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Secrets to Developing a GIS-Skilled Workforce

Many upper division courses across the curriculum are seeing the advantages of integrating GIS technology into research in almost every discipline. They are starting to recognize that many businesses are using GIS in disciplines such as biology, management, and political science. This has increased the demand for graduates who understand GIS technology. While the core course building block approach works well in Soc Sci 122 and Civ Engr 210, it falls apart a little during the transition from Civ Engr 210 to upper division courses for non-GEOINT majors. USAFA has computer scientists who see the demand for the technology but do not receive essential education in geospatial analysis concepts, and this situation is similar with biologists and operations research scientists.

Bridging this educational gap is a challenge that will continue to be addressed in the coming academic year. The economic advantage comes in the sharing of resources. Several departments have received small grants from organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), Headquarters Air Force (HAF), and NGA.

Each grant has its own restrictions. However, the equipment and services purchased by one department can be used by many other departments. For example, the Geography Department (DFEG) and DFCE both use Trimble GPS backpacks and handheld GPS equipment. DFCE has the greatest demand for the equipment during its summer academic program, whereas DFEG uses the equipment during the traditional academic year.

DFEG bought two handheld GPS units to satisfy DFCE. In turn, DFCE is using GeoBase funds from HAF to develop GIS tutorial software for classroom use. During working group meetings, much has been learned about existing capabilities by having a needs discussion that uncovers departmental resources and prevents duplication of efforts. For example, at the spring working group meeting, a discussion about multispectral analysis software revealed that two departments had undertaken projects to identify software and funding. The operations research staff was ready to fund the purchase of ArcLogistics software when it happily learned from the technology staff that ArcLogistics was already included in the academy's Esri site license.

Promoting the Program

Building support for the program is critical. Wermuth and Fogg are working to inform academy leaders and colleagues about GIS technology and its applications. However, many people in the Air Force do not understand GIS. Cadets who are eager to use GIS technology in course projects are being discouraged by faculty because GIS is a nontraditional approach.

The authors found that older faculty members typically did not appreciate the analytical power of GIS methods or did not know how to grade GIS products. They needed some encouragement and motivation to change. The faculty members have responded favorably to presentations by Wermuth and Fogg and are generally willing to explore the capabilities made possible by GIS technology integration. However, working with individual instructors has been time consuming, and it is difficult to get larger groups together for more efficient training.

The most successful large-scale presentations were done in conjunction with GIS Day. In addition to displays, a question-and-answer time and a 45-minute lunchtime presentation were given. The authors are scheduled to give a brief presentation during the new faculty orientation course in early July. They also plan to write an article for the faculty newsletter and are negotiating to present an executive brief of GIS in the curriculum at a meeting of the dean and department heads.

Building Partnerships

The current program at USAFA would not be possible without the support from partners such as NGA, the Army's Spectral Operations Resource Center (SORC), and the Headquarters Air Force Geo-Integration Office (HAF/GIO). HAF/GIO and the InnoVision Directorate of NGA are financial partners. The local NGA offices and SORC share experience and resources. Other partners in the region are the city of Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado. The authors continue to expand their contacts within the local GIS community.

Educators building a GIS program should network with local, like-minded geoscientists and talk to them about potential student research projects, funding opportunities, and data sharing. Meaningful data is powerful classroom instruction material. Look around and see what expertise, equipment, and funding are available. An easy way to start looking for grants is to search Google for NGA Academic Research Programs (NARP).


Wermuth and Fogg are excited about what was accomplished in the past year. The working group has developed a first-draft strategic plan addressing GIS program curriculum development, promoting GIS at the academy, and leveraging partnerships for intellectual and financial gain. Thirty-five percent of the class of 2005 graduated knowing how to use GIS software that was loaded on their computers. Approximately 50 percent of the class of 2006 will be GIS literate and have ArcMap loaded on their computers. The program is on track for 100 percent GIS literacy for the class of 2007 and beyond. These students will be ready to use geospatial skills in their military careers. The authors hope this article provides some ideas for other GIS programs and wish much success to other GIS educators.

For more information, contact

Lt. Col. Mike Wermuth
Director of Geosciences
Department of Economics and Geography
United States Air Force Academy
E-mail: Michael.Wermuth@
Lt. Col. Jeth Fogg
USAF GIS Support Center
United States Air Force Academy

About the Authors

Lt. Col. Mike Wermuth is the director of Geosciences and an assistant professor of economics at the United States Air Force Academy. He is a Master Parachutist and has flown more than 2,000 hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon. He blends his operational experience, economic decision-making tools, and understanding of geospatial technology in his work as an advisor for homeland security and emergency management issues.

Lt. Col. Jeth Fogg holds a doctorate in civil engineering from Florida International University. For the past four years he has taught GIS-related topics at the United States Air Force Academy and currently heads the Air Force GIS Support Center. He continues to promote GIS education through scenario-based learning experiences that actively engage the student in the learning process. His current research focus lies in the development of command and control tools and applications that leverage the vast investment in GIS-based datasets (i.e., USAF GeoBase program) to gain greater situational awareness and enhance the decision-making process during day-to-day and crisis response situations.

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