To integrate existing GIS resources on campus, and in response to changing regulatory environments in institutions at all levels, we developed a graduate-level (Master and Ph.D.) interdisciplinary concentration in Geographic Information Systems (ICGIS) at the University of Florida. The objective of this concentration is to establish a standard set of courses and activities that will allow graduate students to become experts in the creation, study, and use of geographic information. Such graduates will be in a strong position to meet future regulatory requirements for certification as professionals. To achieve this objective, the GIS community of the University has established a five-category curriculum that would add several courses to the standard Master or Ph.D. requirements, and would result in official recognition of having completed the concentration by statements on participating students’ transcripts and signified by a certificate issued by the Concentration’s board of directors.
Participating Academic Units
- Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, College of Engineering and College of Agriculture;
- Department of Civil Engineering, Geomatics Specialty, College of Engineering;
- Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, College of Engineering;
- Department of Geography, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences;
- Department of Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture;
- Department of Urban and Regional Planning, GeoPlan Center, College of Architecture;
- School of Forest Resources and Conservation;
- Soil and Water Science Department;
- Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department;
- School of Natural Resources and Environment;
- Department of Anthropology
Proposal and Goals
To integrate existing GIS resources on campus, and in response to changing regulatory environments in institutions at all levels, we created a new, graduate-level (Master and Ph.D.) interdisciplinary concentration in Geographic Information Systems at the University of Florida. The objective of this new concentration is to establish a standard set of courses and activities that would allow graduate students to become experts in the creation, study, and use of geographic information. Graduates of the program are in strong positions to meet future regulatory requirements for certification as professionals. To achieve this objective, the GIS community of the University has established a five-category curriculum that would add several courses to the standard Master or Ph.D. requirements, and would result in official recognition of having completed the concentration by statements on participating students’ transcripts and signified by a certificate issued by the Concentration’s board of directors.
Rationale for a New Interdisciplinary Concentration
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have revolutionized the way that land is inventoried, managed, planned, and studied. GIS provides the theories and methods for organization and analysis of original measurements of location and secondary spatial data, as well as topography. As an information system GIS provides for the organization, storage, analysis, modeling, mapping, and display of physical and biological data, as well as the distribution of cultural or socio-economic data. GIS applications are diverse. They include determining the suitability of land for different uses, planning future land uses for different objectives, managing cadastral information for the purpose of property recognition, taxation and regulation, analyzing land and land-cover properties for both resource inventories and scientific studies, and siting commercial enterprises. The private-sector GIS industry has become a key component of the U.S. economy.
Users and producers of GIS include engineers, geographers, urban and regional planners, biologists and ecologists, land resource managers, anthropologists and archaeologists, sociologists, public health professionals and medical researchers, county land-managers and property tax assessors, law enforcement officers, land-development companies, utility companies, retail stores and many others. Undergraduate and graduate students who learn to use GIS technology are in high demand and so start at higher salaries than their non-GIS peers.
GIS tools are powerful and convey great influence to those who know how to use them for access to and use of geographic information. The tools are also difficult to use appropriately, with added complexities of spatially referenced attributes that create the need for users to understand geodesy, cartography, geostatistics, and other formerly esoteric forms of knowledge. Furthermore, land is constantly changing as a result of natural processes and human activity requiring geographic information to be regularly updated, often with data collected by remote sensing methods. As a result of the potential effects of GIS on human well-being, and the need for proper use of spatial data, regulations and standards concerning GIS and the credentials of GIS technicians, scientists, and managers are being drafted at all levels of government and by national and international agencies.
Relationship of the Proposed Program to Existing Departments
The committee that established and maintains this concentration, and the governing board listed in Appendix A of this document, consists of representatives of departments that currently teach and conduct research in or with GIS. GIS is currently taught in at least six different departments from four different colleges at the University of Florida, and more departments either have hired or are planning to hire faculty with GIS-related research and teaching programs. Each department has focused, appropriately, on its own perspectives. The Geomatics specialty in the Civil Engineering department is concerned with the original creation of spatial data — topography, property boundaries, geodesy, etc. The Department of Geography focuses on the use of GIS to study the spatial relationships between environment and society. Environmental engineers and scientists use GIS to model processes that affect human health and the environment, and to design structures that eliminate harmful conditions. Urban and Regional Planners use GIS to inventory cultural and natural resources, plan alternative futures, and evaluate the effects of planned alterations within the natural and socioeconomic environments. Foresters and forest ecologists use GIS to inventory forest resources, manage silvicultural practices, and study natural patterns and processes that affect forests. Agricultural and Biological Engineers and Agricultural Operational Managers create spatial data via remote sensing, and use GIS to study spatial variations in natural resources and agricultural systems, develop precision farming methods, and model and predict agricultural effects of environmental, especially climate, variation. Other departments (as well as the College of Natural Resources and Environment), such as Botany, Zoology, Anthropology, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Veterinary Medicine and others that are concerned with objects or processes on the Earth’s surface are potential sites for GIS.
Each of these different disciplines is distinct in its use of GIS, and no one unit could ever teach everything or do research in all areas of GIS. We believe that GIS is by definition interdisciplinary, and as a result, each department has developed a series of courses that address the individual needs of the disciplines. We propose to institutionalize this diversity of departmental perspectives for the benefit of both students enrolled in the concentration, and for the faculty who teach these students. The concentration is designed both to expose students to perspectives outside of other disciplines and to provide a rigorous, substantive education in GIS within their own discipline. The concentration is not designed to inhibit any department’s right to offer departmental certificates for GIS as related to the use of GIS within their profession or discipline.