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UMW maps out new master’s program

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The University of Mary Washington will offer a new master’s program in geospatial analysis to students beginning in fall 2014.

The program, which has been talked about for two years, was recently approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Geospatial analysis encompasses geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and global positioning systems (GPS) to organize, analyze and display spatial information. The skills are used in fields ranging from city planning and climate change modeling to wildlife management and disaster and military preparedness.

UMW will become the second school to offer an advanced degree focused solely on geospatial analysis. George Mason also offers the degree.

The program, consisting of six laboratory classes and a capstone project, can be completed in 12 months by a full-time student and is designed for both recent graduates and working professionals.

UMW’s program will require 30 course credits, which will be available through evening classes and can be taken by both full-time and part-time students.

The graduate degree was approved by the board of visitors in February.

Steve Hanna, chairman of the department of geography, said UMW’s location between Washington, D.C., and Richmond makes it ideal for the program.

Hanna also noted that UMW’s liberal arts-focused education is a boon to the program.

Job listings in the field seek employees with advanced technical skills as well as expertise in world cultures and languages, mathematics, statistics, computer science, the natural sciences and spatial thinking.

“Employment announcements stress the need for written and oral communication skills,” said Hanna.

Students who are interested in applying should have a sturdy background in GIS in addition to programming skills.

Hanna said the program begins at a higher technical skill level than others, but will emphasize critical thinking skills as well.

One of the entry classes, Spatial Thinking, requires students to be able to write about, speak about and critically assess their work.

The program was developed by geography professors Hanna, Brian Rizzo and Jacqueline Gallagher.

Hanna and Rizzo will teach some of the courses in the advanced degree program, and the department is currently seeking a tenure-track professor specializing in web-based GIS.

Hanna, whose teaching load will increase with the new program, will step down as chairman next year and Gallagher will assume the role.

Gallagher said that this program is a way for professionals to get ahead in a field that is rapidly growing.

She also said that the hands-on focus of the degree better prepares students for the job market.

Applications for the program will have a recommended filing date of June 1, 2014.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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