Stan State Student Creates Interactive Catalog of 3,543 Trees on Campus



​​​​Overseeing 3,543 trees on a 228-acre college campus is a daunting task, but an interactive tree story map completed by Germán Silva during his senior year at Stanislaus State is helping university staff meet the challenge while serving as an educational tool for botany students. 

“It was a complicated project, but very rewarding when the final product was completed,” said Silva, now a graduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara, who developed the map using geographic information systems (GIS) technology as an intern in the Capital Planning and Facilities Management department. “In the beginning, I was barely introduced to web mapping. But once I had the web map created and linked to the database, and everything was functioning properly, it was very exciting.”

The final map, posted on the Stan State website, shows an aerial photo of the campus with each tree clearly defined. When users select a tree, they can view pop-up boxes that contain the common name, Latin name, a photo, tree characteristics and other useful information. The only trees not on the map are those within a small teaching orchard near the Trans-California Pathway Project.

The electronic map is used regularly by facilities staff members who need an accurate tree inventory to manage the campus landscape. The map is also used by botany students working on tree identification, specimen preparation and DNA barcoding projects. 

Silva is quick to share credit for the map with students who worked on it before he did. The map began in 2011 as a geography class project by alumnus Don Rajewich, who used GIS to catalog and record the locations of the majority of campus trees and create a paper map. In 2016, the map and tree catalog were updated and expanded by alumnus Juan Gutierrez, who preceded Silva as a facilities intern.

When Silva started his internship in June 2017, the paper map had been scanned as a PDF and stored electronically, but it wasn’t accessible to people with visual access needs. 

“I told Germán we really needed to come up with something accessible,” said Mary Van Eyk, a specialist in the facilities department. “And Germán said, ‘I just saw something that might be the answer.’ He made a presentation of what he envisioned with examples of similar projects, and it went from there.”

Silva proposed an online, interactive map that could be posted on the Stan State website and would be compatible with the screen reading software used by people who have visual access needs.

While planning the map’s design, Silva expanded the original tree list into a detailed database and, in the process, he learned a lot about trees. 

“It had to be a project of patience for Germán because you can’t identify some of the trees until they are blossoming,” said Julia Reynoso de Valadez, director of Capital Planning and Finance. That meant Silva had to wait for some trees to blossom so that he could collect flowers to make accurate identifications.

Silva worked with Stuart Wooley, professor of botany, and Andrew Gardner, assistant professor of botany, to ensure that he identified the trees correctly. 

He is planning on a career in coastal or forest management and sees the map project as an important component in his portfolio since it shows he already has valuable skills and experience in managing natural resources.

“That is exactly what we are hoping to accomplish with this internship program,” Reynoso de Valadez said. “The program has the dual purpose of fulfilling a campus facility need and helping the progress of our students.”