fascinating, and so do her students. Now, thanks to their efforts, the Marriage Resource Center, a Springfield-based non-profit organization, is also a believer in visual data following a class project, which helped the center receive a $2.5 million grant disbursed over five years.
Working with the innovative computer software program Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Medvedkov's Geography 390 class worked with the center, which provides mentoring and counseling to married couples, to fill gaps in data on divorce rates.
"I discussed with my class the fact that the national divorce average is roughly 49 percent, yet in some parts of Clark County, the divorce rate is 100 percent; in some parts of Ohio it is 200 percent," Medvedkov said.
"Something was not working properly," Medvedkov said. "There was no way to see the data. It's impossible to look at tens of thousands of little boxes in tables and gather what all the numbers mean. We need a visual map of that data."
With that in mind, Medvedkov's class spent the 2005 spring semester putting all divorces in a 10-year period on the map and identifying potential factors that affect divorce rates in Clark County. Then they analyzed the resulting data, and from that point, were able to narrow down where the divorces were concentrated.
"We realized that while divorces were occurring on the south side of town, the mentors were recruited in most cases from the north part of town," Medvedkov said. "By overlaying a map with mentors with socio-economic demographic data from the U.S. Population Census, we could also see on the map what kind of mentors would work best with the demographics of those couples getting divorces."
The Marriage Resource Center utilized the findings to apply for the Healthy Marriage Demonstration Grant, a federally funded grant source offered by Aid to Children and Families (ACF).
"Because of [the class' findings], we were able to request funds to target areas with higher concentration numbers," said Ronda Nisslay, director of advancement at the Marriage Resource Center. "[The GIS results] allowed us to utilize our resources to target an at-risk population."
Ironically, Medvedkov's class was one of 11 to gain funding through a $50,000 grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans received by Wittenberg's Office of Community Service in 2005. The grant funded the project "Sowing Seeds of Servant Leadership: A Campus- Wide Integration of Service-Learning, Social Justice and Spirituality," which has provided students with various curricular and co-curricular servicelearning opportunities.
Medvedkov's GIS classes have assisted community organizations for the last eight years, including the Springfield Fire and Police Departments.
"The class is a resource we have," Medvedkov said, "and I look to see where the community needs help."