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Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Lake Land College, IL

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications are sweeping and encompassing civil engineering, agriculture, communications, natural resources, utility services, environmental management, and business enterprises. Local, county, and state governmental agencies are also using GIS techniques in growing areas of county land zoning and technological progress from paper to digital mapping.

What in the world is a GIS?
A Geographic Information System or GIS is a system of hardware, software, and procedures designed to support the capture, management, manipulation, analysis, modeling, and display of spatially referenced data for solving complex planning and management problems. A GIS is designed to work with data referenced by spatial or geographic coordinates. In other words, a GIS is both a database system with specific capabilities for spatially referenced data as well as a set of operations for working and analyzing data.

In the midst of widespread applications, the U.S. Department of Labor anticipates that the overall employment for surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians – those who typically use GIS techniques – will grow significantly through the year 2010 (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-2003). The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) explains that there is “a huge demand in many places for retraining opportunities and updating skills for professionals seeking new careers in the rapidly emerging [GIS] technology, with starting average salary ranges of $30,000 to $45,000 ” (ESRI website, 2002, p. 2).

In the 2001 Digital State Survey, the Center for Digital Government ranked Illinois second in the nation for use of Geographic Information Systems transportation applications. Currently, the State of Illinois is investing heavily in GIS and GIS-related technologies. In response to state investments, industry and local government within the Lake Land College (LLC) district anticipate future widespread implementation of GIS mapping techniques, but to date have very few employees trained in this field. In 2004, Lake Land College received a grant from the Illinois Community College Board to develop two online courses: Introduction to GIS (ESC 106) and Introduction to Raster GIS (ESC108). These courses have formed the six-hour Introduction to GIS Certificate and serve as a gateway in forming the core concepts for more advanced courses in specific GIS application areas.

Local government and area industries that have or will implement GIS mapping technology will benefit from the online delivery of the GIS Certificate program, offered through the SAIL network, by Lake Land College. Since GIS technology is being used in many upper-division courses and baccalaureate degree programs, such as environmental science (natural resource management), geography, engineering, agriculture, sociology, and the life sciences, community colleges and four-year institutions benefit by adding these capstone courses or creating GIS specialty options to their existing degree programs. The online curriculum offers a convenient method for nontraditional students to pursue GIS education, and allows transfer students the opportunity to complete coursework in techniques and technologies that will be needed to be successful in university-level science-based programs.

Program Description

The courses were developed as comprehensive building blocks around industry standards and GIS software applications. The courses involve theory and applied skills to work with diverse data sets and formulated analysis. The Introduction to Geographic Information (ESC 106) course introduces students to the basic geographic information system concepts using the ArcView 3.1 GIS software program. The course focuses on developing both a theoretical background in the technology and real-world applications using a variety of GIS techniques. Course segment topics include basic cartographic techniques and theory, data storage methods, database management and creation, creating individual GIS data, GIS analysis techniques, presenting GIS information, and using GPS in GIS.

The Introduction to Raster GIS (ESC 108) course introduces basic raster concepts and GIS models. This course emphasizes problems that are best solved in a raster environment, such as surface analysis and distance measurement. The course segment topics include basic ArcView spatial analysis, understanding the ArcView spatial analyst grid model, using map algebra in ArcView spatial analyst, grid database issues in ArcView spatial analyst, an introduction to surface analysis with ArcView spatial analyst, and using ArcView spatial analyst proximity and hydrologic tools. As a full certificate program, the course series greatly increases the opportunities for students to compete for professional positions in diverse fields.

Enrollments in the GIS program at Lake Land College have been steadily growing since the program’s inception. Though the program itself is a stand-alone one, Lake Land College’s agriculture division, technology division, and business division are often requiring their students to enroll in a variety of GIS courses to round out their programs. In addition, more than 50 percent of the students enrolled in the GIS program and within the GIS courses during the fall of 2004 were professionals returning to the college for additional GIS training and education as their employment has required extended knowledge and use within this particular field. Lake Land College’s GIS Advisory Board, which meets twice a year to discuss community GIS needs, acknowledges the importance of having GIS training available locally as GIS has become a requirement for employees throughout local, county, and state government; the agriculture industry; the department of transportation; real estate; and fire, police, and health-care agencies.

Lake Land College offers its GIS certificate through the League SAIL project via a variety of models including with LLC faculty, which is a tuition-based model ($63.45 per student per credit hour) or without LLC faculty, which can be negotiated by contacting the college.

Summary

With its finger on the pulse of workforce development, the community college is recognized as a valuable provider of GIS services and facilitator of GIS projects with local businesses, industry, and government. Partnership programs for GIS training provide expanded opportunities, and one local community college offers an outreach program working with local high schools to provide GIS training for teachers and make software and curriculum models available for their classes. The community college is an excellent resource center, as well as a quality education and training center for GIS programs and growing workforce development opportunities.

For more information, contact
Deborah Hutti
Associate Vice President, Lake Land College

For course descriptions, please visit GIS Program/Lake Land


 
 

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