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RWU connects city tree program with help

August 29, 2013

PAWTUCKET – Like the memorial trees at the center of its purpose, the popularity of the Tree in Memorial program in Slater Park just kept growing and growing. But sometimes success can bring its own set of challenges.

When city Recreation Director John Blais inherited the program from his predecessor William Mulholland, who started it, he realized it had outgrown the paper records way of keeping track of where the trees were, who donated them and in whose name.

Getting the records in more user-friendly order posed a reorganization task that Blais felt was particularly important for those coming to his office seeking the location of a tree dedicated to a grandparent, parent or other loved one. But it was a major task he simply lacked the time for.

In applying to the Community Partnerships Center (CPC) at Roger Williams University for assistance, Blais wrote, “I was meeting with family members who were looking for their relative’s tree. I was left with the daunting task of reviewing all of the files to look for this member. From there I had to review a handwritten map to determine its location. It was as if I joined a quest searching for treasure.”

Blais asked the CPC at Roger Williams University for help. CPC pairs students and faculty with local nonprofits, municipalities and other organizations to tackle community projects that often require specialized expertise or additional resources.

Students apply classroom learning and gain real-world experience by engaging in community projects such as architecture and urban design, historic preservation and community development, among many others.
In its spring newsletter, CPC said that “we are seeking new projects that can benefit the communities of Southeastern New England while providing our student/faculty teams with opportunities to apply their learning, engage the community, and create final products that provide benefits to all.”

Blais noted he lacked time and staff to do what he saw was needed, including plotting out the tree locations and in-memorial names to align with a graph outline of a Slater Park map, and plot locations with coordinates that could be tracked by a GPS device. He also thought making the information available in an interactive way online, to allow the posting of biographies of people with a tree memorial dedicated in their name, including numerous prominent citizens, would be a source of pride for families and bring the city’s history alive for school children.

In May, CPC project coordinator Stephany Hessler notified Blais the city’s proposal was accepted and students taking a geographical analysis of data class with Professor Mark Brickley would undertake the project for the fall semester, “focusing on the database/web integration component.”

The project’s objectives include creating an interactive map of “named trees” in the park, with capability to post online data related to the memorialized person in “pop-up” format including GPS coordinates, biographical information and a photo.

Smart phone accessibility could be included, according to Brickley.
Students will handle the data collection, including moving electronic information into the mapping system and compiling GPS coordinates for where the trees are in the park. Brickley said the goal is to build a system the city can maintain and use to mark new trees and attendant information. For his students, “It’s a mapping class on spatial analysis,” he said.

Blais said he was “thrilled” when the project idea was accepted by Roger Williams University. “This will be a project to benefit many generations to come,” he said.

“The city is grateful to Roger Williams University and its faculty and students for making all this possible.”
To learn more about the CPC, visit


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