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GIS program gives students in-demand skills

Professor Scott White explains the intricacies of GIS mapping to an FLC student.

Professor Scott White explains the intricacies of mapping to a student.

Geographic Information Systems are changing the way data is being collected, catalogued, and utilized in government, non-profits, and industry. And professionals skilled at using the mapping-and-database technologies are in demand. At Fort Lewis College, students are riding that wave of change, getting the know-how – and the certificates – to meet that demand while boosting their careers.

“A Geographic Information System, called GIS, is a digital map database and set of software programs that include an integrated set of tools for storing, querying, analyzing, and displaying georeferenced information,” explains Scott White, associate professor of Geography and the GIS Certificate Program coordinator. “GIS merges theoretical and practical aspects of spatial analysis across many different disciplines, such as environmental biology, geology, archaeology, agriculture, computer-aided drafting and engineering, computer science, business administration, and, of course, geography.”

According to research by information technology market researcher Daratech, Inc., employment opportunities for people who have GIS skills grew “in double digits for 2010 and another 8% in 2011.”  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also describes GIS-skilled workers as having “favorable job prospects,” and the U.S. Department of Labor’s High Growth Industry Profile Geospatial Technology report found that the “geospatial market” is “growing at an annual rate of almost 35%, with the commercial subsection of the market expanding at a rate of 100% each year.”

In the GIS Certificate Program, "upon completion, the student gets a printed and signed certificate of completion, and more importantly, a note on their official college transcript indicating completion of the GIS Certificate," explains White. "The certificate tells the employer that the student has had ample experience and a level of competency using GIS software."

Trevor Downing graduated in April 2012 with a degree in Geology and a GIS certificate, and he is presently a geologist with Wright Water Engineers, Inc., in Durango. He credits his quick success in the field to his experience with GIS systems gained while still an undergraduate.

“The GIS certification program at FLC was extremely valuable for my career. I felt that becoming GIS certified gave me an extremely useful professional tool,” he says. “I use my GIS skills daily in my position, and I would consider them crucial to completing required tasks. And using GIS allows me to condense many aspects of complicated projects into a product that not only engineers can relate to and utilize, but that the client can benefit from as well.”

The GIS Minor was approved by FLC in 1996, and became the GIS Certificate Program starting in 2005. Most students seeking the Certificate are also working towards a college degree at the same time. Majors that align well with the GIS class topics and student interests include Biology, Geology, and Environmental Studies.

“Students enrolled in the GIS Certificate Program take courses in which they gain valuable experience using industry-standard GIS software,” says White, ”as well as familiarity with various modern field mapping procedures, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) units. Surveying, remote sensing and computer science courses provide additional fundamental skills related to GIS.”

Downing found that his training translated to professional work right away.

“At work, I have found myself performing many of the same tasks that were assigned in my GIS courses at FLC,” he says. “My GIS skills allow me to solve problems in a fraction of the time that an unskilled co-worker takes.”

Learn more about the Department of Geosciences.

Visit the GIS Certificate Program.

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