HBCU Faculty Encouraged to Integrate GIS in Research, Curriculum
Despite being scaled down in comparison to previous workshops, the 21st Annual HBCU Summer Faculty Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Workshop in Washington, D.C., impressed upon faculty members and other participants the need to integrate GIS in research and the curriculum.
GIS is defined as “computer mapping technology that allows users to link aerial photographs, images, and data to digital street networks, buildings, sidewalks and other elements of the built environment,” according to workshop organizers.
The three-and-a-half day session at the offices of the National Capital Planning Commission in July provided lectures on and training in the use of GIS, and state of the art applications including those for homeland security, health, environmental management and census analysis.
“We host this GIS workshop because of the relevance of using GIS as a tool in the world economy. GIS is not an abstract academic concept, but a real tool for assessing societal needs and concerns where we live, go to school, play and work,” says workshop coordinator Pamela Bingham.
Bingham, an engineer and environmental consultant/activist, says despite a downturn in the public and private funding that has supported the GIS workshop over the years, the need for GIS training and use in college curriculums is greater now more than ever. The forecast for the market in GIS products will increase by 8 percent this year to $1.75 billion. The U.S. Department of Labor says GIS represents a high-growth industry with 75,000 new hires a year.
“Most of the information used in government is spatially related. Mastering GIS technology can be seen as an asset of community empowerment,” says Dr. Karl S. Osvald, a workshop adviser and senior geologist with the Bureau of Land Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“HBCUs are still at the entry level of using GIS technology in the classroom and in research … It can be taught in an interdisciplinary manner,” says Bingham, noting that representatives from just 40 HBCUs have attended the workshop over the years.
Dr. Fernando R. Echavarria, a senior staff member in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, gave a keynote talk on how GIS technology can aid in the sustainable development of Africa. Other speakers at the workshop included Dr. Chuck Croner of the National Center for Health Statistics/Centers for Disease Control; Dr. Lee DeCola, research scientist, National Mapping Division of the U.S. Geological Survey; Jim Joiner, director of Equal Opportunity Programs, Office of Surface Mining; Patricia E. Gallagher, executive director, NCPC; and Anthony Fairfax, an engineer and census training consultant of Hampton, Va.
The sponsor for the workshop was the Office of Surface Mining/Department of the Interior. Contributors included the Bureau of the Census, ESRI and U.S. Geological Survey. Bingham says sponsorship funding fell to about $25,000 for 2004 in contrast to the range of $50,000 to $75,000 raised for previous workshops. Conference funding typically pays for travel and accommodations of chosen participants, according to Bingham.
“We have to find additional funding” for future years, she adds.
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