We are CARES (Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems) - a small and adventurous group of geographic information specialists, programmers, and data nerds. We love making maps, developing new data visualizations, and helping individuals and organizations figure out ways to do their work better. While many of our current projects are focused on health, over the past 25+ years we’ve been collecting, analyzing, and visualizing data related to the environment, agriculture, safety, education, and the economy. Most importantly, given our presence in Extension, we appreciate and understand the challenges and opportunities related to data collection and analysis in rural communities. We like partnering with like-minded organizations, building tools, and finding data that supports decision-making. Oh – and we also like coffee and Mexican food...A LOT!

Our Home


Since its founding in 1992, CARES has been a part of the University of Missouri – Columbia (MU). CARES was housed in the MU’s division of Applied Social Sciences until 2019 when it moved to University of Missouri Extension. The move to Extension was a no brainer – CARES saw the opportunity to marry its technical capacity with the Extension’s on-the-ground-in-every-county presence and knew that it just made sense. MU provides CARES with a strong foundation for the technical infrastructure, applied research opportunities, and a welcoming, inclusive work environment. A key ingredient of CARES’ success is MU and its culture to encourage academic entrepreneurs to thrive.


Our Partners

Over the years, CARES has worked with a wide portfolio of partners:

  • American Heart Association
  • AdventHealth
  • Adventist Health System
  • University of Missouri Extension
  • Community Action Association of Pennsylvania
  • National Community Action Partnership
  • Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho
  • Creating Healthy Communities Ohio
  • Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center
  • Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Innovia Foundation
  • Lehigh Valley Health System
  • Missouri Broadband Resource Rail
  • Missouri Community Action Network
  • National 4H Council
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Well Connected Communities
  • New York State Community Action Association
  • Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • Partnership for a Healthier America
  • Rural Community Opioid Response Program
  • RocHealthData
  • OWN-It Taney and Stone County Coalition
  • United Way of Greater St. Louis
  • St. Louis Regional Data Alliance
  • Community Innovation and Action Center
  • Trinity Health System
  • Washington State Community Action Partnership
  • Missouri Foundation for Health
  • Missouri Hospital Association
  • American Board of Family Medicine
  • Salud America
  • University of Missouri System
  • US News & World Report
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources
  • YUSA
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • California for Health
  • Colorado Food Policy Network
  • Springfield/Greene County Health Department (MO)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Council on Black Health
  • Institute for People, Place, and Possibility (IP3)
  • Institute for Public Policy
  • United Way of Central Maryland
  • Providence St. Joseph Health System
  • Safe Routes to School
  • United Way of Chattanooga (TN)

Our History


The Center for Agricultural Research and Environmental Systems (CARES) was founded.

Dr. Chris Fulcher (former PhD student and current Director) and Dr. Anthony Prato (former Director) began using geographic information systems (GIS) to better understand environmental conditions and impacts. Together they agreed to take on what would become CARES’ first and longest running project – the Vulnerability Assessment of Missouri Public Drinking Water to Chemical Contamination.

Funded by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Vulnerability Assessment project created a GIS database mapping public drinking water sources and potential sources of contamination and saved the state more than $3 million by reducing testing for unlikely contaminants. CARES continues to support this project 28 years later through the Missouri Source Water Protection and Assessment Hub.

Dr. Chris Fulcher
Oldest CARES logo
The original CARES logo

The Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems (CARES) moves online.

Prior to 1997, CARES work was done on campus computers; we began with GIS software like SPANS (SPatial ANalysis System, Tydac Techologies, Canada) and Arc/Info 6.0 (ESRI) on a UNIX computer (IBM RS/6000 320H). Beginning in 1997, CARES began embracing new online mapping technologies (J-Arc and Arcview IMS) as they became available. Over the next five years, CARES’ research portfolio and mapping products were transitioned to online platforms and digital visualizations.


CARES expands portfolios of work and becomes a national resource.

In 2000, CARES made a couple big moves that would set them up to apply visualize data in new ways. First, CARES consolidated various online mapping tools and data sets into the Missouri Map Room – a tool that still lives on today. Second, CARES released a national interactive mapping platform and branched outside of Missouri and outside of mostly environmental data to support projects focused on public policy, health informatics, and community development.

In 2006, CARES developed and launched its first collaborative management system for organizations – Community Issues Management (CIM). CIM was used successfully by a network of United Ways and philanthropic organizations to assess community needs, collect and share local data, and begin exploring ways to tell stories with data.

Finally, in 2008, CARES changed its name to Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems to better reflect the broad and growing portfolio of projects. CARES also updated their logo to reflect a more global reach.

Old CARES logo


CARES becomes the data and technology provider for Community Commons.

Launched in October 2011, Community Commons became CARES’ feature project – hosting organizational data collaboration spaces, a national map room, a community health needs assessment (CHNA) report, and nationally-recognized tools like the Vulnerable Populations Footprint. Community Commons, with the technical support from CARES, grew to have a user-base of over 65,000 members.


The Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems (CARES) joins University of Missouri Extension, launches CARES Network.

CARES, with one more slight name change, welcomed the opportunity to join University of Missouri Extension and Engagement in 2018. With a focus on people and place, and roots in agriculture and environment, Extension values and objectives aligned and supported CARES’ evolving mission.

In 2018 CARES also launched the CARES Network as a way to continue supporting Hubs (organizations and data collaboratives) that once were part of Community Commons. The national Map Room and CHNA report also transitioned to the CARES Network as well.


CARES launches SparkMap.org.

You know this already if you’ve made it this far, but CARES’ most recent endeavor is SparkMap.org – a subscription-based site that hosts a suite of our best and most useful “add-ons.” In short, “we heard you!”  For years, people have asked us to provide individual subscriptions so they can take advantage of value-add tools that were reserved for organizational access only. From adding data to and building your own custom maps to creating sub-county reports with hundreds of reliable indicators, SparkMap is our way of meeting the needs of individual healthcare consultants, grant writers, business professionals, and community coalitions across the nation.

We’re still supporting organizational access to these advanced features through the CARES Network, but SparkMap allows us to provide enhanced features to individuals and single user accounts.


Our People

Dr. Christopher Fulcher, Director
Christopher Barnett, Assistant Director
Adam Banning
Yan Barnett
Michael Barbaro
Elisa Cardenas
David Cavins
David Connett
Melissa DeBartolomeo
Kyle Eggemeyer
Michael Hardy
Zhengting He
Angela Johnson
Jamie Kleinsorge
Justin Krohn
Christopher Stephens
Angie Stewart
Sam Tennant

Our Future

CARES is dedicated to continuing to provide free mapping and reporting tools that support data and case-making needs across sectors. However, not everything can be free. Our subscription offerings are just the beginning of the value-added tools, data, and support we plan to offer as we grow and evolve. The dollars received from subscriptions will help us keep our technology up-to-date, develop new features, and continue to provide free data and tools when and where we can.

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