GIS on Campus

Home to one of the three original university programs associated with creation of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) in 1988  – University of Buffalo, University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of  Maine –  New York State universities and colleges have long contributed to building the statewide GIS knowledge base and training students for professional careers in both government and industry.

While the statewide geospatial academic landscape has changed dramatically since creation of NCGIA, GIS concepts continue to be offered and integrated into many research and academic programs across the state including both the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems.  And beyond the traditional geography programs, GIS concepts can also be found as part of many state and private universities in a growing number of environmental science, civil engineering, health, and computer science program curriculums.

A cursory review of GIS academic and research efforts across the Empire State includes:

Academic Programs:  Four-year programs in geography are available at eight SUNY schools with a bachelor degree in GIS being offered only at SUNY Cortland.  An Associate Degree is available at Cayuga Community College and Erie Community College offering a GIS Specialist Certificate Program.  Graduate programs in the SUNY system are available at SUNY Buffalo, Albany, and Binghamton with Buffalo offering a PhD program.  Masters programs are also available in the CUNY system at both Hunter College and Lehman College.

Educational offerings at other statewide schools include masters and doctoral degrees at Syracuse University School of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and a growing number of geospatial/geoscience offerings at several private liberal arts schools including, but not limited to Hamilton College, St. Lawrence College (Certificate Program),  Hobart and William Smith College, and Sienna College. Pace University (Pleasantville, NY) professor Dr. Peggy Minus has received recognition as one of the first GIS academics to offer a massive open online course (MOOC).

Research and Outreach:  Geospatial research work at SUNY institutions include Dr. Tao Tang at Buffalo State working with 3D visualization and  public health issues, Dr. Chris Renschler, SUNY Buffalo leading the Landscape-based Environmental System & Analysis Modeling (LESAM) lab,  Dr. James Mower at SUNY Albany, Dr. Jim Kernan at SUNY Geneseo,  Dr. Wendy Miller at SUNY Cortland using GIS in a Central New York economic analysis, Dr. Ann Deakin at SUNY Fredonia working with GIS students in supporting a local not-for-profit focused fighting poverty and infrastructure management at Chautauqua Institution, and  Dr. Ryan Taylor at Purchase College focusing on GIS applications in Water Resources Assessment and Wetlands Assessment in southeastern New York State.   Any summary on the contributions of SUNY system geographic programs towards development of the statewide GIS effort would be remiss without making reference to the long time contributions of Eileen Allen, GIS Support Specialist in the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Notable geospatial research programs associated with Hunter and Lehman Colleges include The Institute for Sustainable Cities and the Center for Advanced Research of Spatial Information (CARSI). Current efforts at Hunter College focus on transportation research, spatial statistics, geospatial semantics, and volunteered geographic information (VGI) while selected Lehman College research includes Climate Change and Public Health in Coastal Urban Areas, urban agriculture, and Risk Terrain Modeling of the Bronx – and effort to measure quality of life conditions and potential mental and physical health stressors in the local environment.

Close by at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN),  researchers are working on a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to develop a Hudson River Flood Hazard Decision Support System.  The project will ultimately create an easy to use, free, online mapping tool to let users assess the impacts of flood inundation posed by sea level rise, storm surge, and rain events on communities bordering the lower Hudson River.

Research and academic work from long standing research institutions such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) continue to blur the boundaries between geospatial reality and fantasy with advancements in computer graphics and visualization.  Note Brian Tomaszewski’s work with ArcGIS as a gaming environment for measuring disaster response spatial thinking. Here’s the link to the Summer 2013 ArcUser article on his research.    Geospatial concepts can easily be found elsewhere at these institutions in engineering and computer science programs.

Academic Degrees and Research in the Future 

There is no question the industry is witnessing major changes in how organizations build and maintain GIS capacity:  More and easier access to online content, free and easy to use viewers, cloud solutions (hardware, software, data), shorter development schedules in bringing applications into production, and basic GIS functions being integrated and offered as part of most off-the-shelf software programs.  While there will always be a selected need for cartographers, map makers,  and desktop users, is the larger geospatial job market becoming more software developer oriented?  Of the recent debate on the regional GIS listservs and blogs discussing which software skill sets, academic degrees, or professional certifications (i.e., GISP, ESRI, etc.), which are thought to be important in the GIS career path, refer to a 2012 post on the issue by Justin Holman entitled “Spatial is Indeed Special….. but GIS Software Skills will Soon be Obsolete”.  And whether or not it is more a factor of a weaken U.S. economy, government downsizing, or in fact,  changing skill sets that are defining the new GIS job market (or an individual career path)  – GIS student graduation / employment metrics are numbers the NYS GIS  and academic community need to pay close attention to.  While I was fortunate enough to recently post – though yet to fill – an entry-level GIS position here at Westchester County GIS,  it’s been one of the few full-time GIS positions listed in New York State during 2013 as advertised on the NYS GIS Association job posting page.

And what about academic GIS research?  There is plenty of it around on our college campuses,  much of which is being funded from government grants or self-funded through individual programs.  Greater buy-in and financial support from industry and business – particularly  businesses with the big statewide “geospatial” presence – such as ESRI, AutoDesk, Google, Pictometry, IMPACT, Transfinder, IBM, ConEd, Verizon, Pitney-Bowes, and several New York health care conglomerates – can be helpful to focus on applied research efforts developing products and applications for municipalities, schools, community organizations, not-for-profits, small businesses, public utilities, and tribal governments to support day-to-day business functions – in New York State.   In keeping with similar NYS government consolidation efforts, research to validate GIS shared services models would be of significant statewide benefit.  And perhaps the most important and timely research effort may be to investigate and determine what factors really are reshaping the industry in context of job creation and employment opportunities for New York State college graduates.  One way or another, such findings can be used to identify what, if any, changes need to be made in academic curriculums and degree programs statewide.

Editor Note:  Many thanks to Dr. Ann Deakin @ SUNY Fredonia for contributions on SUNY system summaries and related article content

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