Need directions to someplace within Syracuse University or its environs? Ask Mike Kirchoffhell get you where you want to go. As manager of the Universitys Cartographic Lab since 1972, Kirchoff has mapped just about every inch of the Hill, as well as much of Syracuse and Central New York. Beyond that, he could help you navigate areas ranging from Silicon Valley to Vietnam, thanks to his work on various publications. "For faculty members needing a map, this is the place to come," he says, sitting in front of his Macintosh computer in the Cartographic Lab in the Heroy building.
Most of Kirchoffs maps are done for the Department of Geography, where he is staff cartographer. He also creates maps for SU public safety, parking services, and other departments, as well as for nonprofit organizations outside the University. Kirchoff often works with graduate students, providing advice and technical assistance. "The work itself is interesting, but working with the faculty and students is the best part," he says. "The graduate students we have in geography are quite amazing. Theyre fun people to be around, very bright. So its great to work with them."
Professor John Mercer, chair of the geography department, says students working on graphics and maps greatly appreciate Kirchoffs advice. "Mike is a consummate professional, an excellent cartographer whose work receives great praise from my colleagues," he says.
Kirchoff became interested in cartography as an undergraduate geography major at the University of Colorado. "I needed a way to pay my bills, so I started working in the cartography lab," he says. "They decided I was a pretty good cartographer, so they gave me an assistantship in the lab and paid my tuition."
He continued to work as a cartographer while earning a masters degree in geography from the University of Wyoming, then went to work for Rand McNally in Chicago after graduation. "It was a pretty good place to start because of its reputation," he says. "But the work was extremely routine. I supervised the road-map research department. We were responsible for putting together information to update road mapswhich is a never-ending project. So when the job opened up here at SU, it was an opportunity to do something unique. Theres a tremendous amount of variety here, and intellectual freedom youd never get at a company like Rand McNally."
Kirchoff usually works on thematic maps that will appear in printed form. "Each of these maps has a particular theme or purpose to it," he says. One map on his drafting table will be used to comply with a state mandate that universities record crimes on campus and in surrounding areas. "If theres a crime committed, each one of these areas has a different report that has to be filed," Kirchoff explains. He began with a sketch showing a rough outline of University property; further research by the Department of Public Safety determined the exact boundaries of SUs campus. The resulting map will be published in a pamphlet and used in a traveling public safety display.
The Cartographic Lab has changed considerably in the last decade. "I used to have five students working with me," he says. "Theyd do traditional cartographysitting around these tables and drafting either in pen and ink or using negative scribing techniques. It was laborious. Now most of this can be done on the computer."
Kirchoff uses a drawing program, Freehand, to create maps on his Macintosh workstation. Technology has improved to the point where it can handle just about any map. "Something as complicated as the University Parking Services map used to have to be broken down into sections," Kirchoff says. "Youd go out for coffee every time you refreshed the screen. Now you can bring the whole thing up and within seconds it will display the screen. Its to the point where it will make the changes as fast as you can think."
The numerous requests Kirchoff receives for both campus and outside projects are a testament to his high-quality work, Mercer says. "The department and the University are very fortunate to have had Mike Kirchoff work with us for nearly three decades."