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Oregon State’s GIScience online certificate is an entirely hands-on experience

A person stands in front of a video wall, looking at satellite imagery of Earth. GIScience online

By Tyler Hansen
April 19, 2021

There’s a website that touts the “1,000 applications and uses” of geographic information science and how the field is “changing the world.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, Kuuipo Walsh is here to assure you that it is not.

GIScience is a technological field that integrates geographical features with data to map and analyze real-world problems. This technology is everywhere in the world around us, in ways we see and cannot see.

Walsh, the director of Oregon State University’s GIScience program, says this pervasiveness is driving the high demand for professionals with spatial analysis skills.

It’s how our smartphones can show us real-time roadway traffic. It’s how public health experts developed vital COVID-19 dashboards and maps. It’s how we track packages and how self-driving cars go.

And that demand is why Oregon State offers an Undergraduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science online.

“GIScience certificate-holders will be in demand as spatial analysts in basically every field including all technical sectors, in government, in any type of environmental field, health care and civil engineering,” Walsh said.

“A lot of our students are involved in natural resources-related fields. If you’re interested in analyzing where things are, why they’re there and how they’ve spread, you’ll have the skills to do so once you complete the certificate.”

Here’s what else Walsh had to say about the features and benefits of Oregon State’s GIScience online undergraduate certificate program.

What practical skills will students gain in the program?

“All of the coursework in the GIScience online certificate comes with hands-on experience, and it all helps students gain practical skills. There’s a very practical side of collecting spatial data.

“Using cartography as an example, you’re creating maps, then critiquing and using them to communicate. You bring that data to your computer and try to find patterns and relationships and apply statistical analysis to that data.

“Our students use all sorts of open-source data and products like Google Earth and ArtGIS. Every class includes lab work, and students are creating something through hands-on experience all the time.”

Headshot of Kuuipo Walsh, the director of Oregon State University’s geographic information science program

Kuuipo Walsh, director of Oregon State’s geographic information science program.

How will students benefit from earning a GIScience online certificate?

“What makes Oregon State special is that we have really world-class faculty who have won national and international awards. These are the people students will be learning from online, and that’s the main benefit.

“Also, with the GIScience online certificate, students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience through a 10-week internship, which is very valuable. Oregon State is also a part of Esri’s innovation program. The chief scientist at Esri is Dawn Wright, a longtime member of the OSU faculty.”

What are three tips for becoming a GIScience professional?

  1. “Learn how to program. This career has changed drastically in the last 10 years, moving from physical maps to digital maps and apps. The more you know about programming, the better.”
  2. “Create an online résumé and portfolio of all your maps and projects. Not only will it display your work, but also your skills in creating an online presence. A great way to highlight your skills and interests is through Esri’s ArcGIS Story Maps.”
  3. “Get involved in professional organizations like URISA and SCGIS or any kind of community, and start networking. Ask people what they’re doing specific to GIS. I really encourage my students to find an academic or professional conference they can attend.”

What are some of the career opportunities this certificate can lead to?

  • GIS developer: “These are the folks who create and modify GIS tools, applications, programs and software. This has become a very important job as we’ve transitioned from physical maps to digital maps.”
  • Conservationist, biologist or ecologist: “Learn to manage natural habitats by collecting data and utilizing GIScience mapping technology. If you like to work outside, field work may be a large part of your job duties in these roles.”
  • Cartographer: “Cartography has been around forever, but it’s evolved quite a bit in dynamic ways. This work involves the creation, evaluation and critique of maps using cartographic theories for effective geovisual communication.”
  • Health geographer: “Use GIScience tracking technology to analyze disease, disaster and illness. One example of GIScience technology being used in this manner is the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.”
  • Remote sensing analyst: “Solve problems by using imagery from aircraft and satellites. At Oregon State, we use this data a lot in fields such as natural resource management, urban planning, and geospatial intelligence and security.”
  • Urban planner: “This is quite a popular career path, with planning for city developments, and that includes urban forestry.”

How can interested students get started in the program?

“The GIScience online undergraduate certificate is available to students who are currently pursuing an Oregon State bachelor’s degree and to postbaccalaureate students.

“If you’re an OSU undergraduate student in any major, please contact me by email or schedule an appointment to add the certificate. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, please apply to Oregon State online.”

Learn more about Oregon State’s GIScience online undergraduate certificate program.

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