Ensuring the Future of GIS with Geospatial Education

Rebecca Maxwell


The U.S. government is helping to guarantee the future of GIS by investing billions of dollars in geospatial education. The hope is that this funding will go towards developing a workforce that is able to use geographic information in order to solve local, national, and global problems. Of source, the data used to solve these problems will be from instruments that observe the Earth from above, mainly the Landsat satellites that circle the globe and provide the world’s longest record of the planet’s land surface.

In order to accomplish this mission, the federal government has turned to community colleges. These two-year institutions are ripe for developing tomorrow’s geospatial workforce because they serve more than half the undergraduate students in the country as well as a more diverse population. To develop the skill set needed to use geographical data in students, the National Science Foundation has funded the Integrated Geospatial Education and Technology Training, iGETT, since 2007.

iGETT is a professional development program for instructors so that they can understand, analyze, and use Landsat data for problem solving. The ultimate goal is for them to pass this learning onto their students so that they can obtain a foundation in GIS. iGETT participants and staff also pass their education onto the public by providing a wealth of GIS resources. These resources include videos and classroom labs, workshops and accompanying multimedia, remote sensing educational lessons, and a networked community of leaders in geospatial education.

More than 6,000 students across the country were reached with remote sensing instruction through iGETT. Over 60 college instructors from two-year institutions were trained in geospatial education along with a handful of four-year college and university professors as well as high school teachers. iGETT also involved the creation of new remote sensing courses. At least 20 new courses were developed and 35 enhanced with remote sensing education.

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As part of the 18-month program, iGETT participants were required to complete a number of GIS courses. The first two online courses include a refresher course in GIS as well as an introduction to remote sensing. They then progress to two Summer Institutes which are attended in person. The Summer Institutes are made up of intensive GIS instruction as well as monthly webinars thorough the year and remote sensing analysis using GIS software from companies such as Esri.

iGETT participants learning GIS in the lab. Source: NASA.
iGETT participants learning GIS in the lab. Source: NASA.

Moreover, the program asked the participants to write their own laboratory exercises using GIS data in order to solve real world problems. They focused on applying geospatial information in the areas of forestry, agriculture, land use, land cover change, disaster management, urban growth, and human health. iGETT also expected them to create their own Concept Models, short videos designed to introduce basic remote sensing topics and techniques.

iGETT has done much to bridge the gap between GIS and public-private education. Under the umbrella of iGETT, a wide range of government-sponsored initiatives have made room for more GIS learning. These initiatives include the Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence, a new Occupational Code for Remote Sensing Technicians, the development of Core Competencies, and a curriculum for a model course, Introduction for Remote Sensing. All of this is to ensure that the country remains a leader in space-based research and observation.

Learn more about the iGETT program:

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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on GISLounge.com