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Cal U professor's project to plot 'cradles' of sports standouts

By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Sunday, April 6, 2014, 11:12 p.m.

With the long-standing notion of Western Pennsylvania as a “cradle” for football quarterbacks, a local professor wants to know if there's a similar geographic incubator for baseball pitchers or outfielders.

As a newly appointed executive board member of the Society of North American Historians and Researchers, California University of Pennsylvania professor Tom Mueller will investigate to see if a trend emerges.

“We've always heard of Western Pennsylvania as being the cradle for quarterbacks,” Mueller said. “(I) will look throughout the country to see if there are any pockets (for baseball).”

Mueller, 43, of Charleroi will scour the geographic areas where baseball stars attended high school and college.

In addition, the Washington County professor plans to chart the distribution of hockey's prevalence throughout Europe.

Mueller will build maps for researchers at the society, an international group specializing in sports history and analysis. He plans to involve Cal U students in the work.

Mueller helps students create “real-world projects” by teaching them to plot maps in computer program ArcGIS.

The professor has taught geospatial technology at the California borough university for 15 years.

He can be found at his office, surrounded by sports memorabilia such as a Baltimore Orioles banner and a Colorado Rockies poster, along with books about computer programming and mapping. He's often in front of a classroom of students, offering tips as they tackle projects on computers.

Mueller's work focuses on geographic information systems. In layman's terms, he explained: “computer maps tied to data and tools.” A good example, he said, is Google Earth, which pulls maps and data such as city names for viewers' use.

He credits John Morgan, his undergraduate professor at Towson University in Maryland, as a mentor. Morgan works as professor of geography and director of the Geospatial Research and Education Laboratory at Towson.

The two have kept in contact during the past 25 years, sometimes working together on projects. Both academics take on work for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This is my 30th year of teaching at the university, and Tom is clearly the No. 1 student that I have had the opportunity to work with,” Morgan said.

Not only has the alumnus earned a doctoral degree and tackled a variety of research activities, he's also “played a very active role in trying to promote geography and geospatial technology,” Morgan said.

Morgan lauded Mueller's work, calling him “a major impact on his students.”

Mueller teaches about 200 to 250 undergraduates each semester, advising them “how to think spatially,” he said.

In an upcoming project, Mueller will lead students as they analyze growth across the nation in membership to United States Lacrosse.

Previous projects have charted ZIP codes of Philadelphia 76ers season ticket holders and hometowns of Washington Wild Things fans.

Mueller wants his students to understand how to log data, while encouraging them to delve deeper into spatial analysis.

The professor happily maintains a busy calendar of projects.

“I can have a project with U.S. Lacrosse, then a project with FEMA. It never gets old,” he said. “The students get excited about it.”



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